As you might have heard before, ADHD and drug use often go together.
Actually, ADHD and a lot of things often go together. ADHD and anxiety. ADHD and depression. ADHD and draw pretty much any mental health condition out of a hat. But today’s topic is the link between ADHD and drug use – specifically, between ADHD and the addictive drug we call “alcohol.”
You might recall that last week I wrote about a study which found that genes predisposing people to ADHD subsequently increase people’s risk of smoking, cannabis use, and possibly alcohol dependence.
Since then, there’s a new study out that took a somewhat different approach to examining the link between ADHD and alcoholism. Here, the researchers decided to take 100 consecutive patients admitted to an Indian hospital for alcohol use disorders, and screen those patients for ADHD.
Altogether, twenty-one of the alcohol use patients screened as possibly having ADHD. When those patients were given a more in-depth evaluation, 19 were confirmed as having ADHD. The study was somewhat limited in not having a control group, but it’s quite unlikely that if you screened 100 consecutive people you encountered in the general population that one in five would be assessed as having ADHD.
What’s interesting is not just that ADHD was apparently highly prevalent among the alcohol use patients but also that the subgroup of patients with ADHD had more severe alcohol problems. These people progressed more quickly to alcohol dependence, including in terms of symptoms such as cravings, withdrawal, and morning alcohol use. They also consumed more alcohol and relapsed sooner when abstaining from alcohol.
These findings fit with what we know: that ADHD is more prevalent among drug users and that it has the potential to increase the severity of drug use. But even if this study doesn’t turn up any shockingly new results, I still wanted to write about it because it highlights two important points:
- Doctors should screen for ADHD among people with alcohol dependence because ADHD is especially common in this group
- Doctors should also screen for ADHD among people with alcohol dependence because ADHD can contribute to problematic alcohol use and exacerbate symptoms
Knowing that ADHD often accompanies comorbid conditions like anxiety, mood problems or substance use isn’t just useful trivia. It’s an important fact that highlights the need to consider possible ADHD in people who are seeking help with other problems because ADHD can be a hidden, complicating factor that, if left untreated, will sabotage efforts to treat those other problems!
Image: Flickr/Tom Wachtel