Study: ADHD Medication May Reduce Risky Behavior in Teens

Teens playing music together outsideChildren who take attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) medication shortly after symptoms appear, and who continue taking medication for longer periods of time, may be less likely to engage in high-risk behavior as adolescents, according to research published in the journal Labour Economics.

Impulsive or risky behavior can be common among people with ADHD. For example, a 2014 report published in the journal Pediatrics identified a link between being diagnosed with ADHD and abusing drugs and alcohol. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 11% of children ages 4-17 had been diagnosed with ADHD in 2011. Seventy percent of children diagnosed with ADHD take medication.

Effects of ADHD Medications on Impulsive Behavior

Researchers analyzed Medicaid claims submitted between 2003 and 2013 for nearly 150,000 South Carolina children.

Compared to children with ADHD who did not take medication, children with ADHD who did take medication had significant decreases in high-risk behavior. Children who took medication saw a 3.6% reduction in their risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD), a 2.3% reduction in their risk of injuries, and a 7.3% reduction in their risk of substance abuse.

In a sample of 14,000 teens, this translates into 512 fewer STD cases and 998 fewer cases of substance abuse. The study suggests ADHD medication could reduce the number of annual injuries sustained by children and teens younger than 19 by more than 6,000.

The Ongoing Debate Over ADHD Medication

Research findings regarding the benefits of ADHD medication are mixed. Though most studies show medication can treat the symptoms of ADHD, research into medication’s ability to reduce ADHD-related side effects is less convincing. A 2014 Journal of Health Economics article found ADHD medication was connected to decreased academic performance, undermined relationships with parents, and increased the risk of depression.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents and physicians to try behavioral therapy for children with ADHD as a first step before considering other options, including medication. Statistics show a combination of therapy and medication is effective for 70-80% of children with ADHD.


  1. ADHD in young children. (2016, May 3). Retrieved from
  2. Chorniy, A., & Kitashima, L. (2016). Sex, drugs, and ADHD: The effects of ADHD pharmacological treatment on teens’ risky behaviors. Labour Economics. doi:10.1016/j.labeco.2016.06.014
  3. Harstad, E., & Levy, S. (2014). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and substance abuse. Pediatrics, 134(1). doi:10.1542/peds.2014-0992
  4. Hotchkiss, M. (2016, July 18). ADHD medication reduces risky behavior in children, teens. Retrieved from
  5. New data: Medications and psychological services among children ages 2-5 years (healthcare claims data). (2016, May 4). Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Bo


    August 3rd, 2016 at 6:21 AM

    Will cannabis oil or medical cannabis ever be available for young kids with ADHD? His current meds have several side effects.

  • Tia


    August 4th, 2016 at 7:08 AM

    I understand that for some children this might be the only answer, the only thing that helps with ADHD symptoms is medication. But I would be very wary of giving it to my child if the only thing that I was trying to do is reduce risky behavior because that kind of self control can be taught by the parents in the home without any medical intervention.

  • Ernie


    August 6th, 2016 at 7:55 AM

    There will always be people who say this or say that about the meds but the fact is that for my son it has been a lifesaver.

    We tried all sorts of different things for him before finally giving in and allowing him to get a prescription. But you know what? Looking at him today, how much better he likes school and is able to concentrate and focus, it sort of makes me regret not having done this for him sooner.

    In some ways, I think that he would probably have more friends and have a better time socially if we had done this sooner.

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