Substance Abuse in Teens With ADHD

By Eileen Bailey

Several studies have shown that teens with ADHD are at a higher risk for substance abuse than their non-ADD counterparts.

A study that appeared in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology in 2003 showed a link between inattention symptoms with a higher rate of alcohol and substance abuse. Dr. Brooke Molina, PhD, one of the lead researchers in the study said, “Our finding indicate that the presence of ADHD during childhood, the severity of symptoms, and the persistence of the disorder may be risk factors for early substance use and the emergence of substance abuse disorders during the teen years.”

In this study, the severity of inattention alone was found to lead to greater risk of substance abuse. Impulsiveness and hyperactivity did not seem to play as great of a role as inattention.

Dr. Molina also participated in the Pittsburgh ADHD Longitudinal Study where children were followed through adolescence and young adulthood. This study showed that “children with ADHD are more likely to report heavy drinking in their teen years, and more problems from drinking, than non-ADHD teens.”  Further, Dr. Molina indicated that 5% of teens in the U.S. have alcohol problems, however, 14% of teens with ADHD reported drinking problems.

ADHD, Conduct Disorder and Teen Drinking

The American Journal of Psychiatry reported in 2001 of a study showing substance abuse was not only more common in children diagnosed with ADHD or Conduct Disorder but that drinking occurred earlier, sometimes beginning at age 12. This study was actually part of a larger study on alcohol and genetics but showed a direct connection between ADHD and substance abuse. According to previous research, children that began drinking younger than age 15 were at a high risk of becoming alcohol dependant. This study, which showed children diagnosed with ADHD or Conduct Disorder drinking as early at age 12 indicated that parents needed to be proactive in monitoring their children’s alcohol intake during early adolescence.

What Parents Can Do

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