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Study Finds ADHD is Major Risk Factor for Developing Substance Use Disorders and Smoking

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a significant risk factor for developing substance use disorders and cigarette smoking in both boys and girls, new research indicates.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston analyzed data on about 500 boys and girls both with and without ADHD who were followed over 10 years, into young adulthood. They found that ADHD was a significant risk factor for any substance use disorder and cigarette smoking.

UPI reports the researchers found that among those with ADHD, 32 percent developed some type of substance abuse during the 10-year period, compared with 25 percent of those without ADHD. The study also found that having conduct disorder and ADHD tripled the risk of substance use disorders. “Anyone with ADHD needs to be counseled about the risk for substance abuse, particularly if they have any delinquency,” lead researcher Timothy Wilens, MD said in a press release.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

3 Responses to this article

  1. meltee / June 1, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Could it be the meds they pump into ADHD kids that triggered the substance abuse rather than the condition itself?
    I also wonder if the 25% rate of substance abuse problems among the “control group” seems high to other readers.

  2. A. Barger / June 4, 2011 at 11:56 am

    It is a common belief that medically treating ADHD increases risk for drug problems the actual research says it is not. The properly diagnosed and treated child with ADHD is no more likely to develop a drug problem than children without ADHD. This study does not say if they controlled for conduct disorder as a predictor, but note they do mention delinquency. Those with conduct disorder are very likely to initiate earlier and heavier drug use and develop a drug dependence, but other well done longitudinal studies do not support these findings on ADHD after controlling for conduct disorder. In other word, the conduct disorder was the underlying factor, not the ADHD. The two disorders have a tendency to overlap in individuals, but either can stand along.

  3. Avatar of Mary Anne Gibson
    Mary Anne Gibson / June 6, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    I am a parent with no professional expertise in addiction/substance abuse. My son is now 28 and has been in recovery for a little over 2 years. He was diagnosed by an independent psychiatrist (outside of the school system) in second grade as having ADD.
    I resisted putting him on ritalin until he was in 11th grade and then immediately took him off as he was taking his pills to school and selling them.

    My experience with him, as well as other young men who suffer with ADD and ADHD that I met in his various trips to rehab, lead me to believe that their substance abuse problems are more related to their struggles in school, lack of successes, etc.
    I believe that they need on-going support for problem-solving skills, control of impulsivity, etc. so that they can develop a sense of self-worth, job skills and coping mechanisms for the real world. While prescription treatment might be needed by some, it alone is not the cure.

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