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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Long Term Effects of Ritalin Use

07/19/1999

Question:

Are there any studies indicating negative long-term effects of using Ritalin for ADD. My son`s focus problems are controlled so well on the drug, but I don`t want to be blinded to some other problem that may appear later in life.

Answer:

Methylphenidate (Ritalin) has been around a long time (many decades). I have never heard of ANY long term effects other than increased self-esteem. You ask a very important question, and we have not done the best scientific studies to look at it (those would have had to start 30 years ago, had some people on placebo and some on real drug, and followed them all this time) but we have looked at many people we know were on the drug many years ago. I think that the most controversial side effect some individuals and groups voice concern about today is the fear that it is a step towards using street drugs. I have heard some (not all, by any means) addiction programs say this. I know of no studies to strongly support this. Of course, when young people want to experiment with drugs of any kind they are bound to try stimulants, so one will often see stimulant use in their past. In additon, many drug abusers are, in an unhealthy way, "self-medicating" for ADD/ADHD in the first place. We know more about the longterm safety of methylphenidate than we do about a large portion of medications we use today--NO KNOWN LONGTERM EFFECTS. However, anytime a child is on chronic medication it is important to remind him/her about the difference between prescribed medications that help people to feel better, function better and be able to be a productive member of society who helps others, and street drugs.

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Response by:

Susan Louisa Montauk, MD
Formerly Professor of Family Medicine
University of Cincinnati