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Study shows childhood psychiatric disorders increase risk for later adult addiction

The findings emphasize the need for early detection and intervention
27 June 2017

A childhood psychiatric disorder increases the risk of developing addiction later in life, suggests a study published in the July 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry JAACAP). The study re-analyzed data of 37 previous studies containing a total of 762.187 individuals, of whom 22,029 with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), 434 with disruptive behavior disorders (such as oppositional defiant disorder/conduct disorder (ODD/CD), 1,433 with anxiety disorder, and 2.451 with depression. The researchers identified studies looking at childhood psychiatric disorders and later addiction.

The team, led by researchers of University Medical Center Groningen and the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, found that individuals diagnosed in childhood with ADHD, ODD/CD and depression had an increased risk of developing addictions. Interestingly, results concerning anxiety were less clear. Possibly, the risk depends on the specific type of anxiety disorder, but to date, no studies have focused on this topic.

Annabeth Groenman, researcher at the Accare, Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University Medical Center Groningen, the Netherlands, said: “We know that ADHD in childhood increases the risk for later substance-related disorders, but until now, no systematic evaluation of other childhood psychiatric disorders had been conducted. Our findings show that not only ADHD increased the risk of addictions, but that other childhood psychiatric disorders are also at increased risk. This indicates the importance of early detection of mental health problems in a wider group. Addiction is a major cause for immense personal, familial and societal burden, and prevention is therefore an important goal.”  

Disruptive behaviors (ODD/CD) frequently co-occur with ADHD, approximately in 30% of the cases. This so-called ‘comorbidity’ is often thought to be the main cause of addictions in individuals with ADHD. However, the results suggest that co-occurring ODD/CD in ADHD does not fully explain the risk of addictions in this group.

Professor Jaap Oosterlaan, principal investigator of the Child Study group at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, and the Emma Children’s hospital AMC, the Netherlands, said: “Now we have firmly established children with psychiatric disorders as a high risk group for later substance-related disorders, the next step is to make parents, clinicians and the government aware of these risks and work together in reducing the risks for addiction and its debilitating consequences”.

The publication: Childhood Psychiatric Disorders as Risk Factor for Subsequent Substance Abuse: A Meta-Analysis

Last modified:12 March 2020 9.34 p.m.
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