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Study: ADHD May Be Primary Factor In Substance Abuse

This article is more than 8 years old.

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have an increased risk of abusing substances. In fact, a new long-term study of children with ADHD suggests that it may be a primary factor in substance abuse.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital followed about 500 children with ADHD over 10 years and found that someone with ADHD is one-and-a-half times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and more than twice as likely to smoke cigarettes than someone without attention deficit issues.

"Since anywhere from 6-9 percent of the children in this country have ADHD, the notion that they're at increased risk for substance abuse becomes a very important educational piece and prevention and early intervention component of their treatment," said Dr. Timothy Wilens, director of MGH's Center for Addiction Medicine.

The study found that the ADHD trumped cognitive and learning issues and a family history of substance abuse in being a risk factor for substance use.

"So it's not the cognitive style or attentional component that seems to be driving the substance use," Wilens said. "It seems to be the dysregulation of mood or affect and behavior that seems to be driving it."

This program aired on June 1, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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