ADHD and Substance Use Disorders in Young Adults

ADHD substance use disorders young people working

ADHD and Substance Use Disorders go hand-in-hand

Young adults with ADHD have a high prevalence of alcohol and other SUDs. Targeted outreach and interventions for this extremely vulnerable population are warranted. 

Findings from a Canadian Nationally Representative Survey, Fuller-Thomas, Lewis, Agbeyaka, et al.


A new study by lead author Esme Fuller-Thomas, PhD, a professor at University of Toronto, documents the connection between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and substance use disorder (SUD) among young adults (ages 20 to 39). The study also sought to investigate the impact of socio-demographics, childhood adversities and mental health issues on this population.


The findings? Half of young adults with ADHD have experienced an SUD in their lifetime. Controlling for a lifetime of anxiety and depression, however; lessens the relationship. This led researchers to conclude that it is important to address anxiety and depression when treating those with co-occurring ADHD and SUD. Those with untreated anxiety often self-medicate to manage mental health symptoms, which can lead to increased substance use. Fuller-Thomas says, “There is a clear need to develop prevention and treatment programs to address substance use issues among those with ADHD. While also promoting mental health and addressing childhood adversities.”


There is a correlation between ADHD and substance use disorders – we have know that for a long time. In fact, there is a saying among psychiatrists – you’re bound to become an addictionologist if you work with young people with ADHD. At Sanford, no less than half of our patients with ADHD have a dual diagnosis of substance use disorder. It’s often more like 80%.

Gilbert Al Masterson, M.D. Chief Medical Officer, Sanford Behavioral Health


For More Information:


Half of Young Adults With ADHD Report Lifetime Substance Use Disorder




Sanford Behavioral Health is a residential and outpatient facility located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sanford offers excellence in evidence-based practice models in a home-like, restorative setting. Our clinicians, supported by our medical team, focus on resolving the underlying issues that often cause substance use, such as trauma, unhealthy relationships, co-occurring disorders and isolation. Programs include both in-person and telehealth: residential, day programs, intensive outpatient, outpatient, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), education and relapse prevention classes, one-on-one and family therapy, and alumni and family support groups. At Sanford, we want to inspire you to find your inner grit, rekindle your interests and engage your passion.