Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) elevates the risk of negative health outcomes, including risky behaviors, mental health issues, and premature death. However, a recent large-scale study suggests that treating the disorder with medication can reduce the overall mortality risk for patients.

According to the 2021 World Federation of ADHD International Consensus Statement, ADHD is the most prevalent neurodevelopmental condition that affects around 5.9% of youths and 2.5% of adults globally.

The latest study included 148,000 individuals in Sweden who were diagnosed with ADHD. The researchers noted that starting ADHD medications reduced their overall mortality risk, particularly from unnatural causes such as accidents and drug overdose. However, the association with natural-cause mortality was not significant.

"Overall, those who initiated ADHD medication had a reduced risk for all-cause mortality and unnatural-cause mortality (but not natural-cause mortality) over the 2-year period, except for females, in whom only a reduction in natural-cause mortality was observed," the researchers wrote in the study published in Jama Network.

The results showed that in the medicated group, the risk of death from unnatural causes was reduced by a quarter. The researchers believe the medications work "by alleviating the core symptoms of ADHD and other psychiatric co-morbidities [illnesses], leading to improved impulse control and decision-making."

Since this is an observational study, a causal relationship could not be established, but the results suggest that early initiation of medication may be important for people with ADHD.

"The study showed that there is a link between initiation of medication and a lower risk of death. This was true regardless of the cause of death, but the risk of dying from unnatural causes, such as alcohol and drug overdose, decreased the most. The association was not as strong for the risk of dying from natural causes as physical health condition," Lin Li, the first author of the study, said.

Meanwhile, researchers plan to conduct further studies to examine the long-term effects of the medication, particularly looking at the types of ADHD medications, doses, duration of treatment, and sex differences.

"It will be crucial to establish whether the benefits we have seen in this study will persist over time. We will also try to identify any additional adverse effects associated with long-term medication. With such knowledge, doctors can tailor treatment plans for people with ADHD to maximize the benefits of treatment and minimize the risks," said Zheng Chang, the last author of the study.