Is ADHD Associated with Risk-Taking Behaviors?

There are studies indicating that there is an association between ADHD and the abuse of alcohol and drugs, as well as criminal activity. When it comes to tobacco abuse, a study from the University of California, Berkley, reported “a significant difference in rates of daily smoking and tobacco dependence for those with ADHD who had used stimulant medication in childhood in contrast to controls.” These researchers felt there was a possible link between ADHD treatment histories and levels of tobacco dependence in adulthood.

However, most experts believe these anti-social behaviors are much more likely in those who have ADHD and another disorder, such as conduct disorders and mental health disorders. They believe those with ADHD alone do not appear to be at increased risk for these problems. For example, they point to a study that showed that medication for children with ADHD reduced the probability of substance use disorder (SUD) by 85 percent when compared with the risk among un-medicated kids with ADHD.

The general danger of the typical characteristics of ADHD –– particularly in adolescence and adulthood — is a desire for high-risk activity. Dr. Dobson points out, “Even as children they can be accident-prone. But, as they get older, rock climbing, bungee jumping, car racing, motorcycle riding, white-water rafting and other high-risk activities are among their favorite activities.”

“Adults with ADHD are sometimes called ‘adrenaline junkies,’ because they are hooked on the ‘high’ produced by the adrenaline rush associated with dangerous behavior. Others are more susceptible to drug use, alcoholism and other addictive behaviors.” Because of this, about 40 percent of adolescents living with ADHD have been arrested by their eighteenth birthday.

Dr. Dobson warns those with ADHD: “Some adults who have ADHD are at higher risk for marital conflict, too. It can be very irritating to a compulsive, highly ordered husband or wife to be married to a ‘messy’ — someone whose life is chaotic and one who forgets to pay the bills, fix the car or keep records for income-tax reports. Such a couple usually needs professional counseling to help them learn to work together and capitalize on each other’s strengths.”

Nevertheless, for many that live with ADHD, the symptoms will diminish with neurological social maturing. Nevertheless, it is helpful for all of us to realize that many of those living with ADHD can, with instruction, skill and mentoring, demonstrate in remarkable ways their outstanding giftedness — which can include creativity, energy, enterprising thinking and leadership skills.

Medical information within this site is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of any health condition. Please consult a licensed health care professional for the treatment or diagnosis of any medical condition.

Walt Larimore, M.D. has been called “one of America’s best known family physicians.” He is a nationally-known and nationally sought after speaker and health expert.