Girls With ADHD at Risk for Substance Abuse

ADHD predicts substance abuse more often in girls than boys

(RxWiki News) More boys are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than girls. But more of these girls are vulnerable to having other problems later in life.

A recent Finnish study finds both boys and girls with ADHD have increased risks of developing alcohol and substance abuse problems as they move into adulthood. But those vulnerabilities vary between boys and girls, according to researchers at University of Helsinki and University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

"Girls with ADHD are more likely to have alcohol and substance abuse problems."

The study involved 1545 Finnish adolescents who had been diagnosed with ADHD between the ages of 11 and 12 using standard testing methods, including parent and teacher reporting of symptoms. Then at age 14, these adolescents were assessed for substance use disorders and attendant psychiatric problems.

Later, at age 17.5 the participants completed questionnaires about their alcohol and drug habits.

The study found:

  • ADHD symptoms were more common in boys than girls
  • ADHD symptoms in girls tended to predict later alcohol/substance use problems
  • Only in girls were ADHD symptoms significant predictors of alcohol abuse and illicit drug use at age 14
  • Parental and teacher reporting of attention problems served to accurately predict these problems experienced by girls throughout adolescence

Psychiatrist Dr. Elina Sihvolva, the lead author of this study, says that inattention and hyperactivity may foretell problematic behavior around drugs and alcohol more often in girls than in boys.

She adds these behavior symptoms should be assessed further in the community so that they don't jeopardize "adolescents’ successful transitioning into adult roles.”

This work was published in Psychological Medicine 2011.

Review Date: 
August 7, 2011