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Children with ADHD prone to substance abuse

Among the ADHD participants, nearly one-third developed some form of substance abuse problem over the follow-up period.

Children with ADHD prone to substance abuse

Boys and girls diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) face a significantly higher risk of developing a substance abuse problem - including cigarettes, alcohol and drugs.

High rates of substance abuse disorders have been found in teenagers and adults suffering from ADHD but few studies have tried looking into the predictors of substance abuse in such children. Questions have been raised about whether specific aspects of ADHD such as impulsive behavior, cognitive problems, school problems, accompanying conditions such as bipolar disorder or conduct disorder, or family factors were actually responsible for the risk. To identify characteristics of children that might predict the future development of substance abuse disorders and to see whether the role of these characteristics vary by sex, researchers examined data from two previous studies and explored psychiatric and behavioural problems among  children diagnosed with ADHD. One of the studies had focused on boys, while the other looked at the experience of girls. From those two studies, a decade of more of follow-up information was available for a total of 268 participants with ADHD and 220 control participants, both groups equally divided by gender.

Among the ADHD participants, nearly one-third developed some form of substance abuse problem over the follow-up period while only one-quarter of the control children developed similar issues with cigarettes, alcohol or drugs. Although neither gender nor a family history of substance abuse played a role in risk elevation, conduct disorder did boost the risk threefold.

The study supports the association between ADHD and substance abuse found in several earlier studies and shows that the increased risk cannot be accounted for by co-existing factors such as other psychiatric disorders or family history of substance abuse. While it is till unknown why some kids with ADHD develop substance abuse and others don't, anyone with ADHD needs to be counseled about the risk for substance abuse, particularly if they have any delinquency.

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