Increased Risk of Drug Abuse for Children with ADHD

November 12, 2012

Increased Risk of Drug Abuse for Children with ADHD

The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has a new report which suggests that younger adults who had previously had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in their childhood could be at increased risk of becoming a smoker and may have drug and alcohol use and abuse problems too.

ADHD is a disorder which shows itself with symptoms such as hyperactivity, lack of attention or concentration and impulsive behavior. This behavioral condition can also exhibit what is known as conduct disorder. This includes violent and disruptive behavioral patterns.

Researchers also discovered that children with ADHD and conduct disorder have about three times the likelihood of developing substance abuse issues in contrast to those with ADHD alone.

Timothy Wilens, MD, of the Massachusetts General Hospital Pediatric Psychopharmacology Unit and an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston is a study researcher. He says, “ADHD increases your risk for cigarette smoking and substance abuse pretty dramatically, and you have to be mindful of that”. He advises parents and other adult family members to be cautious when he says “If a kid has conduct disorder too, you have to talk about these risks and be careful not to keep extra alcohol and prescription drugs in your medication cabinet”.

He goes on to say that the problem is real and everyone, that’s parents, healthcare professionals and the youngster too, must remain involved and take responsibility.

Increased Risk of Drug Abuse

The research involved data from two earlier studies which looked at the frequency of psychiatric and behavioral disorders which were present in children with ADHD being examined. The study ran for ten years and the average age of the participants at the outset was about 10 years.

After ten years it was found that the young adults who had been diagnosed as ADHD were about one and a half times more likely to have developed substance abuse problems than those who did not have a diagnosis of ADHD.

In addition to this the study also found that if someone still had ADHD after 10 years then they had a higher risk of developing substance abuse problems than those who did not have an ADHD diagnosis any longer.

The risk of emerging substance abuse issues in those who had ADHD and conduct disorder was found to be three times more than those with ADHD but without conduct disorder.

Gender did not have any bearing on the risk factors of developing substance abuse and neither did having problems at school, cognitive issues, mood disorders or a family history of drug taking or substance abuse. Wilens says of this finding, “Boys and girls with ADHD were equal in terms of their risk of developing substance abuse. And academic achievement and cognitive issues did not predict substance abuse at all, so there is probably something else going on”.

Medication and ADHD

Although the research is inconclusive in this area the researchers say that taking medication as a treatment for ADHD had no effect on the likelihood of developing substance abuse. However they acknowledge that further work in this area is required before any firm conclusions can be drawn. It’s noted that ADHD treatments and their effects on the risk of becoming a substance abuser in the future are not clearly seen in this study.

However Jon Shaw, MD, a professor of psychiatry of the University of Miami School of Medicine, believes that earlier studies have found that using stimulants as a form of treatment for ADHD does not increase any risks. He goes on to say that what he has seen in the report is the same as he sees in real life. He says, “This confirms what we know clinically and really replicates previous studies that show us that ADHD is a risk factor for substance abuse later in life”.

He goes on to point out that it’s probably the ADHD itself that makes the risk of substance abuse more likely, not any treatment that may be given. He then talks of earlier research and says, “It used to be believed that psychostimulants in and of themselves increase the risk for substance abuse among people taking them. But 10 to 15 studies show us that the use of stimulants does not increase this risk”.

He also points out that youngsters with ADHD are poor at learning from experience so the social norms of reward and punishment do not work. They are also very impulsive and Shaw says, “If they have the impulse, they have the proclivity to act on it”.

He is also aware that many people with ADHD may be drug users to try to bring balance to their lives.

Shaw stresses that people with ADHD must be treated, and he says, “ADHD leads to academic problems and children with untreated ADHD often become targets of teachers who find them disruptive, and it cascades downhill from there”.

One expert who advises that adults who have ADHD should be monitored to identify any signs of drug abuse is Stephen Grcevich, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Family Center by the Falls in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. He says, “Kids who were identified as having symptoms of ADHD and conduct disorder should be watched carefully as there may be a role for primary prevention and/or early intervention in terms of substance abuse”.

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