A growing amount of research suggests there may be a strong link between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and increased risk of substance abuse. For example, a 2013 study by medical researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that among children at age 15, those with ADHD are almost twice as likely as those without the disorder to report using a substance such as alcohol or marijuana. Even more troubling, the study found that 10 percent of children with ADHD qualify as actual, full-blown substance abusers; in kids without ADHD, that statistic is only three percent.
Other studies have revealed similar trends among adults. For instance, according to one survey, 15 percent of adults with ADHD report struggling with substance abuse in the past year, compared to only around five percent of adults without ADHD. Moreover, researchers have estimated that no fewer than 35 percent of adult alcoholics have ADHD, with some studies putting that number as high as 71 percent.
All signs point to a correlation between drug abuse and ADHD. What are the underlying causes?
The verdict is still out on this question, but researchers have offered much in the way of speculation. One popular theory is that the symptoms of ADHD—such as impulsivity and sensation seeking—happen to be some of the main psychological features of someone who is likely to abuse drugs. Trouble at school or work caused by an inability to focus is another likely factor that could drive individuals with ADHD to the temporary relief offered by excessive drinking or substance use.
Another theory is that there’s a possible genetic or biological basis for the connection between ADHD and drug abuse. For example, recent research has found that close biological relatives of individuals suffering from ADHD are more likely to struggle with substance abuse and dependence than in families where ADHD is absent.
A Problem Of Missed Diagnoses
Finally, one last theory has to do with the fact that, while ADHD is fairly easy to detect during its onset in childhood, it becomes much harder to diagnose once the individual reaches adulthood. For this reason, there are probably countless adults who currently have ADHD but who have never been formally diagnosed. Without a proper prescription for Ritalin or some other ADHD medication, many of these individuals are likely to turn to other, harder drugs to relieve the symptoms of their undiagnosed disorder.
Help Is Here
Not everyone who has ADHD is automatically on the slippery slope toward substance abuse. Yet for many, early-onset ADHD could be the telltale sign of abuse and addiction to come.