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ADHD and Alcoholism May Be Linked

Adults with ADHD More Likely to Become Alcoholics
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Oct. 14, 2003 -- Adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may face a much higher risk of becoming alcoholics. A new study shows the two disorders have a lot in common, but the genetic link between them remains elusive.

Researchers say they have found a distinctive profile of adults who suffer from both disorders, and ADHD is five to 10 times more common among adult alcoholics than in the normal population.

"Our results indicate that individuals with persisting ADHD symptoms in adulthood seem to be at high risk of developing an alcohol-use disorder," says Monika Johann, MD, research associate at the University of Regensburg in Germany, in a news release. "Moreover, there is evidence for a highly increased severity of alcohol dependence in subjects with ADHD."

ADHD and Alcoholism Linked

For the study, published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers examined 314 adult alcoholics and 220 healthy adults. Each was evaluated for psychiatric disorders, including substance abuse disorders, ADHD, and antisocial personality disorder.

Researchers also screened the participants for two genes that some experts say are common genetic links between ADHD and alcoholism.

The study showed that neither of the genes examined contributed to a genetic tendency for ADHD or alcoholism. But the study did reveal many common traits shared by people with the disorders.

For example, compared with alcoholics without ADHD, those with ADHD displayed the following characteristics:

  • Drank more alcohol on a daily basis
  • Became dependent upon alcohol at an earlier age
  • Thought about suicide twice as often
  • Were involved in seven times the number of court proceedings
  • Had three times higher rates of antisocial personality disorder

Researchers say the findings confirm previous studies that have shown that having ADHD as an adult significantly increases the risk of also becoming an alcoholic.

"ADHD seems to be highly underestimated in adulthood," says Johann, "yet seems to be an important risk factor for the development of alcohol dependence."

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