In the first large-scale comprehensive analysis exploring the link between children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and future drug abuse, researchers reveal that those diagnosed with ADHD are two to three times more likely to experience serious substance abuse problems throughout their teen and adult years than those without the disorder.
UCLA psychologists and colleagues at the University of South Carolina analyzed 27 long-term studies that followed approximately 4,100 children with ADHD and 6,800 children without ADHD into adolescence and young adulthood, some for more than 10 years.
After the published studies were analyzed, the researchers discovered that ADHD children were at greater risk for serious problems with drug addiction and substance abuse.
They also found that those with ADHD had more problems with attempting to quit but being unable to do so, said Dr. Steve S. Lee, lead author of the study and UCLA assistant professor of psychology.
“Any single study can be spurious,” Lee said, “but our review of more than two dozen carefully designed studies provides a compelling analysis.”
Approximately 5 to 10 percent of children in the U.S. have ADHD, and figures in many other industrialized countries with compulsory education are comparable, according to Lee.
Symptoms include being fidgety, easily distracted and bored, and being unable to finish a single task. To receive an ADHD diagnosis, however, a child must have at least six of nine symptoms of either inattention or hyperactivity, and the child’s behavior must interfere with his or her life. Most children with ADHD have at least six symptoms in both categories, said Lee.
“This greater risk for children with ADHD applies to boys and girls, it applies across race and ethnicity — the findings were very consistent,” said Lee.
“The greater risk for developing significant substance problems in adolescence and adulthood applies across substances, including nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and other drugs.”
According to Lee, as children with ADHD enter adolescence and adulthood, they will generally fall into one of the following three groups: one-third will have significant social and academic problems; one-third will have moderate impairment; and one-third will do reasonably well or have only slight impairment.
Parents should observe their children, said Lee, because early intervention with a mental health professional is often helpful. An ADHD diagnosis needs to be made by a mental health professional such as a child psychologist or psychiatrist and not by a parent or teacher.
The study is published online in the journal Clinical Psychology Review and was federally funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Source: University of California