Substance Use in Teens with ADHD

ADHD teens may have higher rates of substance use and abuse than other teens

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may have a harder time in life and wind up reaching for substances to cope. Early interventions may improve later habits.

A recent study looked at a group of teens with ADHD over the course of about eight years. Researchers found that nearly double the number of teens with ADHD used illegal substances compared to teens without ADHD in the same community. Use of ADHD stimulant medication did not change substance use and abuse rates in the teens.

"Help your ADHD teen find positive ways to cope."

Brooke S.G. Molina, PhD, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine in Pennsylvania, was the lead author of this investigation into substance abuse in teens with ADHD.

For the study, researchers looked at 436 teenagers that had been enrolled in the Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD for as long as eight years before this follow-up analysis. The teens were asked about their medications, illegal substance use and any treatment for substance abuse.

Researchers compared substance use among the 436 teenagers with ADHD to 261 gender- and age-matched teenagers without ADHD. Substances included: alcohol, tobacco products, marijuana, cocaine, prescriptions, hallucinogens, amphetamines or inhalants.

Researchers did not find that taking stimulant medications for ADHD - either at the time of the study or over the course of the previous eight years - was a risk factor for developing a substance use disorder. However, results showed that having ADHD in and of itself did increase the risk of having a substance use disorder.

Overall, 35 percent of teens with ADHD reported substance use, with 18 percent using two or more substances. In comparison, only 20 percent of teens without ADHD reported substance use, with 8 percent using two or more substances.

Marijuana and tobacco were the most common substances used by the ADHD population.

“Substance use at all time points, including use of two or more substances and substance use disorder, were each greater in the ADHD than in the non-ADHD [groups], regardless of sex,” said the authors.

The authors recommended that healthcare professionals create substance use and abuse intervention and prevention strategies tailored towards teens with ADHD.

“We are working hard to understand the reasons why children with ADHD have an increased risk of drug abuse. Our hypotheses, partly supported by our research and that of others, is that impulsive decision making, poor school performance, and difficulty making healthy friendships all contribute,” said Dr. Molina.

This study was published in February in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

The National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse provided funding to the various arms of this study. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 13, 2013
Last Updated:
February 16, 2013