Kids Taking ADHD Medications More Likely to Be Bullied

Kids who take prescription stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall to treat ADHD are more likely to be bullied. Octavio L via Wikimedia Commons

Prescribing Ritalin, Adderall and other stimulants to kids may help alleviate symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. But there is a dark side that has previously been overlooked: Adolescents who receive medications to treat ADHD are at an increased risk of being bullied. Compared to people without ADHD, they are twice as likely to be victimized by their peers, according to a study published today in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

Those who give out their prescriptions to friends and classmates are worse off—these kids are 4.5 times more likely to be bullied, says study co-author Quyen Epstein-Ngo and scientists at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan.

It was already known that kids with ADHD are more likely to be bullied, due in part to behavioral problems and difficulties forming relationships, but this study suggests that being prescribed a stimulant medication might increase the risk even more, Epstein-Ngo says.

"Just by having ADHD you're more likely to be victimized," says Timothy Wilens, a physician and researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital who wasn't involved in the study. The new research, he says, should serve as a "wake up call" to health care providers, parents and educators, to help reduce the likelihood of these kids being bullied.

It's unclear if there's a causal connection between having a prescription, or sharing one's drugs, and being bullied. It could be that people who give away their medication are more likely to be risk takers, and leave themselves open to bullying, or "it could be that these kids were already being bullied, so maybe they're sharing their medications in hope the bullying will stop," Epstein-Ngo says.

The researchers aren't suggesting that doctors not prescribe these medications, but do say that parents need to be as involved as possible with their kids in managing the use of these drugs. In particular, they should monitor who their kids tell about the prescriptions.