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The Effects of Childhood ADHD Symptoms on Early-onset Substance Use: A Swedish Twin Study

Abstract

Research has documented that children and adolescents with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at increased risk of substance use problems. Few studies, however, have focused on early-onset substance use. This study therefore investigated how the two symptom dimensions of ADHD (hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention) are associated with early-onset substance use, the role of persistent ADHD for the association, and to what extent the association is influenced by genetic and environmental factors. Twins (1,480 pairs) in the Swedish Twin Study of Child and Adolescent Development were followed from childhood to adolescence. ADHD symptoms were measured at age 8–9 and age 13–14 via parent-report, whereas substance use was assessed at age 13–14 via self-report. Results revealed that hyperactive/impulsive symptoms predicted early-onset “sometimes” tobacco use (adjusted odds ratios, 1.12, for one symptom count), controlling for inattentive symptoms and conduct problem behaviors. There is no independent effect of inattentive symptoms on early-onset substance use. Children with persistent hyperactivity/impulsivity (defined as scoring above the 75th percentile at both time points) had a pronounced risk of both early-onset tobacco and alcohol use (adjusted odds ratios from 1.86 to 3.35, compared to the reference group). The associations between hyperactivity/impulsivity and early-onset substance use were primarily influenced by genetic factors. Our results indicated that hyperactivity/impulsivity, but not inattention, is an important early predictor for early-onset substance use, and a shared genetic susceptibility is suggested to explain this association.

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Acknowledgement

This research was supported by grants from the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research and from the Swedish Research Council. Henrik Larsson was supported by grants from the Swedish Research Council (2010–3184), Swedish brain foundation and Karolinska Institutet center of Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

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Chang, Z., Lichtenstein, P. & Larsson, H. The Effects of Childhood ADHD Symptoms on Early-onset Substance Use: A Swedish Twin Study. J Abnorm Child Psychol 40, 425–435 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-011-9575-6

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Keywords

  • ADHD
  • Conduct problem behaviors
  • Early-onset substance use
  • Twins
  • Genetics