For schoolchildren who might act up in class due to attention deficit disorder and other behavioral disorders, treating their symptoms might mean less anti-social behavior and fewer trips to the detention hall. A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine last week suggests the same might be true for adults, as found those treated for ADHD with stimulants are less likely to end up incarcerated than those who aren’t.
The study culled data from 25,656 Swedish patients over the age of 15 diagnosed with ADHD and compared their medical files to criminal records. It found a 32 to 41 percent lesser incidence of crime when people were on stimulant-based medication compared with when they weren’t.
"We found the same pattern regardless of which type of crime," lead author of the study Paul Lichtenstein, of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, told CNN.
The drop in crime rates was most dramatic among women, which corresponds with another of the study’s findings that, in general, women with ADHD are statistically more than seven times as likely as those without the condition to commit crime.
The authors of the study made a point of noting that their findings could be an idiosyncrasy endemic to Swedish society, and it did not advocate putting anyone on medication without considering possible side effects.
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However, as Lichtenstein told the New York Times, while “there are pros and cons to medication,” it was worth considering that “in young adults, the age where criminality is most common, you should consider medication because it is more harmful for these people to be involved in criminal activities. Also for prisoners and people who have left prison.”
One thing the scientists left unexplored: whether medicating people for attention-deficit disorder really meant less crimes were committed or if medication was “making better criminals” who “then just [don't] get caught,” as Lichtenstein put it.
Still, the medical community was lauding the value of the study. Philip Asherson, a professor at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, told the Associated Press that the study “firmly establishes the link between ADHD and criminality and establishes that medication has an impact on that criminality."