ADHD Teens Have Higher Rate of Marijuana And Cigarette Use

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Researchers recently found the rates of substance abuse and cigarette use are much higher among teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) compared to their non-ADHD peers.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with ADHD have difficulty concentrating, maintaining control over impulsive behaviors and reining in an overabundance of energy.

For the recent study, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of the Health Sciences teamed up with the Western Psychiatric Institute, Clinic of UPMC and six other research centers across the US. They concluded medications for ADHD do not help prevent the risk of developing substance abuse and substance abuse disorder among teens with ADHD.

“This study underscores the significance of the substance abuse risk for both boys and girls with childhood ADHD,” said the study´s lead author Brooke Molina, professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “These findings also are the strongest test to date of the association between medication for ADHD and teenage substance abuse.”

The study is the first to find a positive correlation between ADHD and cigarette use as well as other substances such as alcohol and marijuana. Over an eight-year study period, almost 600 children and teens were tracked to determine whether the risk of substance abuse was related to a diagnosis of ADHD. The scientists also looked at the impact of ADHD medications, the interaction between medication and substance abuse, and general substance abuse patterns.

The team of investigators found a number of staggering statistics. First, 35 percent of 15-year-old teens with a history of ADHD had used one or more substances compared to 20 percent of adolescents without a history of ADHD. Additionally, only three percent of non-ADHD teens met the criteria for substance abuse or dependence disorders compared to a full ten percent of those of those with ADHD.

Marijuana use was also a more common among 17 year olds with ADHD (13 percent) compared to non-ADHD teens (seven percent). Similarly, smoking cigarettes was more common in teens with ADHD (17 percent) compared to teens without ADHD (eight percent). Another important finding was substance abuse rates were equally high among teens who continued to take ADHD medication and those who stopped taking medication.

Based on the findings, the researchers believe it is necessary to determine alternative ways of preventing substance abuse and treating the disorder.

“We are working hard to understand the reasons why children with ADHD have 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,” continued Molina.

“Some of this is biologically driven because we know that ADHD runs in families. However, similar to managing high blood pressure or obesity, there are non-medical things we can do to decrease the risk of a bad outcome. As researchers and practitioners, we need to do a better job of helping parents and schools address these risk factors that are so common for children with ADHD.”

Furthermore, there have been other studies that have looked at the impact of ADHD medications on patients. In particular, a recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found a significant increase in emergency department visits related to ADHD medication.

“ADHD medications, when properly prescribed and used, can be of enormous benefit to those suffering from ADHD, but like any other medication they can pose serious risks — particularly when they are misused,” said the researchers. “This study indicates that a better job has to be done alerting all segments of society — not just the young — that misuse of these medications is extremely dangerous.”

The study was recently published in the online edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

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