[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 11-Feb-2013
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Contact: Cristina Mestre
MestreCA@upmc.edu
412-586-9776
University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Large study shows substance abuse rates higher in teenagers with ADHD

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 11, 2013 A new study published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry revealed a significantly higher prevalence of substance abuse and cigarette use by adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) histories than in those without ADHD. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC as well as six other health centers across the United States also found that, contrary to previous findings, current medications for ADHD do not counter the risk for substance abuse and substance use disorder (SUD) among teenagers.

This study is the first to examine teenage substance abuse and treatment for ADHD in a large multi-site sample. It also is the first to recognize that increased use of cigarettes in teenagers with ADHD histories commonly occurs with use of other substances such as alcohol and marijuana.

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

Researchers studied nearly 600 children over an eight-year period from childhood through adolescence to test the hypothesis that children with ADHD have increased risk of substance use and abuse or dependence in adolescence. Molina and colleagues also examined substance abuse patterns, the effects of ADHD medications over time, and the relationship between medication and substance use.

The findings showed:

The authors noted the important finding that substance abuse rates were the same in teenagers still taking medication and in those no longer on medication, even after considering multiple factors that might cause teenage medication use. They noted that these results suggest a need to identify alternative approaches to substance abuse prevention and treatment for boys and girls with ADHD.

"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," added 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."

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Collaborators on this study include Stephen P. Hinshaw, Ph.D., of the University of California, Berkeley; Eugene Arnold, M.D., of Ohio State University; James M. Swanson, Ph.D., of the University of California, Irvine; William E. Pelham, Ph.D., Florida International University; Lily Hechtman, M.D., of McGill University; and others.

This research was supported by cooperative agreement grants and contracts from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

About the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

As one of the nation's leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1997. In rankings recently released by the National Science Foundation, Pitt ranked fifth among all American universities in total federal science and engineering research and development support.

Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region's economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, see www.medschool.pitt.edu.

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