ALMOST half of adults who are substance users show symptoms of an attention disorder and are more likely to have poorer treatment outcomes according to a multi-institutional international study.
Researchers from the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) at Curtin University were a part of the first multinational study on the prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults with a substance use disorder (SUD).
NDRI Research Fellow Susan Carruthers says many adults who suffer from ADHD haven’t been correctly diagnosed which can lead to self-medication.
“People that have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are more likely to go on to use drugs and have problems with alcohol,” Dr Carruthers says.
The researchers used the adult ADHD self report scale and genetic testing to assess if someone going through a new episode of substance use treatment had any symptoms of ADHD.
“We interviewed people who were in withdrawal programs, we also interviewed people who were in rehabilitation centers or in drug counseling,” she says.
“If people scored positively on this scale it’s an indication that they should follow-up and go see a specialist, who will then run through the entire diagnosis with them.”
The NDRI focused on the 187 Western Australian participants (a total of 3558 people were screened from 10 different countries), with all researchers referring to the diagnostic statistic manual when questioning participants.
The WA results showed that ADHD affected both male and female SUD patients equally.
“Fifty-five per cent of our sample size came up positive and 18 per cent of the sample also had a childhood diagnosis of ADHD,” Dr Carruthers says.
“These people showed signs of ADHD, with inattention and difficulty making decisions or making a decision on the run without actually thinking about it.”
She says the reporting scale had limitations especially if participants were using illicit drugs, which mimicked symptoms of ADHD.
“Part of the problem with this study was that a lot of the symptoms of ADHD are also the symptoms that might be apparent with people using ecstasy and cocaine.”
“To counteract this they had to be in a new episode of treatment and they had to have been there for a certain amount of time,” she says.
The NDRI hopes the study can help adults with SUD receive the correct treatment.
“The recommendations from our research in WA, is if you have someone who is in substance use treatment then it’s a good idea to screen them for ADHD,” she says.