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Study: ADHD medication may help curb crime
November 21st, 2012
05:01 PM ET

Study: ADHD medication may help curb crime

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is often associated with the wandering minds and erratic behavior of schoolchildren, but it can have serious consequences for adults as well. A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that people with ADHD who are on medications for the condition are less likely to commit crimes.

"We found the same pattern regardless of which type of crime," said Paul Lichtenstein of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, lead author of the study.

ADHD is associated with conduct problems in children and adults, the study said. People with ADHD commonly stop taking their prescribed medications, particularly adolescents and young adults, according to the study.

ADHD medications control patients' symptoms of impulsiveness, irritability and restlessness. By helping tame impulsive urges, the drugs may be also preventing patients from engaging in illegal acts including violent behaviors, Lichtenstein said.

The study focused on Sweden. Comparisons with the United States are not straightforward, the study noted, because of differences in legal and judicial systems compared to Western Europe. The authors write that they "cannot address whether the associations would be the same in other cultures, and thus generalizations should be made with caution."

Still, the research may give an extra incentive for people who have been prescribed ADHD medications to continue taking them, Lichtenstein said. Also, it may suggest that prison populations could benefit from ADHD screening, as appropriate treatment could help reduce repeat offenses, he said.

About 4.1% of adults in the United States ages 18 to 44 have ADHD, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Lichtenstein and colleagues used data about more than 25,000 ADHD patients, using information from Swedish registers. More than half were men. The researchers were able to obtain information about these people's medications and criminal convictions from 2006 to 2009.

ADHD patients receiving medication were less likely to commit crimes than those who did not get pharmacological treatment, the researchers found. Specifically, men were 32% less likely and women were 41% less likely to have been convicted of a crime in the time period that researchers studied. It did not seem to matter whether the treatment was a stimulant or non-stimulant medication.

Researchers also looked at whether a single person would have a different likelihood of criminal behavior during treatment periods, compared to non-treatment periods. A treatment period consists of a sequence of prescriptions separated by no more than six months. In patients who had both periods of treatment and non-treatment, the risk of being convicted of a crime went up by 12% during non-treatment, the study said.

The study authors wrote, "It is possible that pharmacologic ADHD treatment helps patients to better organize their lives or contributes to enduring changes at the neuronal level." However, the study did not specifically investigate these issues.

The results must be taken with a few grains of salt. This is not a randomized, controlled trial, which is the gold standard of science, so the researchers did not have any direct control over when or how patients took their medications. Scientists don't know whether patients drank a lot of alcohol while taking the medications, or had supportive family members who collected their prescriptions.

But the study employed several methods to look closely at the data and search for other factors that could influence the connection between criminality and ADHD.

Researchers looked at criminality rates among patients who had discontinued the use of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, a kind of medication for depression, and did not find a link there.

Medication is only one treatment option for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder; behavioral interventions are also possible. Each individual should weigh the benefits and drawbacks of treatments in his or her own situation, Lichtenstein said.


soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Portland tony

    Oh, you mean "Breaking Bad" for real?

    November 21, 2012 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bias?

      why is everyone so bias? makes me wonder.

      December 6, 2012 at 12:26 | Report abuse |
  2. COOL!!!!!

    Amphetamines for all!!!!!!!!

    November 21, 2012 at 22:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. J man

    Want to know how to lower crime? Make certain drugs legal!

    November 22, 2012 at 03:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Claudia

      well, why would you want to make ddrugs elegal

      December 6, 2012 at 14:20 | Report abuse |
  4. Skyler

    Which pharmacy paid for this study?

    November 22, 2012 at 19:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. strayan

    I got a script for Desoxyn and immediately stopped breaking the law.

    November 22, 2012 at 20:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Thinking Clearly

    Amphetamines from Mexico cause death and long prison sentences.
    Amphetamines from your doctor keep you out of prison. Nice touch.

    November 23, 2012 at 02:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Jesse

    Hey Dr. i have a question my mom has low red blood cell, can you tell me what to do and tell me what to tell her to eat because she won't listen to my dad and my grandma and my grandpa.My dad is scared she is going to die because she is young so he told me to talk to you.

    November 23, 2012 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jean Nystrom

    My question, did this study incorporate the neuro science approach that this different nature (I do not call it a disease or disorder), could be treated using different methods besides the medication? When I changed from the medication to the neurofeedback platform – Play Attention, I saw immediate results in my 8 yr. old's behavior. Why? Because she was calmer, could focus and pay attention to any task at hand. I also saw that her aggressive behavior stopped. I am a total advocate of this method and wish more research to be done in this area. The medications only seem to treat the symptoms and not the cause. The CAUSE, which I think can be biochemical or immature growth of the cerebral cortex of the brain can be treated using these methods.

    November 23, 2012 at 15:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. LB

    I think it's very interesting how many people run to the use of medication to "control" sxs.

    November 24, 2012 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Love

    Why did they do this study?

    November 24, 2012 at 21:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. momma

    momma, poppa pop the pills u feed your children. pop the pills momma, poppa, pop the pills your doctor gives your children. pop the pills momma poppa pop pop pop the pills.

    November 25, 2012 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. momma

    momma they controlling my mind, momma poppa, they controling my mind,momma poppa. they controlling my mind momma, poppa they controlling my momma my momma my mind poppa

    November 25, 2012 at 21:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. momma

    momma they killed my soul ,poppa they kill my, poppa my soul the drugs momma killed my soul. they killed my soul momma those kills momma i got no soul momma, poppa they killed my soul those pills poppa

    November 25, 2012 at 21:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. fernace

    What I have found is that a lot of prescription drugs are a favorite on the street! I know of people who sell their Adderal & users get addicted! Sounds like a crime to me!!

    November 26, 2012 at 21:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Responsible Med User

    I like how in the 4th to last paragraph the reporter finally says "The results must be taken with a few grains of salt." Let's try to put that a bit more up front before suggesting that unmedicated people with ADHD are criminals. I realize the implications of impulse control among those with ADHD but using a subpar study to suggest that they are potential criminals is irresponsible.

    December 3, 2012 at 10:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • D.I.

      You are correct sir/ma'am. I grew up with ADHD, stop taking meds in fifth grade (because they were backfiring). Normally, kids grow out of it in puberty, but I didn't; I chose not to. As an adult I was verified to still have ADHD, still don't take meds for it. I joined the military for 6 years, people told me when I got out that the military needs people like me, but I didn't want to deal with it anymore (not for me, but I have no regrets about it). Now I have a good job making over 50K a year, never commited a crime, and work well with my peers. This was because my parents made sure that I understood my choices and would not let me use it as some sort of excuse. They knew what they were doing and they understood when it was me just being me or me losing impulse control and taught me how to get it back in check. So I can argue this topic everyday and will say it gets a bad reputation because people don't read everything about it, mark notes like this at the bottom, and act like the it is a disadvantage.

      December 7, 2012 at 13:12 | Report abuse |
  16. lovebelievefaith

    When using this study the only use to control the ADHD was medication. There are many other attributes that can be used. Exercise, diet change and neuroscience. These combined with therapy are often treatment for low to mild forms of ADHD. For moderate to severe forms of ADHD, medication is sometimes the only option. I think that medication can only work with therapy and retraining self control. ADHD is a life time issue it doesn't just go away you learn how to adapt. Like DJ above, He stated he learned how to control it. I know that it says some people grow out of ADHD but more and more studies are coming out that this is not the case, that learning to control it by what is best for your situation is the key to long term control. Has this study been done with controlling ADHD with any other forms other than medication? Would the results be the same? I think that using only medication to control the ADHD and stating that it brings down crime is not a accurate study.
    I believe a study of all ways to control ADHD, including medication, should tell a better idea of if control ADHD really brings down crime. Also have to take into consideration that in this day and age that many people are just over stressed, going a million miles a hour, which mimica many syptoms of ADHD, so you have to wonder if these people are being treated correctly before these drugs are given to them? I feel that since we really don't know the situation behind each person in the study. Its hard for me to swallow that by giving someone that might or might not have ADHD medication and saying that it caused less crimes. I think that a deeper study with other variables would give a more accurate fact as to if these criminals truly could have been averted with the use of medications. I think there is many different ways to handle ADHD and if there was a better study that proved it then maybe we should medicate everyone just so they don't become criminals.

    December 15, 2012 at 21:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. your mom

    drugs are bad for u people

    March 13, 2013 at 12:56 | Report abuse | Reply

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