ADHD & Substance Abuse

By Eileen Bailey

Substance abuse is the inappropriate use of drugs or alcohol. These substances normally alter people’s judgment, perception, attention and physical control.  According to the 1996 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 10% of all Americans abuse alcohol. In addition, a study showed that of adults seeking medical treatment for addictions, 10% to 20% had ADD/ADHD.

Substance abuse impacts every aspect of someone’s life. It can interfere with normal activities. Some of the major symptoms of substance abuse include:

  • Problems in school, decline in grades, failure to complete homework
  • Change in activities or friends
  • Losing interest in past activities
  • Feeling depressed or hopeless
  • Aggressiveness, irritability, mood swings
  • Forgetfulness
  • Legal problems

Although there has been much debate on the use of stimulant medications for ADHD: does it lead to later use of drugs, there has been evidence that the use of medication actually decreases the chances of drug abuse. In one study, performed at the Boston Hospital and the Harvard Medical School, the use of medication to treat ADHD symptoms decreased the use of illicit drugs by 84%.  According to Dr. Joseph Beiderman, a lead investigator in the study, “I can only speculate that by reducing ADHD symptoms, the medications allow the children to interact better with their families and friends and to perform better in school. As a result, they are less likely to be ridiculed and rejected by other children and to fail in school. Because of this, they are less likely to be depressed and to take drugs in an attempt to treat their depression."

In the past, other studies have shown results consistent with this study. Even so, many people still believe that providing children with medication is showing them that taking drugs is okay. No matter whether you choose to use stimulant medication, or choose to give your child medication to help reduce the symptoms of ADHD, it has been shown over and over that early intervention and treatment are important factors in creating a successful life.

Medications Reduce Incidence of Substance Abuse Among ADHD Patients, 1999, Steven Stocker, National Institute on Drug Abuse

Substance Abuse and Adult ADHD, 2000, Frances R. Levin, MD, Psychiatric Times

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