ADHD: Dangers of Pill-popping

Unnecessary Ritalin-popping among young children can lead to depression later in life.

By Andrea Wren, published on March 1, 2005 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

All that worry about ADHD overdiagnosis may be warranted. New evidence shows that normal kids who take medication for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder risk damaging their young brains. Unnecessary pill-popping as a child can possibly lead to depression in adulthood.

William Carlezon of McLean Hospital in Massachusetts gave normal young rats twice-daily doses of Ritalin, a common ADHD drug, for the equivalent of four to twelve human years. When the animals reached maturity and were no longer medicated, they were more likely to express "despair" in stressful situations—such as swim tests—than were animals who did not receive medication.

The study is among the first to examine the effects of early Ritalin exposure on behavior later in life.