ADHD is far more prevalent among persons with AUD (roughly 20 percent) than it is in the general population. The most accurate way of identifying ADHD is through structured clinical interviews. Given that this is not feasible in routine clinical settings, ADHD self-report scales offer a less reliable but much less resource-intensive alternative. Could the latter be calibrated in a way that would yield diagnoses that better correspond with the former?

A German team compared the outcomes of both methods on 404 adults undergoing residential treatment for AUD. All were abstinent while undergoing evaluations. First, to obtain reliable ADHD diagnoses, each underwent the Diagnostic Interview for ADHD in Adults, DIVA. If DIVA indicated probable ADHD, two expert clinicians conducted successive follow-up interviews. ADHD was only diagnosed when both experts concurred with the DIVA outcome.

Participants were then asked to use two adult ADHD self-report scales, the six-item Adult ADHD Self Report Scale v1.1 (ASRS) and the 30-item Conners’ Adult ADHD Rating Scale (CAARS-S-SR). The outcomes were then compared with the expert interview diagnoses.

Using established cut-off values for the ASRS, less than two-thirds of patients known to have ADHD were scored as having ADHD by the test. In other words, there was a very high rate of false negatives. Lowering the cut-off to a sum score ≥ 11 resulted in correct diagnosis of more than seven out of eight. But the rate of false positives soared to almost two in five. Similarly, the CAARS-S-SR had its greatest sensitivity (ability to accurately identify those with ADHD) at the lowest threshold of ≥ 60, but at a similarly high cost in false positives (more than a third).

The authors found it was impossible to come anywhere near the precision of the expert clinical interviews. Nevertheless, they judged the best compromise to be to use the lowest thresholds on both tests, and then require positive determinations from both. That led to successfully diagnosing more than three out of four individuals known to have ADHD, with a false positive rate of just over one in five.

Using this combination of the two self-reporting questionnaires with lower thresholds, they suggest, could substantially reduce the under-diagnosis of ADHD in alcohol dependent patients.

REFERENCES
Mathias Luderer, Nurcihan Kaplan-Wickel, Agnes Richter, Iris Reinhard, Falk Kiefer, Tillmann Weber, “Screening for adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in alcohol dependent patients: Underreporting of ADHD symptoms in self-report scales,” Drug and Alcohol Dependence (2019), 195:52-58.

Anthony_L_Rostain_MD_MA_-_ADHD_in_Adults
Let me tell you about a patient of mine named James who is 27 years old and has had a history of some serious substance abuse problems. Now James was diagnosed with ADHD in elementary school, and around middle school decided he didn’t want to take medications anymore. Beginning in late middle school and early high school he started experimenting with marijuana and alcohol, and eventually began to use other substances like cocaine, and finally, by the time he was finishing high school – and he barely graduated – James was using prescription opiates.

After high school he worked for a few years as a janitor, but this addiction to OxyContin got the better of him. He finally was in an accident, got a DUI, and was court mandated for treatment; and they discovered that he not only had an alcohol abuse problem, he also had marijuana and opiate addition. For this he was given the diagnosis of polysubstance abuse and was started in an outpatient treatment in our facility.

So James was started on suboxone to help him withdraw from opiates, and he was also started on citalopram because he was complaining of depression; and he was able to maintain sobriety, but he had a real tough time concentrating and getting simple things done. He wasn’t completing simple tasks around the house. He tried to go back to work and found it very difficult to stay focused on his job duties, and was reprimanded for coming in late.

So as a result, we then were asked to consult with, and lo and behold, we realized that, even though he was being treated for addition, he still had the ADHD that plagued him as a child. So we added OROS methylphenidate, and we began having him come for weekly cognitive behavioral therapy sessions in which he relearned what ADHD really is for someone his age, and where we began to help him overcome some of his negative attitudes about learning routines and doing things that required mental effort.

ADHD Success Story 5 - James and Substance Abuse yDO39l
James had dreams, wanted to do something with his life, but had always avoided them and had turned to substances to help him with things that made him anxious like social relationships.

As time went on, James began to talk about wanting to start his own business, and lo and behold, he was able to get started in this business. He sells collectibles online, and over the last few months he’s been so successful that he’s actually hired an assistant. What James likes to say now is that he wished that he had continued his treatment for administered; maybe he would have avoided substance use disorder. But he takes it all in stride.

He’s got a wonderful attitude, feels very positive about his life, and actually has offered to go and talk to some of the other patients in the recovery program to help them realize that some of them may, in fact, have ADHD that they ought to get treated.

So, I bring up this story of James in order to get you to think about the fact that maybe some of your patients who are in your office with other problems like substance use or alcoholism, or people who can’t quit smoking, maybe some of them have ADHD underlying all of their difficulties, and it would be worthwhile for you to learn how to assess them and maybe begin them in treatment because it could make a huge difference to their lives.