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Youth Who Struggle with ADHD are More Likely to Abuse Drugs/Alcohol

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most common neurobehavioral disorder among children, affecting approximately 8 percent of the nation’s children and adolescents.

A new study found that children who suffer from the disorder are more than twice as likely to try and/or abuse drugs. Conducted by the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) and published in the medical journal Pediatrics, emerging research has proven a relationship exists between ADHD and the increased risk of substance abuse.

Although researchers were able to establish a relationship between ADHD and substance abuse, they fell short of producing concrete evidence that would explain why and how the increased risk exists. The study did, however, suggest a number of possible causes. For example, ADHD children are more likely to experience difficulty in school and turn to drugs as a way to cope.

Important Takeaways from the Study

  • When adolescents are an average of 15 years old, 35 percent of those with ADHD reported using one or more substances, compared to only 20 percent of teens without ADHD histories.
  • Ten percent of the ADHD group met criteria for a substance abuse or dependence disorder, meaning they experienced significant problems as a result of their substance use, compared to 3 percent of the non-ADHD group.
  • By the time adolescents reached an average age of 17, marijuana had become a serious problem for 13 percent of the group, compared to just 7 percent of the non-ADHD groups.
  • Daily cigarette smoking was an extremely elevated problem for 17 percent of the ADHD group, a rate that is significantly higher than national estimates for this age. The smoking rate of non-ADHD teens was only 8 percent.
  • Alcohol use was high in both ADHD and non-ADHD groups, emphasizing it is a common problem for all teens.
  • Coincidentally, substance abuse rates showed no difference among children who were receiving treatment with ADHD medications compared to the children who were not.

The Link Between Addiction and ADHD

When determining the risk of abuse with specific substances, researchers found that ADHD children were almost 3 times more likely to suffer from nicotine dependence, twice as likely to suffer from alcohol dependence, twice as likely to develop a cocaine addiction, and 1.5 times more likely to abuse marijuana.

The study also considered the use (and abuse) of the medications normally prescribed to treat ADHD. The researchers noted that, while they could not officially say “using ADHD medications increases the risk of substance abuse,” there is certainly a potential for abuse of these drugs. In the end, both parents and physicians should exercise caution when prescribing or administering stimulant medications to adolescents with ADHD.

Learn more about the risks and side effects of stimulant prescription pill abuse.