Can ADHD medication help reduce criminality?

Medication to help control symptoms of ADHD is used in Hong Kong but not to the extent that it is used in Western countries, especially North America. Past research has suggested that a high percentage of males in prison in the US are likely to have met criteria for ADHD as children or young adults. Current research suggests that individuals diagnosed with ADHD may be less likely to commit crimes when taking medication.

A piece of research published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at the records of 25,000 people in Sweden to see if those with ADHD had fewer criminal convictions when taking medication than when they were not.

“Of 8,000 people whose medication use fluctuated over a three-year period, men were
32 per cent less likely and women were 41 per cent less likely to have criminal convictions while on medication”. The individuals included in the study were young adults who committed crimes such as assault, murder and other less serious crimes. Most were prescribed psycho-stimulant medication such as Ritalin.

Most experts in the field and clinicians who work with ADHD children and adults do not find these results surprising. The hope is that research such as this will give professionals more confidence in using stimulant medication to treat ADHD cases where there might be potential for criminal behaviour.

Dr Paul Lichtenstein, an author of the study in Sweden suggested some caution in interpreting the results in assuming that everyone with ADHD should be medicated long term. “There are pros and cons to medication,” he said. But “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.”

There will always be compelling arguments both for and against the use of medication to treat ADHD. But research such as this certainly adds weight to the argument the medication can in some cases produce life changing positive results for some patients.