Substance use among ADHD adults: Implications of late onset and subthreshold diagnoses

Stephen V. Faraone, Timothy E. Wilens, Carter Petty, Kevin Antshel, Thomas Spencer, Joseph Biederman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

98 Scopus citations

Abstract

Diagnosing ADHD in adults is difficult when the diagnostician cannot establish an onset prior to the DSM-IV criterion of age seven or if the number of symptoms does not achieve the DSM threshold for diagnosis. These diagnostic issues are an even larger concern for clinicians faced with adults with substance use disorders (SUD). The present study compared four groups of adults: full ADHD subjects who met all DSM-IV criteria for childhood onset ADHD, late onset ADHD subjects who met all criteria except the age at onset criterion, subthreshold ADHD subjects who did not meet full symptom criteria, and non-ADHD subjects who did not meet any of the above criteria. Diagnoses were by the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV, and the Drug Use Severity Index (DUSI) was used for self-report of substance use. Cigarette and marijuana use was significantly greater in all ADHD groups relative to non-ADHD controls. Although usage rates of other drugs failed to reach significance, the ADHD groups were more likely to have used each drug (except alcohol) compared with the non-ADHD group. The late onset and full ADHD groups were more likely to have endorsed ever having a problem due to use of cigarettes, alcohol, or marijuana and reported more trouble resisting use of drugs or alcohol. The full ADHD group was more likely than the other groups to have reported "getting high" as their reason for using their preferred drug. Adults with ADHD have elevated rates of substance use and related impairment. Data about late onset ADHD provides further support for the idea that the DSM-IV age at onset criterion is too stringent. In contrast, subthreshold ADHD seems to be a milder form of the disorder, or perhaps a heterogeneous group of true ADHD cases and false positives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-34
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal on Addictions
Volume16
Issue numberSUPPL. 1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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