Mass General Researchers Find That Early Treatment for ADHD May Lessen Risk of Substance Abuse Disorders

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Mass General researcher Timothy Wilens, PhD, has found that the earlier children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) receive treatment with stimulants, the less likely they are to use marijuana or develop a substance use disorder (SUD).

Dr. Wilens is chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

He presented on his work at the 30th US Psychiatric and Mental Health Congress last fall. Here are five things to know about Dr. Wilen’s presentation, adapted from this article on the American Journal of Managed care website.

1.) ADHD is a chronic condition mainly characterized by inattention, distraction or hyperactivity and impulsivity. This condition affects between 6 to 9% of children worldwide. Later on, 50% of those affected with ADHD during childhood will still have the condition as adults.

2.) Dr. Wilens’ research shows that youth/adolescents with ADHD are twice as likely¬† to develop a substance abuse disorder and three times more likely to smoke cigarettes.

3.) While young people with ADHD seem to gravitate towards the same drugs as their peers, Dr. Wilens found that when they develop a substance abuse problem, people with ADHD have more difficulty getting better and sticking to treatment.

4.) Studies have shown that children with ADHD are 60% less likely to develop a substance abuse disorder when regular treatment with stimulants is started in early childhood (before the age of 15).

5.) While it is typically preferable to wait until the individual is sober before increasing medication levels, there are some cases where it’s more effective to increase the dosage during recovery. Wilens says. “It’s best to get people clean and sober for a period of time…but if you can’t, you might want to consider stimulants.”

About the Mass General Research Institute
Massachusetts General Hospital is home to the largest hospital-based research program in the United States. Research at Mass General takes place in over 30 departments, centers and institutes and is supported by federal and state funding, foundations, industry partners and philanthropic donations. 

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