LOS ANGELES -- A study ties the benefits of methylphenidate -- a stimulant used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder -- with treatment for substance abuse. The study, released Monday, found that giving Ritalin, a brand name for methylphenidate, to those with cocaine addiction seemed to help them with impulse control.
Impulse control is, of course, a major reason why people succumb to substance abuse even when they know it's bad for them.
Methylphenidate clearly helps many people with ADHD with mental focus and concentration.
And although many parents fear giving the medication to children diagnosed with ADHD because it is a drug (and drugs can be abused), studies show that those children and teens who benefit from the medication are less likely to abuse drugs and that kids with ADHD who are untreated are at higher risk for substance abuse issues.
Researchers from Yale University gave 10 volunteers Ritalin and then used functional MRI to scan their brain activity while they engaged in a computer task that assessed impulse control.
When the 10 subjects received Ritalin, they were better able to control their impulses than during a separate session, two days later, when they received a placebo .
Functional MRI scans showed changes from Ritalin use in brain areas that reflect inhibitory control, particularly a region called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain seems to be crucial to "behavioral control during emotionally difficult situations," the authors wrote. And Ritalin appears to help normalize it.
The study was small, so more research will be needed to determine if Ritalin could treat people with addictions.