I read your recent article "Young people with ADHD more likely to abuse drugs, smoke" with great interest. Addiction is a complex brain disease affecting 40 million Americans, and 9 out of 10 Americans who meet the medical criteria for addiction started smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before age 18.
The pathways to addiction in adolescence are complex. A primary concern is whether prescribed medication use among youth with ADHD increases their risk for addiction in adolescence or adulthood. Scientific evidence suggests that this is not the case.
Medications are certainly not a panacea for addressing all ADHD-related problems in childhood, and moreover, research has not yet established that childhood medication produces long-term benefits for adolescent adjustment. Thus, it is not alarming, and perhaps not surprising, that medication was not protective against adolescent substance use in this study.
However, it is important that clinicians recognize medication as an effective tool for treating ADHD in both children and teens, and that to effectively prevent and treat adolescent substance use, medication should be combined with evidence-based behavioral interventions.
Associate Director, Division of Health and Treatment Research and Analysis
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University