Drug rehab patients with ADHD use cocaine at an earlier age

Drug rehab patients with ADHD use cocaine at an earlier age
Photo by mararie / CC BY

Patients in drug rehab who have characteristics of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to start using cocaine and enter treatment at an earlier age than those without symptoms of ADHD, a recent study found.

Brazilian researchers conducted the study to compare patterns of drug addiction in patients with ADHD to the patterns observed in non-ADHD patients in drug rehab. Neurologist and lead researcher, Dr. Carlos Henrique Ferreira Camargo, also analyzed the frequency and severity of abuse and dependence among ADHD patients, their age when first admitted to a drug rehab center, and when they began to use drugs.

“Many of my patients are adults and adolescents who have ADHD,” he said. “The subtype of the disorder, in which hyperactivity is predominant, is more common among male patients. But normally, these young adults who are hyperactive have a number of stories to share with me from when they were younger that involve abuse of both licit and illicit substances.”

Camargo’s team analyzed 80 patients — 53 male and 27 female. More than 61 percent of the participants had clinical characteristics suggestive of ADHD, and 72 of the 80 participants were considered polydrug users. The average age of the patients was 32.63 years old. All of the participants in the study were admitted to one of two drug rehab facilities, between July 2013 and December 2014. In order to participate in the study, patients had to be older than 18 and sign a voluntary informed consent form. Each subject needed to complete two different questionnaires: one designed to assess the symptoms and severity of their ADHD and one to assess their dependence and use of tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine and its derivatives.

“I found that the most remarkable characteristic about the population included in the study was the precocity – patients with ADHD started using drugs much earlier, and were also younger when they were admitted for drug rehab,” Camargo said.

Although no statistical difference related to drug dependence was found between groups of ADHD and non-ADHD participants, there were several disparities between the two populations. The age at which ADHD participants first used cocaine and its derivatives was lower than the non-ADHD group, and the age that ADHD participants were first admitted to a drug rehabilitation program was lower than non-ADHD participants. They also found that the ADHD patients who reported a lower age at first use of cannabis had a higher severity of cocaine use at later ages.

Camargo said that, in his opinion, “some of the most interesting conclusions were that patients with ADHD do start using cocaine before patients that don’t have ADHD — and for patients with ADHD, marijuana use is one element that predicts and aggravates cocaine use.”

These conclusions mirror the findings of a 2014 study, which found a lower age of first cocaine use in ADHD patients, and a 1993 study, which presented similar results derived from a sample of 298 cocaine dependent patients in addiction treatment. “We were already aware of some other studies that associated drug abuse with ADHD, and we were able to confirm the association here: 61,25 percent of the patients who were enrolled in a drug rehab also had ADHD.”

Camargo and his team believed ADHD patients may enter drug rehab earlier than patients without ADHD because… (continue reading)