ADHD News & Research

Half of Adults with ADHD Struggle with Substance Use Disorders

ADHD and alcohol use disorder, cannabis use disorder, and use of illicit drugs are linked, according to a new Canadian study that found half of young adults with ADHD battled substance use disorders.

September 9, 2021

Half of young adults with ADHD struggle with substance use disorders, according to a new study published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.1 Specifically, one-third of adults with ADHD studied had a chronic alcohol use disorder compared to 13% of adults without ADHD.

Data was drawn from the nationally representative Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health (CCHS-MH). Participants included 6,872 respondents aged 20-39, 270 of whom had ADHD.

After adjusting for controls, researchers found that participants with ADHD faced higher odds of developing alcohol use disorders, cannabis use disorders, other drug use disorders, and any substance use disorder. A history of depression and anxiety “led to the largest attenuation of the ADHD-SUD relationship, followed by childhood adversities, and socioeconomic status.” More than 1 in 6 participants used illicit drugs such as LSD, cocaine, or heroine.

University of Toronto professor and study author Esme Fuller-Thompson explained: “People with ADHD may be self-medicating with drugs or alcohol to keep their depression under control, and of course, that is a recipe for disaster.”2 While the study didn’t explore how ADHD treatment affects risk for substance abuse, Fuller-Thompson said that cognitive therapy “has been shown to have a very positive effect on ADHD symptoms, substance abuse problems, and depression and anxiety.”3 Untreated ADHD can make it difficult to adhere to a substance-abuse-treatment program and lack of impulse control may increase the odds of breaking sobriety.

These findings highlight the importance of effective interventions to address substance use disorders among individuals with ADHD. Treating ADHD and underlying mental health issues is the first step toward getting a better handle on substance abuse in this population.

View Article Sources

1Esme Fuller-Thomson, Danielle A Lewis, Senyo Agbeyaka, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Alcohol and Other Substance Use Disorders in Young Adulthood: Findings from a Canadian Nationally Representative Survey, Alcohol and Alcoholism, 2021;, agab048,

2Denise Mann. Half of Adults with ADHD Have Struggled with Alcohol, Drug Use. WebMD (Aug. 2021).

3Denise Mann. Half of Adults with ADHD Have Struggled with Alcohol, Drug Use. WebMD (Aug. 2021).