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Kids with ADHD at high risk for later substance abuse

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Kids with ADHD and substance abuse

Kids with ADHD are found to three times more likely to develop serious substance abuse problems in adulthood, find researchers.

UCLA and University of South Carolina psychologists collaboratively analyzed 27 long-term studies that followed approximately 4,100 children with ADHD and 6,800 children without attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, in carefully designed rigorous studies that yielded consistent findings.

Steve S. Lee, a UCLA assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the study says, "The greater risk for developing significant substance problems in adolescence and adulthood applies across substances, including nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and other drugs."

The findings are published online in Clinical Psychology Review that Lee says provides a “compelling analysis” that ADHD puts kids at risk for later substance abuse in a review of more than two dozen studies.

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Lee explained in order to be diagnosed with ADHD a child must have at least six of nine symptoms, some of which include inability to complete tasks and becoming easily bored and distracted. He says most children have at least six symptoms of inattention of hyperactivity.

Other diagnostic criteria include onset of symptoms before age7 with behaviors that are obvious in a variety of settings, such as at home and at school. ADHD is determined when other medical and mental health causes are ruled out.

In adolescence and adulthood, one third will have significant social difficulty and problems in school. Equally, the rest will have mild or moderate symptoms.

The findings, suggest the researchers, mean parents should closely monitor children with ADHD for substance abuse. Early mental health intervention can be facilitated by remaining aware and recognizing substance abuse problems. Five to ten percent of children in the United States suffer from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

UCLA Newsroom