ADHD Drugs May Lower Suicide Risk, Abuse Rates Increase

Teens taking a test at schoolDrugs that treat attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) may lower the risk of suicide among teens who take the drugs, according to correspondence published in The Lancet Psychiatry. The news comes alongside evidence that abuse rates for Adderall, a popular ADHD drug, have increased.

In Canada, drugs used to treat ADHD must contain a “black box warning.” The warning contains strong language warning of the increased risk of suicide associated with taking ADHD drugs. But researchers warn this approach ignores data suggesting these drugs could actually have a protective effect.

Do ADHD Drugs Lower Suicide Risk?

In a letter to The Lancet Psychiatry, researchers highlight a potential connection between use of ADHD drugs and reduced suicide rates. They point out that drug treatment of ADHD increased 300% in the province of Quebec over the past decade. As a result, 9% of 10-year-old boys and 4% of 15-year-old boys took ADHD drugs between 2011 and 2012. During the same time period, suicide rates among Quebec teens ages 15-19 dropped almost 50%. In 2001, the figure was 16 suicides per 100,000 teens. By 2011, the figure had dropped to 8.7 per 100,000.

This suggests ADHD drugs may actually lower the suicide rate. If the black box warnings were accurate, an increase in ADHD drug use would raise, rather than lower, suicide rates. Researchers point to studies demonstrating that ADHD drugs can reduce frustrating symptoms such as inattention and hyperactivity, while improving self-esteem and school performance and reducing rates of drug abuse. These benefits could lead to a decrease in the suicide rate, though the authors of the letter have not tested their theories with peer-reviewed studies.

The Connection Between ADHD and Suicide

ADHD itself can be a risk factor for suicide. A 2014 study published in JAMA Psychiatry suggests ADHD and suicidal ideation may share common genetic risk factors.

For that study, researchers compared nearly 52,000 people with ADHD to about 260,000 without ADHD. Just 1.3% of the non-ADHD group attempted suicide, with 0.02% killing themselves. Among those with ADHD, 9.4% attempted suicide, and 0.2% died by suicide.

Abuse of ADHD Drugs

Though ADHD drugs could lower suicide rates, these drugs are not risk-free. A new study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry shows Adderall abuse rates continue to increase among students and young adults.

Between 2006 and 2011, non-medical use of the drug by young adults ages 18-25 increased by 67%, with Adderall-related emergency room visits increasing by 156%. Among adolescents, the picture was much different. Clinical visits from teens seeking Adderall treatment decreased, while non-medical use of the drug did not change. Adderall-related adolescent emergency room visits also declined by 54%.

The results appear to be limited to Adderall. Researchers did not find similar changes in non-medical use of another popular ADHD drug, Ritalin.


  1. Dickerson, K. (2014, June 25). People with ADHD may have a higher suicide risk. Retrieved from
  2. Kraft, A. (2016, February 16). Adderall ADHD drug misuse rising among young adults. Retrieved from
  3. Lesage, A., Renaud, J., Kouassi, É, & Vincent, P. (2015). Canadian ADHD black-box warnings. The Lancet Psychiatry, 2(12), 1057. doi:10.1016/s2215-0366(15)00428-9

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  • bianca


    February 18th, 2016 at 4:11 PM

    I have heard that there are a lot of students on college campuses who will sell those pills to make money because that is what a lot of other students are looking to buy. Aren’t they aware at all of the risks that could be involved doing things like this? Taking prescription drugs for something else entirely?

  • Max


    February 19th, 2016 at 8:09 AM

    Hopefully more and more parents before even beginning their child on a medical regimen would at least look for another alternative to try first. I am not saying that I disagree with medication because I know that for many people this is their only chance for a good life. But I would hope that I would at least explore some other options before committing to this kind of treatment solely, especially for children.

  • sally m

    sally m

    February 20th, 2016 at 11:20 AM

    I guess that this would be a time to really do some research and truly look at the pros and cons of taking he medication versus not taking it. There are always all f these side effects it seems that sound even more terrible than the condition that it is designed to treat. They all make me a little wary but then again there are times that our lives depend on the treatment to live so you feel a little torn as to what the best choice for you will be.

  • nate


    February 23rd, 2016 at 10:33 AM

    How do we even know what information to trust and believe when there are so many conflicting findings?

  • Rob


    March 9th, 2016 at 7:57 PM

    I agree with this article 100 percent. Working in a detention center with youth experiencing suicidal ideation when they are first admitted is a huge issue. Many of our youth who are suicidal and are not on medication struggle initially however once they are evaluated and are given non stimulants, decreases the urge to self harm or act impulsively. Ijs

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