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ADHD Children Face Risk of Substance Abuse

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ADHD related image Photo: Getty Images

According to a recent study by UCLA researcher Steve Lee, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are two or three times more likely to have substance problems as adolescents and adults, including nicotine addiction and marijuana and cocaine use.

Although Lee does not offer an explanation as to why these children are more likely to abuse these drugs, as a teacher, this is not a surprising to me. The students diagnosed with ADHD may try to hide it, but they typically suffer from low self esteem and endure ridicule from their peers. I find these children unique and lovable and I am also protective of them. Often, they suffer socially and academically because of their impulsive behavior and difficulty focusing. They might not always be organized with homework, but they always have an amazing strategy for solving a story problem during math. They may give their teacher a scare when they stand up on the swing at recess, but they will be the first to volunteer to clean the white board or sharpen pencils.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) pointed out children--not just ADHD kids--who demonstrate aggression or impulsiveness early in life are more likely to have trouble with substance abuse as they grow older. Are ADHD children aggressive, impulsive, and temperamental? In my experience yes, but so are many other adolescents. Again, NIDA offered some good advice: protect your child from drug abuse through developing a strong bond, be involved in your kid’s life, and set limits and enforce discipline when limits are broken. NIDA also emphasized that students who demonstrate both poor social and classroom behavior are also the ones at risk later on.

Substance abuse is treated with medicines, through therapy to change behavior and often a combination of the two. This recent study from UCLA is an excellent reminder to all parents—not just those with ADHD children--that drug abuse and addiction is a risk that our teens may face, but can also avoid, with our help and guidance.


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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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