Kids and teens who take medications like Ritalin to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are also twice as likely to be physically or emotionally bullied by peers. At even higher risk were middle and high school students who sold or shared their medications--those kids were four-and-a-half times likelier to be victimized by peers.
The main findings are the same for both sexes, said the study's first author, Quyen Epstein-Ngo, research assistant professor in gender studies at the University of Michigan.
Kids who have a harder time making and keeping friends are bullied and victimized more and in modern times they are also more likely to be on a prescription for ADHD medication.
From 2003 to 2011, there was a 42 percent increase in ADHD cases diagnosed in the U.S., and between 2007 and 2011, there was a 27 percent increase in stimulant-treated ADHD.
To make the connection, the scholars surveyed nearly 5,000 middle and high school students over four years. About 15 percent were diagnosed with ADHD and roughly 4 percent were prescribed stimulants within the past 12 months. Of those who took ADHD medication, 20 percent reported being approached to sell or share them, and about half of them did.
"Many youth with ADHD are prescribed stimulant medications to treat their ADHD and we know that these medications are the most frequently shared or sold among adolescents," said Epstein-Ngo. "For some children stimulant medications are immensely helpful in getting through school. This study doesn't say 'don't give your child medication.' It suggests that it's really important to talk to your children about who they tell."
It's unclear why kids with prescriptions for stimulant medications are more at risk for bullying and victimization.