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Study links ADHD, substance abuse, conduct disorder to same neurocognitive connection
Sep 03 2019

Study links ADHD, substance abuse, conduct disorder to same neurocognitive connection

Mental Health

A study performed by researchers at both the University of Montreal and the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center has found that ADHD, conduct disorder, and substance abuse share their origins in the same neurocognitive deficit which also explains why these issues often occur together. The study titled “Neural and Cognitive Correlates of the common and Specific Variance across Externalizing Problems in Young Adolescence” was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

For the study, the researchers studied three main neurocognitive dimensions that could be linked to externalizing problems such as impulsive action, impulsive choice (like choosing immediate rewards instead of delayed rewards), and reward sensitivity. The test subjects were 1,778 European teens who were tested once at age 14 and then again at age 16.

Mental health problems and drug and alcohol abuse prevalence higher at age 16

Test subjects were profiled in both the cases and it was found that 4.4 percent of the 14-year-old participants were diagnosed with a conduct disorder and/or ADHD and 3.7 to 10.6 percent held prevalence for alcohol or drug abuse respectively. By the time the participants returned at age 16, 6.6 percent of them were identified to have a conduct disorder and alcohol and drug abuse prevalence had risen to 18 percent and 27.1 percent.

The participants were tested by completing several tasks while an MRI measured their brain function. They were also asked to complete personality questionnaires. Self-report impulsivity and the hypoactivity of the brain regions related to this impulsivity helped differentiate youths who were more at risk for ADHD and conduct disorder from those who were generally at risk for all externalizing behaviors. Additionally, those who were found to be at risk for alcohol misuse were differentiated by thrill seeking or sensation seeking brain activity along with abnormal brain activity when anticipating rewards.

The “useful” findings

The findings in this study support the dimensional approach to psychiatric research while also identifying the cognitive deficits that could be targeted to possibly help with cases of co-occurring issues. These findings can help adolescents possibly even before problems even arise.

The results published in this study helped address some of the complexities faced when diagnosing and treating concurrent psychiatric problems and may also help reduce stigmas attached to these problems. Additionally, it may help doctors measure and target a person’s risk for externalizing problems, allowing them to diagnose the issue before real problems appear while also helping them to manage co-occurring psychiatric problems by focusing on only a few neurocognitive areas.


The younger generation is the future of every nation. It is important that they are healthy mentally as well as physically. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report, nearly 345,000 adolescents suffered from dual-diagnosis in the U.S. A dual-diagnosis is a condition in which a mental disorder and a substance abuse co-occur. However, proper medications and behavioral therapies at professional dual-diagnosis treatment centers for teens can help treat dual-diagnosis.

Adeona Healthcare , the leading renowned teen dual-diagnosis treatment center for adolescents aged 12 to 17, offers evidence-based treatment approaches for the management of mental health disorders and substance abuse in teens. To know more about our dual-diagnosis treatment programs, call our 24/7 helpline (888) 997-3966 and speak to a representative. You can also chat online for further assistance.