Are Symptoms of ADHD Related to Substance Use Among College Students?

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Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common childhood disorder that often persists into adolescence and adulthood and has been associated with an increased risk for substance use. Due to improved treatment and educational policies, more students with high levels of ADHD symptoms are attending college despite continued ADHD symptoms. Little research has examined whether college students with higher levels of ADHD symptoms are at increased risk for heavy substance use compared to college students with few ADHD symptoms. The current study examined the relation of ADHD symptoms to substance use (e.g., cigarette smoking, alcohol use, marijuana use, and cocaine use). We hypothesized that greater ADHD symptomatology (inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive, and total ADHD) would be related to higher rates of cigarette smoking, alcohol use, alcohol-problems, and illicit drug use. Participants were 889 college undergraduates who completed an online survey. Results suggest that ADHD symptoms, particularly inattentive symptoms, were positively associated with cigarette smoking and problems associated with alcohol after controlling for conduct disorder (CD) symptoms. ADHD symptoms were not significantly associated with alcohol use or illicit drug use after the effects of CD symptoms were accounted for. Results have important implications for prevention and treatment of college student substance use. Limitations and future directions are discussed.

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