ADHD and Alcoholism

A new study finds a strong relationship between ADHD and alcoholism. It seems to beg the question of what observable symptoms of alcoholism exist before the person has consumed alcohol or before they’ve developed DSM symptoms of alcoholism. We know that impairment in the frontal cortex plays an important role in addiction and this part of the brain regulates behavior. Are some youth with primary ADHD diagnoses really demonstrating early symptoms of alcoholism?

Molina noted that for adolescents who had previously been diagnosed with ADHD, the risk for heavy drinking or drinking problems began at around age 15. For example, the teens aged 15 to 17 with childhood ADHD reported being drunk an average of 14 times in the previous year versus 1.8 times for those without an ADHD diagnosis.

Approximately 14 percent of those who had been diagnosed with ADHD were diagnosed upon follow-up with alcohol abuse or dependence, and none of the 15- to 17-year-olds without childhood ADHD had alcohol problems.

The researchers also found that those with ADHD and co-existing conduct disorder as adolescents had significantly higher rates of alcohol abuse than did those with ADHD alone: for instance, 20.7 percent of those with ADHD and concurrent conduct disorder as adolescents were diagnosed with alcohol abuse, compared with 4.8 percent of those with ADHD alone.

Molina also found that 10.3 percent of adolescents with ADHD and concurrent conduct disorder met criteria for alcohol dependence, compared with 1.6 percent of those with only ADHD.

For those assessed in early adult hood (aged 18 to 25), Molina found that 42 percent of those with ADHD and antisocial personality disorder met criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence as compared with less than 20 percent of those with only ADHD.