ADHD or Drug Abuse?

February 11th, 2011

For two issues so vastly different, the symptoms are surprisingly similar. Parents of children who are beginning to show such symptoms as a lack of concentration and poor academic performance might have difficulty discerning with what, exactly, their child is struggling. Could it be ADHD, or something more concerning? How can parents differentiate between a developmental disorder and potential drug abuse?

Both ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and drug abuse can cause symptoms of hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating, lack of interest in school, and decreased motivation. The major difference between the symptoms of the two issues, however, is that those with ADHD are usually highly aware of and frustrated with their struggles, while those who abuse substances are less aware of their academic problems and more apathetic towards the activities that once interested them.

If a child’s diagnosis for ADHD proves negative, drug abuse should not automatically be assumed to be the next likely possibility. Instead, the parent should approach the subject with their child and create an open line of communication in order to figure out the true reasoning behind their child’s struggles. Substance abuse of various forms can be a possibility if a child suddenly exhibits some of the following behaviors: hostility, secretiveness, changes in appetite, eye reddening and/or use of eye drops to decrease this symptom, withdrawal, slurred speech, and frequent nosebleeds, to name a few.

Not only can ADHD and drug abuse be difficult to separate on the surface, but studies show that adolescents who have ADHD exhibit a high likelihood of abusing substances as well. Teens with this disorder tend to start experimenting with drugs earlier than their peers. They are also more likely to develop other psychiatric problems, which adds to the complicatedness of matters. For these reasons, it is extremely important for parents of children with ADHD to be able to recognize and understand the signs of drug abuse.

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