Findings: Drug abuse linked to ADHD

August 22, 2003

Youngsters with severely short attention spans are more likely to have their futures blighted by drink and drug problems, according to a new study, writes Natasha Gilbert.

Researchers in the US have found that children suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, particularly those with an inability to concentrate rather than with hyperactive behaviour, were more at risk of using illicit drugs, smoking and having problems with alcohol during their adolescence than children without ADHD.

Brooke Molina of the School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, who was the lead author of the study, suggested that these children might be more prone to substance abuse because problems with paying attention in childhood could have detrimental effects on school learning and social relationships. She said that this might set the stage for drug use and abuse later in life.

"A child with a poor academic performance and peer difficulties may gravitate towards nonconformist peer groups as an adolescent, where substance abuse is accepted as a way of life," Dr Molina said.

The study looked at 142 teenagers aged between 13-18 who had been diagnosed with ADHD in childhood.

The researchers compared this group with 100 children in the same age range who did not suffer from ADHD. They found that the 72 per cent of children with ADHD who continued to suffer into their adolescence reported more alcohol and drug use problems than those children without ADHD.

According to the study, an inability to concentrate could play an important role in predicting substance use in later life. The researchers hoped that identifying this risk factor would help children before their use of alcohol and drugs turns into a lifelong dependence.

These findings are published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

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