Stimulant treatment for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and risk of developing substance use disorder

Br J Psychiatry. 2013 Aug;203(2):112-9. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.112.124784. Epub 2013 Jul 11.


Background: Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is linked to increased risk for substance use disorders and nicotine dependence.

Aims: To examine the effects of stimulant treatment on subsequent risk for substance use disorder and nicotine dependence in a prospective longitudinal ADHD case-control study.

Method: At baseline we assessed ADHD, conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder. Substance use disorders, nicotine dependence and stimulant treatment were assessed retrospectively after a mean follow-up of 4.4 years, at a mean age of 16.4 years.

Results: Stimulant treatment of ADHD was linked to a reduced risk for substance use disorders compared with no stimulant treatment, even after controlling for conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder (hazard ratio (HR) = 1.91, 95% CI 1.10-3.36), but not to nicotine dependence (HR = 1.12, 95% CI 0.45-2.96). Within the stimulant-treated group, a protective effect of age at first stimulant use on substance use disorder development was found, which diminished with age, and seemed to reverse around the age of 18.

Conclusions: Stimulant treatment appears to lower the risk of developing substance use disorders and does not have an impact on the development of nicotine dependence in adolescents with ADHD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / drug therapy*
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / adverse effects*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Conduct Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / diagnosis
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / etiology*


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants