ADHD and Risk of Alcohol and Substance Abuse

In her dissertation study of how ADHD might pose an increased risk of alcohol and substance abuse, Anne Carol Banks found that a child who has ADHD but is not diagnosed or is not treated for it is at increased risk of developing substance abuse.  She also found that children whose ADHD was identified and being treated have a reduced risk for developing alcohol or substance abuse.

ADHD is invisible, and to many parents, seems like willful disobedience instead of the manifestation of a neurological condition the child can’t control without help.  The impulsivity causes children to interrupt the conversations and activities of others; combined with poor social skills for how to smooth these events over, children find themselves swiftly rejected by their peers.  They find their inattentiveness causes them to miss important social cues for which no one could ever invent an excuse, they miss details of instructions and school assignments and conversations.  The instant emotional response to irritations or differences of opinions causes additional problems for those who have this symptom in place. Socializing then becomes uncomfortable and  unpredictably bad, worse, too awful to talk about for many children with ADHD.  Parenting for these children without the diagnosis that gives clues to proper actions and remedies becomes an “adventure” in mistakes, maladaptation, and misunderstanding on all sides.  Often both the child and parents would like some relief.

Those who have tried various drugs and alcohol tell us that there is a window of time when their brains function more normally and they have sought to reach that point through illicit drugs when their diagnosis was unknown and/or treatment was not given.  The dangers of addiction and overdosing, not to mention the illegality of drug abuse, seems less important to these people because it is in the world of “What If.”  Their daily frustrations are in the here and now, very real, and very frustrating.  Relief, no matter where they find it, is highly desirable.  They do whatever they can to find some normality, even for short periods of time.

This is one study that highlights the importance of early identification and early intervention.  Do you know the signs of ADD/ADHD?  You can Google “symptoms of ADD and ADHD”.  If you know a child who fits the description but has not been diagnosed and is not being treated but who is struggling in school, please suggest to parents that there is help.

Parents who have decided not to give their child medication for ADD/ADHD without having tried any must continuously re-evaluate their parenting strategies. They need to be sure they are providing enough training in compensatory strategies to avoid constant confusion, opportunities and perhaps clinical support to learn strong social skills.  There must also be enough mental and emotional support to avoid depression and anxiety so their child will never feel the need for any external relief assistance.

You can read Banks’ dissertation and see how she determined the risk of substance abuse for many other social factors including male, African-American, Caucasian, students of low income households, students suspended for anti-social behaviors, poor decisions, disruptive or aggressive behaviors, truancy or delinquency, low grades, and high number of absences and approximately when that substance abuse might begin.  Banks, Anne Carol.   An Early Risk Assessment Model for Alcohol and Substance Abuse Using ADHD Predictors of Risk .   Dissertation Abstracts International, A: The Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. 66, no. 4, pp. 1498-A, Oct 2005.


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