Adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other psychiatric symptoms in recreational polydrug users

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Previous research has shown that recreational drug use is associated with more psychiatric symptoms and psychobiological distress. This study investigated whether symptoms of adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were also raised in polydrug users.


We assessed a non-clinical sample of 84 unpaid volunteers (mean age 27.5 years): n = 17 light–novice polydrug users; n = 29 moderate polydrug users; and n = 38 non-user controls (14 non-drug users, 24 alcohol/tobacco users). They completed the Symptom Checklist 90 (SCL-90) self-rating inventory for psychiatric symptoms, the Adult ADHD Self-report Scale symptom checklist for adult ADHD, and also the questions on positive moods and sociability. Saliva samples provided a neuroendocrine cortisol measure.


Moderate polydrug users reported significantly higher adult ADHD symptoms and SCL-90 psychiatric symptoms and lower sociability than non-user controls and light polydrug users. Novice–light polydrug users did not differ from control groups on any measure. There were no significant group differences in cortisol. These findings are debated using the interactive diathesis–distress model. Psychoactive drugs can affect both mood and cognition. When taken regularly, the drug-induced psychobiological vacillation may exacerbate prior problems with mood stability and attentional–cognitive control.


It is not polydrug usage per se, but rather their regular-repeated usage, that is associated with increased signs of psychiatric and attentional–hyperactivity distress. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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