Strong Association Found With ADHD Adults and Substance Use Disorders

According to a study, half of young adults between the ages of 20 and 39 with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have experienced a substance use disorder in their lifetime. This is substantially more than the 23.6 percent of young adults not having ADHD who've experienced a substance use disorder in their lifetime.1✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
DOI: 10.1093/alcalc/agab048

After taking into consideration factors like education, income, race, age, childhood adversities as well as other mental illness, young ADHD adults were still 69 percent more likely to have experienced a substance use disorder in comparison to those not having ADHD.

A lifetime history of childhood adversities and mental illness resulted in the largest attenuation of the association between ADHD and substance use disorder.  More than ¼ of individuals with ADHD had a depression history, which was significantly more than the 11 percent incidence in individuals not having ADHD.

The study results highlight the importance of dealing with anxiety and depression when providing care to individuals with co-occurring ADHD and substance use disorder.  People with untreated anxiety and depression might self-medicate to help in managing the symptoms of a psychiatric disorder that is untreated, which can lead to more substance use.

Individuals with ADHD also had high levels of adverse childhood experiences, with more than 1/3 of young adults reported that they had been physically abused and 11 percent reported that they were a victim of sexual abuse before the age of 16.

Prior research has also found a strong childhood adversity and substance use disorder association. Maltreatment in childhood could disrupt the neuro-development and emotional regulation of children, which could predispose them to developing substance dependence later on.

The most common substance abuse disorders in young ADHD adults were alcohol use disorders at 36 percent, followed by 23 percent in cannabis use disorders. Young ADHD adults were also 3 times more probable to experience an illicit drug disorder apart from cannabis in comparison to those not having ADHD.

A possible explanation for the exceptionally high rate of illicit drug use in ADHD individuals is the accelerated gateway hypothesis which theorizes that ADHD individuals have a tendency to initiate substance use at a younger age, leading to riskier use and greater problem severity in adulthood.

The study results underline how extremely vulnerable young ADHD adults are.  There’s a clear need for developing treatment and prevention programs to deal with substance use issues in ADHD individuals, while also promoting mental health and dealing with childhood adversities.

Adult Adhd Infographic

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