Dangerous Thrills: ADHD and Risky Behavior

ADHD and Gambling

Again, here's the bad news first: Studies show that children and teens with ADHD tend to take more risks in gambling-type situations. Even worse, research shows that the rate of ADHD is high in people with pathological gambling problems. In one study, over 25 percent of people seeking treatment for gambling problems had a history of ADHD.
What exactly is risky gambling behavior? While some might consider any gambling to be risky behavior, certainly most people can (and do) partake in gambling situations without taking excessive risks. Most people can put a dollar in a slot machine, lose, and then walk away. Most people can enjoy a friendly night of poker without going home in serious debt. These are examples of nonrisky gambling behaviors. With that in mind, it's easy to imagine what might constitute risky gambling. For example, it might involve gambling large sums of money or spending hours and hours gambling, without the ability to stop.
But again, it's not all bad. In studies where people were put in artificial gambling-type situations, ADHD increased the chance for risky gambling only in children and teens, not in adults. It may be that individuals with ADHD can outgrow this symptom.

ADHD and Drugs

It has been well documented that people with ADHD have a higher risk for problems with substance abuse. This leads to a sticky situation, as many of the drugs used to treat this condition are drugs that can be abused.
Why do people with ADHD have a higher risk for substance abuse problems? One explanation is that people with this condition simply may not have enough impulse control to effectively say no to drugs. Another possible explanation is that people with ADHD may be abusing drugs as a way of self-medicating. They may perceive that illicit drug use will improve their performance. Substance abuse may just be part of the larger risk-taking/thrill-seeking problem seen with ADHD, too. Most likely, it is a combination of all these factors as well as others.
The good news? It appears that adequately treating ADHD decreases the risk for substance abuse. When children are effectively treated for their condition, this lowers their risk of drug problems later in life.
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