Attention! Kids with ADHD are at Greater Risk for Substance Abuse

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According to health officials, between five and 11 percent of American kids have the condition attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder – ADHD. Now, a study performed by the prestigious American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that children who are diagnosed with the condition are at substantially greater risk of substance abuse.

How Many Children Have ADHD

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health is the guidebook consulted by mental healthcare providers to aid in diagnosing children suspected of having ADHD. The fifth volume of the DSM reports that 5 percent of American children are affected by ADHD. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the number of children with the condition is more than double that figure.

Nearly everyone agrees that the number of diagnosed cases of ADHD has risen sharply in recent years. The CDC reports that 7.8 percent of American children were diagnosed with the disorder in 2003. That figure rose to 9.5 percent by 2007 and by 2011 around 11 percent of 4- to 17-year-olds had been diagnosed with ADHD. On average, children are diagnosed with the condition somewhere around age 7.

Unequal Distribution

ADHD affects boys more often than girls. Nearly twice as many boys (13.2 percent) as girls (5.6 percent) are diagnosed with the disorder. Interestingly, there is not only a gender disparity among children diagnosed with ADHD, there is also regional factor. Just 5.6 percent of children in Nevada are diagnosed with the disorder while 18.7 percent of children in Kentucky have been identified.


Here in the U.S. the disorder is commonly treated with drugs. Stimulants like Devedrine and Adderall are popularly prescribed medications as are the methylphenidates Ritalin, Concerta and Metadate CD. The drugs help to manage troublesome symptoms of ADHD but they do create another problem for children. Nearly 25 percent of kids taking ADHD medication are asked to sell or share their drugs with schoolmates.

ADHD Brings Increased Risks

The AAP study found other troubling news. Kids with ADHD face a much greater risk for substance abuse compared to children without the diagnosis. Kids with ADHD faced:

  • A two times greater risk for drug abuse
  • A three times greater risk for nicotine abuse
  • A two times higher risk for alcohol abuse
  • Twice the risk for cocaine use
  • One and a half times greater risk for abusing marijuana

No One Knows Why

Why children with ADHD are at greater risk for substance abuse remains unclear. The AAP study authors theorize that since children with ADHD are more apt to struggle in school they are more likely to search out coping mechanisms. The CDC reports that children with ADHD have significantly more trouble not just with schoolwork, but with social relationships. According to the CDC, 21.1 percent of kids with ADHD have peer problems compared with 7.3 percent of children without the disorder.

Some have posited that giving medications to children makes kids comfortable with taking drugs and therefore more likely to use or abuse other substances. The AAP study seems to argue against that possibility because their study showed that kids who used medication as well as received behavioral therapy actually experienced a reduced risk for substance abuse.

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