ADHD drugs in sport

ADHD drugs in sport

An Australian sports physician has delivered an impassioned plea for young athletes with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to be allowed to continue taking their prescribed stimulant therapy while competing.

Writing in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, B Corrigan points out that the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to permit athletes with ADHD to take stimulants is inconsistent. ‘Leaving off their medication would never be a requirement for competitors with other medical sporting therapeutic problems, such as a diabetic having to give up insulin, asthmatics having to forgo beta agonists or epileptics having to cease anti-epileptics for a few days,’ he argues.

ADHD, the most common neurodevelopmental disorder in children, is characterised by two distinct sets of behavioural symptoms, which may occur together:

  • inattention, lack of concentration and learning difficulties;
  • hyperactivity-impulsiveness, with an increased propensity for risk-taking.

It used to be believed that ADHD disappeared after about age 16, but that theory has long since been disproved, with the condition now thought to persist into adolescence in most cases and sometimes into adulthood.

With no cure available, effective management currently requires medication to regulate the dopamine deficiency that is thought to be at the root of the disorder. This takes the form of one of two stimulant drugs, which are banned by the IOC on account of their ergogenic effects, with no exceptions for competitors with ADHD.

However, as Corrigan points out, this stance could be construed as discriminatory in either forcing ADHD sufferers to give up their medication or denying them the chance to reap the rewards of sporting competition.

He believes that clear guidelines are needed for athletes with ADHD on stimulants who have to undergo drugs testing, with sympathetic consideration given to those with a documented history of ADHD, effectively controlled by stimulant therapy.

Int J Sports Med 2003;24:535-540

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