Why kids with ADHD are more at risk of addictive behaviour

Dopamine is a brain neurotransmitter that is associated with a number of important brain functions including motor control, emotions, feelings of pleasure and reward.

Like the story of “Goldilocks and the three bears” it’s important to have the amount of dopamine in our brain that’s “just right”.

Too little and the effects are seen in the condition of Parkinson’s disease where the cells that produce dopamine are lost.

Too much and the effects can be associated with schizophrenia, psychosis and ADHD.

When we experience something that we enjoy or feel rewarded by, such as enjoying good food, having sex or listening to music we love, our brain releases dopamine. Our brain is then primed so that when that experience reoccurs, a greater dopamine response is triggered and we are more likely to seek out that reward because it makes us feel good.

In ADHD kids (and adults) have difficulty focussing on tasks and demonstrate more impulsive behaviour.
They are also more likely to be at greater risk x 2-3 of developing addictions to drugs such as marijuana and cocaine and alcohol as adolescents and adults.

The link is thought to be dopamine. Addictive behaviour and ADHD are both associated with a disruption in dopamine transport in the brain. Other research from New Zealand indicates that the presence of a conduct disorder in those with ADHD increases the risk of addictive behaviour developing in later life.

This opens up the question as to what can parents do to help guard their children against this. At the moment parental vigilance, guidance and having frank and open discussions with their kids remains vital. Talking to your kids about how to make good choices and making them aware that they may be at increased risk and need to take care. If you already have concerns, then seeing a cognitive behavioural therapist would certainly be worthwhile. Tackling a potential problem early is crucial.

If you have a child with ADHD, what have you found useful to make him or her more aware that they are at greater risk of addiction should they experiment with drugs or alcohol?


Steve S. Lee, Kathryn L. Humphreys, Kate Flory, Rebecca Liu, Kerrie Glass. Prospective Association of Childhood Attention-deficit/hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Substance Use and Abuse/Dependence: A Meta-Analytic Review☆. Clinical Psychology Review, 2011; DOI: 10.1016/j.cpr.2011.01.006

JAMA and Archives Journals (2007, August 8). ADHD Appears To Be Associated With Depressed Dopamine Activity In The Brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 8, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2007/08/070806164505.htm





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