Consistent ADHD medication use linked to lower crime rates in adolescents

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A study from the Netherlands found that adolescents with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who consistently take their medication are 33% to 38% less likely to commit minor offenses compared to their peers with low medication adherence. This finding applies equally to both boys and girls. The research was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition marked by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Individuals with ADHD struggle to maintain attention, complete tasks, and organize activities. Hyperactivity manifests as excessive fidgeting, an inability to stay seated, or excessive talking. Impulsivity can result in hasty actions without considering consequences, interrupting others, or difficulty waiting for turns.

ADHD is typically diagnosed in childhood, but symptoms often persist into adulthood, negatively affecting personal, academic, and professional life. Due to their impulsivity and reactivity, individuals with ADHD are more likely to be involved in criminal activities such as violence and public-order crimes. Research indicates that treatment for ADHD reduces the likelihood of criminal behavior compared to untreated individuals with ADHD.

Study author Paul T. Rosenau and his colleagues noted that previous research mainly focused on the propensity for serious crimes among individuals with ADHD. However, most offenses committed by adolescents are minor. With this in mind, they investigated whether adolescents with ADHD who adhere to their medication regimens are less likely to commit minor offenses.

The researchers combined data from Statistics Netherlands on registered minor offenses and the Foundation for Pharmaceutical Statistics for national prescription data on ADHD medication. Halt, a Dutch government institution focused on preventing and addressing juvenile delinquency, provided data on minor offenses. In the Netherlands, minor offenses include disturbances or nuisances causing damages not exceeding €900 per perpetrator, total damages of €4,500, or embezzlement or deceit up to €150.

The researchers analyzed data from 18,234 adolescents aged 12 to 18 who committed at least one minor offense between 2005 and 2019. Of the participants, 82% were boys.

In the Netherlands, ADHD medication prescriptions can be filled for up to 90 days. The study considered an adolescent to be non-adherent to their medication regimen if more than 100 days passed between prescriptions, unless the previous prescription was for a larger quantity of medicine. The study also recorded whether the adolescent committed a minor offense and was registered with Halt in a given year.

The results indicated that adolescents were 33% to 38% less likely to commit a minor offense during years when they adhered to their medication. This reduction in offenses was consistent regardless of gender or type of medication.

“Our results support that persistent use of ADHD medication according to prescription reduces the risk of committing a minor offense compared to inconsistent medication use, regardless of sex, type of ADHD medication or offense category. This suggests that it may be clinically important to monitor and guard ADHD medication adherence closely,” the study authors concluded.

The study sheds light on the link between crime rates and ADHD in adolescents. However, it is important to note that the study’s design does not allow for causal conclusions. While it is possible that nonadherence to medication increases the likelihood of minor offenses, other unmeasured factors might also contribute to both criminal behavior and poor medication adherence.

The paper, “ADHD medication adherence reduces risk of committing minor offenses in adolescents,” was authored by Paul T. Rosenau, Andrea Dietrich, Barbara J. van den Hoofdakker, and Pieter J. Hoekstra.

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