A new study of 600 children diagnosed with attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at the age of about 8 has found that those kids are at a significantly higher risk for substance abuse 6 to 8 years later in life than are kids who are not diagnosed. The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, found that there was no difference in the rates or risk of addiction for boys or girls diagnosed with the problem.
Some medical experts and researchers have hypothesized that the increased risk of substance abuse that accompanies ADHD diagnosis in young kids is the result of the manner in which it is treated, whether with prescription medications like Ritalin and other stimulants or not. Some researchers think that the medications themselves are to blame for later drug and tobacco habits, and some researchers think that the medications do not do anything to counter the increased risk kids with ADHD have for substance abuse issues.
However, this newest study does not deny that these medications may be a factor in susceptibility to drug, alcohol, or tobacco abuse. The research highlights the need for new non-medical approaches to related substance abuse issues, including earlier detection of the risk factors and new ways of educating and informing those found to be at risk.
What the Study Found
Besides trying to find out whether kids who supposedly have ADHD were more likely to have substance abuse issues than those who had not been diagnosed, the study focused on the patterns and types of substance abuse, the effect of treating medication and the tendency to abuse drugs and alcohol, and the long-term effects of those same medications. Some of the key findings of the study included:
• At the age of 15, 35 percent of ADHD adolescents had used more than one illegal substance compared to only 20 percent of adolescents who did not been diagnosed.
• While only 3 percent of teens without ADHD were at serious risk for substance abuse, over 10 percent of teens with a diagnosis were at serious risk for the disorder.
• At the age of 17, teens with ADHD were almost twice as likely to abuse marijuana as those who had not been diagnosed.
• While the smoking rate for teens without ADHD is 8 percent nationwide, over 17 percent of teens with it were smokers.
• The risk for substance abuse among teens with the problem was not better for those being treated with stimulant medicines (Ritalin, amphetamines, etc.)
Why Does the Link With Substance Abuse Exist
This research has spurred an increased effort to understand why the link between this issue and substance abuse problems exists and to identify the risk factors earlier and thus be more successful in preventing a potential drug or alcohol problem. Some researchers are convinced that ADHD medication is to blame, although this study seems to indicate that they don’t help any.
Others believe that kids with ADHD have a harder time in school, in social situations, and a tendency towards erratic decision-making and that these symptoms combine to make it more likely that an adolescent with this problem will abuse drugs, alcohol, or tobacco.
Researchers suggest that new and comprehensive approaches to the problem involving parents and teachers armed with new knowledge about the problem may be a step in the right direction. Many researchers and experts on adolescent psychology believe that non-medical approaches are best and that a strong, supporting, and vigilantly watchful community can help teens with ADHD to make the right decisions regarding drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
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