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ADHD Meds May Lower Substance Abuse Risk

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how people with ADHD sometimes self-medicate with stimulants – which means, somewhat paradoxically, that treating ADHD with stimulants can lower people’s risk of abusing stimulants.

AdderallToday, we have a new exhibit on this theme, which comes in the form of a study from Indiana University.

In the study, researchers analyzed medical records of almost three million people with ADHD, spanning the years 2005 to 2014. The researchers looked through the records for “substance-related events.” Then, they looked at when the patients were on and off medication to see whether taking meds influenced how likely the patients were to receive care for substance-related problems.

What they found was that taking ADHD meds significantly lowered how often the teens and adults with ADHD had to receive substance-related treatment. In fact, during periods when they were on meds, men had a 35 percent lower chance of experiencing “substance-related events” and women had a 31 percent lower chance.

Even two years after stopping meds, men had a 19 percent lower risk for “substance-related events” and women a 14 percent lower risk. So besides the more dramatic effect ADHD meds have on reducing substance abuse in the short-term, they may have a long-term effect too.

If you have ADHD, these findings might make intuitive sense to you. After all, people with undiagnosed ADHD often “self-medicate” with various substances, so it makes sense that treating the ADHD would counteract this tendency.

On top of that, treating ADHD improves people’s impulse control, which potentially makes them less likely to engage in different risky behaviors, including abusing substances.

Maybe the thing that’s most clear from this study, though, is there’s no reason to believe that taking ADHD meds makes people more likely to abuse substances. In fact, the evidence seems to suggest that medication has exactly the opposite effect.

Image: Flickr/Anders Sandberg

ADHD Meds May Lower Substance Abuse Risk

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2017). ADHD Meds May Lower Substance Abuse Risk. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Jul 2017
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