Conduct Disorder Predicts Drug Use in Adults with ADHD

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been linked to many negative outcomes. Usually first diagnosed in childhood, ADHD is characterized by impulsivity and inability to focus on tasks. Until recently, it was believed that ADHD did not widely persist into adulthood. However, new research has shown that many individuals still struggle with the symptoms of ADHD through their adult lives. The impulsive and immediate gratification traits that are common in ADHD have also been shown to increase the risk for substance use disorders (SUDs). There has been much research dedicated to understanding this link. Additionally, people with ADHD are very likely to have other psychological issues, the most common of which are borderline personality disorder (BPD) and conduct disorder (CD). Both of these mental health problems also usually appear in childhood, and because of the similarity with ADHD, often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Because of this, the majority of the research that has linked ADHD to SUD has failed to account for the influence of CD and BPD.

In order to get a clearer picture of how ADHD, CD, and BPD interact and affect the risk for SUD, Michelle Torok of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Australia recently led a study involving 269 adult drug users. She assessed the participants and found that more than half of them had at least two of the mental health problems she screened for, and one-fourth of them had conduct disorder, BPD, and ADHD. Compared to the prevalence of these disorders co-occurring in the general population at rates of approximately 3%, these figures were startlingly higher.

After further examination, Torok discovered that contrary to previous research, ADHD was not the largest risk factor for SUD. Instead, when she controlled for both ADHD and BPD, Torok found that CD posed the biggest risk for future drug abuse in the participants. ADHD was actually found to be a minimal predictor of SUD. The study also revealed that the level of symptom severity of each mental health challenge was directly proportionate to level of illicit drug use. Even though her findings demonstrate that ADHD was not the most significant risk factor for drug use, she cautions clinicians and professionals to weigh these results carefully. She said, “Despite the weak predictive ability of ADHD, the significant comorbid associations between ADHD, CD, and BPD do attest to the fact that drug users with these disorders are an overall riskier subgroup of drug users.”

Torok, M., Darke, S., Kaye, S. (2012). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and severity of substance use: The role of comorbid psychopathology. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027846

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Aaron


    April 17th, 2012 at 4:44 PM

    Enough to make us sit up and take notice to recognize that ADHD can be so much more than just behavioral problems- there are far greater concerns that we ften have to be worried about. I would wonder how many drug users could look back at their past behaviors maybe while they were in school and see if their was a tendency for this to begin sooner than they may have thought. They may have never given much notice to how the things they did in the past has fed their more current behavior, but this shows how allof this could be corelated and how recognizing these tendencies a little earlier could help us to be a little more proactive then we have been in the past.

  • jermaine


    April 18th, 2012 at 4:04 AM

    Way to set these kids up for failure. They have already struggled with something as devastating as ADHD, and now we are automatically predicting that there will be a greater tendency for them to use drugs too. Tell them this enough and they may just continue to live up to the low expectations that we have set for them.

  • Miles A

    Miles A

    April 18th, 2012 at 11:30 AM

    But if kids are treated for ADHD at an early age and they are given the tools that they need to manage it, this does not have to mean that they will end up exhibiting this kind of behavior as adults.

    There are many who have been able to work through this successfully and use their energy as a trength and not a weakness.

  • Kathryn


    April 18th, 2012 at 7:54 PM

    I have worked in a probation and parole office for 37 years. ADHD is just a tip of the iceberg. I personally feel that changes will not be seen until teachers, parents and medical professionals are more knowledgable and in-tune to the child. When children are tested for placement in kindergarten, why can’t testing for ADHD, learning disorders and/or Sensory Integration Disorders be done also. Because of the child’s age, tests are not conclusive, but give an idea where to start. Put these children in the appropriate classroom environment, education parents, get social workers, occupational therapists, psychologists, etc. on board. Changes will not be seen until everyone involved in the child’s life is working together and on the same page. Until then, these kids will have very difficult lives.

  • FaithG


    April 19th, 2012 at 4:50 PM

    There is medication for this. Why don’t more parents step us and get this for their kids?

  • earl


    April 19th, 2012 at 11:16 PM

    well there are a variety of disorders at play here and because nothing has been proven doubtlessly,I do not think they should really rely on results such as these.what may affect one person may not affect another the same way.can these results be used as a guideline?yes.can they be used strictly as a constant?no.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.