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Parental Drinking Boosts Alcoholism Risk for ADHD Kids

Association is partly explained by family stresses, studies find

THURSDAY, March 29, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at increased risk for alcohol problems, and parental alcoholism and stressful family experiences are important factors in that risk, two new studies suggest.

"Children with ADHD are believed to be at risk for alcoholism because of their impulsivity and distractibility, as well as other problems that often accompany ADHD, such as school failure and behavior problems," Brooke Molina, an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a prepared statement.

Molina is corresponding author for both studies, which are published in the April issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The first study used interviews and questionnaires to assess the drinking habits of 364 young people with ADHD and a similar number of young people without ADHD.

"We found that the children with ADHD were more likely than the comparison group to drink heavily and to have enough problems related to their drinking that they were diagnosed with alcohol abuse or dependence," Molina said. "This means that their drinking caused problems such as fights with their parents or friends, a drop in their grades at school, or difficulty with controlling the amount of alcohol they drank."

The study found that drinking problems among young people with ADHD began around age 15.

"The 15- to-17-year-olds with childhood ADHD reported being drunk an average of 14 times in the previous year, versus only 1.8 times for 15- to-17-year-olds in the study who did not have childhood ADHD. Whereas 14 percent of the 15- to-17-year-olds were diagnosed with alcohol abuse or dependence, none of the 15- to-17-year-olds without childhood ADHD were," Molina said.

In the second study, researchers interviewed 142 adolescents who'd been diagnosed with childhood ADHD and 100 adolescents without ADHD about their drinking behavior and negative life events. In addition, the teens' parents were asked about their drinking histories.

"One of the reasons that children with ADHD might be at risk for alcohol problems is that alcoholism and ADHD tend to run together in families," Molina said.

"We found that parental alcoholism predicted heavy problem drinking among the teenagers, that the association was partly explained by higher rates of stress in these families, and these connections were stronger when the adolescent had ADHD in childhood. So, the bottom line is that when the child has ADHD and the parent has suffered from alcoholism, either currently or in the past, the child will have an increased risk for alcohol problems himself or herself," Molina said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about ADHD.

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, news release, March 26, 2007
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