• A first-of-its-kind study indicates that stimulant medication, combined with behavioral interventions, improves academic achievement in adolescents with ADHD

Ritalin and other stimulants have long been used as treatments for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in elementary-age children, curbing disruptive and defiant behavior and allowing children to focus. Now, in the first full-scale study of its kind, research finds that the drugs also help teen-agers with the condition, allowing them to focus in the classroom and concentrate on schoolwork.

In the new study, a University of Pittsburgh team led by clinical psychologist Steven W. Evans, PhD, and colleagues William E. Pelham Jr., PhD, and Bradley H. Smith, PhD, tested the effects of methylphenidate (MPH)–the drug best known by the trade name Ritalin–on adolescents enrolled in a summer treatment program for teen-agers with ADHD.

The results, published in this month’s Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology (Vol. 9, No. 2), showed that the drug, in combination with a behavior modification intervention, improved students’ performance on note-taking, daily assignments and quiz scores, without causing major side effects.

“When they were taking stimulant medication, students were more likely not only to get schoolwork done, but to get it done more accurately than when they were taking a placebo,” says Evans, now at James Madison University. “Scores improved by an average of about 17

percent–a jump that could mean two or three letter grades.”

Previous research has indicated that medication benefits elementary-age children with ADHD. But until now, there has been little investigation of how such treatment affects teen-agers.

If the new findings hold true in regular classroom settings, the study authors say, the research should help parents and clinicians make decisions about treating ADHD in adolescents. “The study provides additional evidence that MPH and other stimulants are a safe, effective way to manage ADHD–and that clinicians should be evaluating the effects of this medication not only in the behavioral domain, but also in the academic domain,” he says.

Ultimately, medication does not work alone. It is significant that along with medication there are educational interventions.


Carpenter, S. (2001). Stimulants Boost Achievement in ADHD Teens. Vol. 32. No. 5. Pg.

26. American Psychological Association.