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ADHD has a strong link to substance abuse

Posted on: August 12th, 2015 in Addiction, Children, Substance Abuse No Comments


Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in early childhood increases the risk of substance abuse, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. It is the most common neurobehavioral disorder in children and affects eight percent of children and adolescents.

The researchers analyzed data from two studies, which looked at the pervasiveness of behavioral and psychiatric disorders that occur alongside ADHD in children. The average age of participants when the study began was 10 years old. These children were then studied over a 10 year period. The study participants with ADHD showed to be 1.5 times more likely to develop drug abuse issues after the 10-year mark than those who did not have ADHD. Participants with ADHD who possessed a conduct disorder showed to be three times as likely to develop a substance abuse problem. Both boys and girls with ADHD in the study showed to be equal in terms of their likelihood of developing a substance abuse problem later in life.

Timothy Wilens, M.D., of the Massachusetts General Hospital Pediatric Psychopharmacology Unit, states, “ADHD increases your risk for cigarette smoking and substance abuse pretty dramatically, and you have to be mindful of that…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.”

Several other studies have shown a strong link between ADHD and substance abuse. Research indicates that ADHD is five to 10 times more common among alcoholics and addicts than it is in people without a substance abuse problem. The rate of ADHD among adults who undergo addiction treatment is 25 percent.

Children with ADHD also tend to start abusing alcohol and drugs in their teenage years. One study showed that 14 percent of children with ADHD between 15 and 17 years old had problems with alcohol abuse or addiction when they were adults. In another study, 40 percent of children with ADHD started using alcohol at a mean age of 14.9 years old. The statistics for children who did not have an ADHD diagnosis was significantly lower at 22 percent. Research has found that people with ADHD also typically begin having problems with substance abuse earlier in life than those without the disorder.

Is ADHD medication addictive?

The most common medications for ADHD are prescription stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall. They raise dopamine levels in the brains, which improves concentration and focus. Dopamine is the “feel good” chemical in the brain that affects emotions of pleasure. ADHD medications can produce a “high” feeling in users when abused. If a child or adult with ADHD is suspected of having a problem with drug or alcohol abuse, doctors should be careful when prescribing these patients stimulants.

Prescription stimulants can be crushed and snorted to produce a more intense feeling of euphoria and therefore do carry a high risk for abuse among people who struggle with addiction. Doctors have utilized other non-stimulant medications to treat ADHD, which do not carry the addictive qualities of Ritalin, Dexedrine or Adderall.  Atomoxetine, which goes by the brand name, Strattera is a common non-stimulant option for patients with ADHD. Other options include antidepressants like Wellbutrin and Norpramin. Many patients with ADHD do not suffer from problems with addiction, but for those who do, some of these non-stimulant options are a safer alternative.

Children with ADHD often may struggle with self esteem, poor academic performance and problems with relationships. Symptoms of this condition may reduce with age, but some people who struggle with ADHD never completely outgrow its symptoms. Many people with this condition are able to manage their symptoms as they grow older. People with ADHD are typically more prone to impulsiveness and behavioral problems, both of which can work hand in hand with substance abuse, according to researchers. Both addiction and ADHD can be carried down through families as well. Due to the strong link between these conditions, parents of children with ADHD should be watchful of signs of drug and alcohol abuse.

One hundred Americans die due to drug abuse every day and it’s important that those who still suffer from addiction know that there is help available. For those struggling with addiction, help is available. Sovereign Health Group is among the leading and most well-renowned addiction treatment providers in the country. We offer various inpatient and outpatient treatment programs across the country for patients who are struggling with drug addiction, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis conditions. If you know someone who is struggling with drug addiction and is in need of addiction treatment, please do not hesitate to call. You may reach us at 888-530-4614.

Written by Benjamin Creekmore, Sovereign Health Group writer

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