The link between ADHD and substance abuse

By Sheryl Kay • Published: June 1st, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Up to ten percent of children in America are diagnosed with ADHD each year, and research now shows that over time, those same children may be facing additional, and sometimes life-threatening, challenges in the form of substance abuse.

A study published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review examined more than twenty-five individual long-term studies involving more than ten-thousand-children who were followed for ten years through adolescence and young adulthood. About four thousand of them had been diagnosed with ADHD, exhibiting symptoms characteristic of the disease, including fidgeting, being easily distracted and struggling to complete a single task. The other group consisted of children with no such diagnosis.

After carefully reviewing the findings of all studies, researchers found that regardless of sex, race or ethnicity, those children who did have ADHD were far more likely to develop strong addictions in their teen years to substances such as nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and other drugs.

The study did not identify the specific reasons why substance abuse rates were much higher in the ADHD group. But the researchers did note that at least thirty percent, and sometimes as many as sixty percent of these students, had moderate to severe problems in school, particularly with social development.

The researchers say parents should seek the help of psychologists for proper evaluation if they suspect their child might have ADHD. Also, even if a child is diagnosed with the condition, substance abuse is not necessarily a fait accompli down the road. By being aware of the potential for problems, the researchers said, parents can help their children overcome obstacles and develop better social skills.