A new study from researchers at Princeton and Clemson University offers evidence that for young people with ADHD, taking stimulant medication reduces risky behaviors that are associated with the disorder.
Analysis of Medicaid data for 150,000 young people with ADHD finds that those who took medication were 3.6% less likely to get an STD, 7.3% less likely to develop a substance-abuse disorder and 2.3% less likely to be injured than their peers who didn’t take medication. These findings are significant because while lots of studies have shown that medication reduces core symptoms of ADHD — inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity — there is less definitive evidence that the medication improves academic success or reduces other negative outcomes.
This study probably won’t put to rest the continual debate over the effects of ADHD medication. Does it change the brain? By helping children manage the core symptoms of ADHD, does it actually improve their lives or just make them more docile? Does it confer a lasting benefit?
But the fact is that stimulant medications for ADHD can have different effects, and offer different benefits, for different kids. Studies like this one, which was published in Labour Economics, suggest that for children with ADHD as a whole, the medication can help them steer clear of common risks that affect them more than other kids.
Even if studies seem to offer contradictory takes on the phenomenon — a 2014 paper concluded that ADHD meds had a negative effect on school performance and increased the risk of depression — the questions driving them are as important as ever. As one of the authors puts it: “Why are there more children taking ADHD drugs today than a decade ago, what benefits do they deliver and at what cost?”