Let’s face it –medication for ADHD when properly used is of enormous benefit to both children and adults. The problems start to surface when there are unexpected risks associated with drug dependence in general, especially in relation to smoking and alcoholism. Recent studies in ADHD drug research and substance abuse have recently thrown some new light on this issue.

Figures for alcoholism and smoking among people with ADHD.

The statistics for people with ADHD are not comforting :

  • people with ADHD are much more likely to have problems with alcoholic dependence
  • 40% of teens with ADHD are liable to start using alcohol earlier than their non ADHD counterparts  (22%).
  • as regards smoking and abuse of tobacco and marijuana, teens with ADHD were three times more likely to becoming dependent than their non ADHD peers.
  • these figures were reported in the Clinical Psychology Review in the summer of 2011. This was a large scale study in that the project (sponsored by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) followed over 10,000 teens from adolescence into adulthood.

 Why should ADHD teens be more likely to start abusing alcohol and drugs?

 There are many reasons why a teen with ADHD is tempted to turn to something which will help him to face difficulties such as: 

  • problems in fitting into social groups and relationships with peers
  • low self esteem
  • poor academic achievement
  • anxiety and stress
  • lack of parental control 

 Are ADHD teens on Ritalin are less likely to become dependent on recreational drugs? 

Lots of people have argued that there is little risk of this and it is one of the great advantages of people being properly prescribed these drugs. They point out that the amount of amphetamine contained in the average daily dose of Ritalin or Concerta is much less than that of cocaine.  Because of that, it is much slower to take effect on the dopamine transmitter and therefore the risk of addiction to this substance or other similar ones is low or negligible.

New ADHD drug research paints a different picture.

Breaking news (published a few days ago in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) shows a much different picture. This research was conducted at the  University of Pittsburg School of Medicine.  600 children were followed for a period of eight years. 

The main aims of the research were: 

  1. is there a connection between ADHD and cigarette smoking, alcoholism and drug abuse?
  2. is there any correlation between  ADHD medication and drug abuse in general? 

The results were startling:

  • among the fifteen year old teens, 35% of those with ADHD had already used one or more of the above substances (compared to 20% for those who did not have ADHD).
  • as regards substance abuse in general the figures were 10% for those with ADHD compared with a mere 3% for the non-ADHD teens.
  • Smoking was about double the rate among those with ADHD

The most important result which interests us is that ADHD medication seemed to make no difference whatsoever to the figures. Those who were on the meds were getting almost the same results as those who were not!

What do these results mean for parents?

  1. the risks of  substance abuse are high for those with ADHD whether they are on medication or not
  2. we need to monitor and note any changes in mood or behavior and routines
  3. we should be aware of what the alternatives to medication are. For example, homeopathy has no side effects and fewer health risks all round
  4. we should be aware that medication is just one part of a whole treatment program.

Regardless of whether we use ADHD meds or not, we should make sure that we use effective parenting skills, proper diet and exercise and limits on media time together with a friendly supportive environment. 

brain health

Robert Locke MBE is an award winning author and has written extensively on ADHD and related child health problems. You can visit this page on ADHD natural treatment to find out more.

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 ADHD Drug Research