New research suggests that some childhood psychiatric disorders increase the risk of developing addiction later in life. Experts believe the findings emphasize the need for early detection and intervention for childhood mental health issues.
In the study, investigators combined a large amount of data from previous studies (meta-analysis) and discovered a correlation between various psychiatric disorders among children and later risk of developing addictions.
The findings appear in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP).
The research team was led by investigators from the Child Study group at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and Accare, the Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University Medical Center Groningen, in the Netherlands.
Scientists found that individuals diagnosed in childhood with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)/conduct disorder (CD), and depression had an increased risk of developing addictions.
Interestingly, results concerning anxiety were less clear. The risk may depend on the specific type of anxiety disorder, but to date, no studies have focused on this topic.
“We know that ADHD in childhood increases the risk for later substance-related disorders, but until now, no systematic evaluation of other childhood psychiatric disorders had been conducted,” said Dr. Annabeth P. Groenman.
“Our findings show that not only ADHD increased the risk of addictions, but that other childhood psychiatric disorders also increased risk. This indicates the importance of early detection of mental health problems in a wider group. Addiction is a major cause of immense personal, familial, and societal burden, and prevention is therefore an important goal.”
The study re-analyzed data of 37 previous studies containing a total of 762,187 individuals, of whom 22,029 had ADHD, 434 had disruptive behavior disorders (such as ODD/CD), 1,433 had anxiety disorder, and 2,451 had depression. The researchers identified studies looking at childhood psychiatric disorders and later addiction.
Disruptive behaviors (ODD/CD) frequently co-occur with ADHD, in approximately 30 percent of cases. This comorbidity is often thought to be the main cause of addictions in individuals with ADHD.
However, the results suggest that co-occurring ODD/CD in ADHD does not fully explain the risk of addictions in this group.
Professor Jaap Oosterlaan, principal investigator of the Child Study Group, noted, “Now that we have firmly established children with psychiatric disorders as a high-risk group for later substance-related disorders, the next step is to make parents, clinicians, and the government aware of these risks and work together in reducing the risks for addiction and its debilitating consequences.”