Does ADHD Increase Risk for Addiction?

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

A recent New York Times article entitled, The 4 Traits That Put Kids At Risk For Addiction, featured the results of a study and corresponding treatment program developed by Dr. Patricia Conrod at the University of Montreal. Dr. Conrod’s research points to several ‘personality traits’ that “can identify 90 percent of the highest risk children, targeting risky traits before they cause problems.” The four traits identified in the study? Sensation-seeking, impulsiveness, anxiety sensitivity and hopelessness. As a parent of a child with ADHD who suffers from impulsiveness (one of the cornerstone behavior issues of ADHD), you may then wonder: does this mean my child will struggle with addiction as a teen or an adult?

My own research has focused on alcohol and drug use in college students with ADHD. So I wanted to take a moment to share with you what the research today shows on ADHD and addition, and what steps you can take to help your teen and young adult avoid falling into some of these patterns. Research on ADHD and addiction does indeed show that both males and females with ADHD are at increased risk for alcohol and drug-related problems and addiction. My own research shows that while college students may report using the same amount of alcohol or marijuana as their peers without ADHD, they experience greater negative consequences and impairment as a result of their use. Across multiple studies by a variety of researchers, adolescents with ADHD are more likely to start using alcohol or drugs earlier than adolescents without ADHD. And, early initiation of alcohol or drug use, even in small amounts at first, is associated with increased risk for alcohol or drug problems later in life. The individuals with ADHD who are at the greatest risk for addiction are those who have a history of alcohol or drug addiction in their family. In fact, researchers have even identified a shared genetic link between ADHD and alcohol use disorders that may contribute to this risk.

As parents there are things that you can do now to help protect your child or teen from developing alcohol or drug-related problems. I recommend focusing on four areas:

  1. Seek effective ADHD treatment. Children and adolescents whose ADHD symptoms are well controlled through behavioral interventions or medication management may be less likely to self-medicate or impulsively seek-out alcohol and drugs. Some parents are concerned that ADHD treatment with stimulant medications may increase the risk for drug addiction later in life. But in fact, research shows no increased risk and some studies suggest that early treatment with stimulant medication may actually protect against the development of alcohol and drug addiction later in life.
  2. Teach coping strategies. Poor coping and stress management skills are a consistent predictor of alcohol and drug related problems among college students and adults. Teaching your child or teen to effectively manage his or her stress and respond in a healthy way to life’s ups and downs can help protect him or her against addiction. Help your child get involved in stress-relieving extra-curricular activities that he or she can turn to again and again throughout their life. Also encourage him or her to learn mindfulness strategies that have been proven to reduce stress in teens and adults. I recommend The Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens: Mindfulness Skills to Help you Deal with Stress, by Gina Biegel as a starting point.
  3. Monitor your child or teen. Monitoring how your child or teen is spending his or her time and knowing who your child’s friends are will help you intervene early if you think he or she is experimenting with alcohol or drugs. Make sure your child is participating in structured activities afterschool (the time when kids are most likely to be unsupervised), and don’t let your child spend time at the homes of friends whose parents allow alcohol or marijuana use in their house.
  4. Talk to your teen about the risks. Let your teen (or preteen) know that his or her ADHD puts him or her at increased risk for alcohol or drug addiction. If there is a history of alcohol or drug addiction in your family, share this with your child. He or she may not want to hear it from you, and may seem very dismissive during these conversations, but talking to your child can still make a difference. If you drink alcohol, model responsible drinking for your child or teen. The things you do are just as powerful as the things you say when it comes to influencing your child.


A diagnosis of ADHD does not mean your child is destined for a life of addiction. What it does mean is that ADHD doesn’t usually go away. ADHD is usually a lifetime diagnosis that requires constant vigilance. Throughout your child’s life, beginning with diagnosis and all through adulthood, he or she will be confronted with situations that challenge him or her differently than his or her peers because of his or her ADHD. But the key to success, now and in the future, is acknowledgement and awareness, together with a set of tools and strategies to overcome those situations and thrive!



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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