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ADHD and The Risk of Substance Abuse
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, the neurodevelopmental syndrome characterized by inattention, distractibility, hyperactivity and impulsivity appears to raise the risk for substance abuse. Although typically diagnosed during childhood, ADHD persists into adolescence in 75% of cases and into adulthood in 50%.(1) What happens to these older teens and adults and how do the symptoms of ADHD affect adult behavior and life success?
Previous studies have found that patients with ADHD have an increased likelihood of developing SUD. A recent study further explores the possible connections between the two.(2)
Searching for Connections Between ADHD and Drug Use
The researchers wanted to see whether ADHD and substance use were in fact related, and if so, whether there were specific factors in a child’s social and medical history, in addition to ADHD, that might predict SUD in later life. The idea being that if there were additional risk factors, more effective and earlier interventions could be developed to prevent the development of SUD in patients already coping ADHD.
Among the possible co-factors that the researchers examined were the sex of the patient, a family history of ADHD and SUD, the presence of other psychiatric diagnoses in addition to ADHD, academic achievement and school experience, and treatment (medication and therapy) of ADHD.
The study followed two large groups of boys and girls (ages 6-17), with and without ADHD, for an average of 10 years. They monitored their substance use (drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes), and they looked at the influence of some potential additional risk factors on the onset of substance abuse.
More Likely to Try Substances Sooner, But...
The research found that people who had ADHD at the start of the study period were much more likely to develop a substance use disorder by the end of the ten year study period than were their peers who did not have ADHD.
In fact, subjects with ADHD were nearly one and a half times more likely to develop a substance use disorder compared with controls. The subjects with ADHD started smoking almost three years earlier and started using drugs about one year earlier than their peers.
What was not different between the two groups, however, was the time it took to transition from alcohol and drug use to alcohol and drug dependence. It was the same for the subjects with and those without ADHD. So while ADHD may not make one more biologically vulnerable to becoming substance-dependent, it may be the tendency toward earlier and continued use that raises that risk.