Psychostimulant treatment and risk for substance abuse among young adults with a history of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a population-based, birth cohort study

J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2005 Oct;15(5):764-76. doi: 10.1089/cap.2005.15.764.


Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate the association between stimulant treatment and the risk for substance abuse among young adults with a childhood diagnosis of attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Methods: Subjects included 295 research-identified ADHD incidence cases treated with psychostimulant medication and 84 ADHD cases not treated with psychostimulants. These subjects are from a 1976-1982 population-based birth cohort, retrospectively, followed from birth until emigration, death, or last follow-up (mean = 17.2 years of follow-up). Medical and school records were reviewed for documented substance abuse and psychostimulant treatment. The association was evaluated using logistic regression models.

Results: Socioeconomic characteristics at birth, and comorbidities, were similar between treated and untreated ADHD cases. Sixty (20.3%) of treated ADHD cases had documented substance abuse compared to 23 (27.4%) of cases not treated (OR = 0.7; 95% CI = 0.4-1.2). Among treated ADHD boys, 21.8% had substance abuse compared to 36.4% not-treated ADHD boys (OR = 0.5; 95% CI = 0.3-0.9). Among treated ADHD girls, 15.2% had substance abuse compared to 10.3% not-treated ADHD girls (OR = 1.5; 95% CI = 0.4-6.1).

Conclusion: While these results cannot demonstrate cause and effect, our findings indicate that psychostimulant treatment of childhood ADHD is associated with reduced risk for later substance abuse among boys with ADHD.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / drug therapy*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / therapeutic use*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control*


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants