Childhood ADHD And Teen Substance Abuse

by admin on October 7, 2022

By Annika Lindorsson Krugel

Scientists have found that childhood ADHD, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, could be as significant as having a family member with alcohol or substance abuse when predicting the risk of later alcohol problems in teens.

ADHD Contributes To Social Problems And Substance Abuse

ADHD occurs in eight to ten percent of all school children making it one of the most common mental health disorders among children. Boys are three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with it, according to the Nemours Foundation.

Symptoms of ADHD include acting without thinking, hyperactivity and trouble focussing. This behaviour relates to substance abuse because “Children with ADHD are believed to be at risk for alcoholism because of their impulsivity and distractibility, as well as other problems that often accompany ADHD such as school failure and behavior problems,” said Brooke Molina of the University of Pittsburgh.

Although previous studies have indicated a relationship between ADHD and substance abuse, a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology further explores the link between ADHD and predisposition to drugs, alcohol and tobacco: “This is one of the first studies to focus on the severity of inattention problems in childhood ADHD as distinct from impulsivity and hyperactivity,” said Ting-Kai Li, M.D., director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Research Show Teens With Childhood ADHD Try Alcohol At Younger Age

The research focussed on 142 teenagers between the age of 13 and 18 years old who had in their childhood received treatment for ADHD at the Attention Deficit Disorder Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. As controls they used 100 young people in the same age group who had not been diagnosed with ADHD. Both groups were asked about their alcohol and substance use: “whether they had ever tried a substance during their lifetime, how old they were when they first tried tobacco, alcohol, or drugs, and the type, frequency, and quantity of substances used during the past six months”.

The results showed a significant difference between those diagnosed with ADHD and those who were not. Almost twice as many teens in the ADHD group reported having been drunk more than once in the past six months. A later study showed that 14 per cent of 15 to 17-year olds with childhood ADHD to be diagnosed with alcohol abuse or dependence, whereas none of the corresponding control group were.

Li explained that although there was no difference between the groups in whether they had tried alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana at least once, the ADHD group reported being three times more likely to have tried an illicit drug other than marijuana. The ADHD group had also tried tobacco at an earlier age than the non-ADHD group, as well as used an illegal drug other than marijuana at a younger age.

11 per cent of teens with childhood ADHD had tried two or more illegal drugs, compared to only three per cent among their peers.

Inconsistent Research Due To Diagnosis At Later Age

While this study showed a clear link between teen substance-related problems and childhood ADHD, research has not always been conclusive on the topic. “It appears that one of the reasons for the past inconsistencies in research is that the ADHD-alcohol relationship does not become solid until at least mid-adolescence,” said UC Berkeley’s professor and chair of the department of psychology, Stephen Hinshaw.


Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder At Risk For Alcohol Problems ScienceDaily Apr. 2, 2007

Brooke Molina & William Pelham, Childhood predictors of adolescent substance use in a longitudinal study of children with ADHD, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, August 2003, Volume 112, Number 3

What Is ADHD? Nemours Foundation

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