Albizu University Research Highlights Importance of ADHD Screening in Adolescents, Patients in Substance Abuse Treatment and Correctional Settings

Dr. María Vélez-Pastrana

As America grapples with the economic and societal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health has received insufficient attention. A recent international peer-reviewed series of studies in the mental health field highlights the importance of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) screening in adolescents, patients in substance abuse treatment and in correctional settings.

The studies, stemming from collaborations with a multi-disciplinary group of 54 clinical experts from 16 countries, as well as research funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), yielded five separate scientific articles. Collectively, their results highlight the important role of ADHD in substance use and mental health treatment across different settings and populations. Screening for ADHD is recommended in treatment of substance abuse in adolescents and adults, as well as in smoking cessation and correctional mental health.

ADHD is associated with earlier onset of substance use disorders, and more frequent and more severe disruptive behavioral disorders. Among people struggling with addiction, ADHD is associated with greater severity of their Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Further, ADHD in addiction treatment is often complicated by co-occurring additional mental health disorders, as well as more severe nicotine addiction.

Taken together, these findings may inform interventions to prevent and mitigate adverse consequences of ADHD across a patient’s lifespan. One of these studies reveals strong agreement among participating physicians and clinicians that routine screening for ADHD should be included in treatment of adolescent patients for substance abuse, and also that adolescent patients with ADHD in mental healthcare settings should be screened for substance misuse in order to improve outcomes for mental health treatment of adolescents.

Co-authored by Albizu University San Juan Campus Associate Professor and Clinical Psychologist Dr. María Vélez-Pastrana, the studies were published in the peer-reviewed journal European Addiction Research during Spring/Summer 2020.

The studies’ co-authors include Albizu alumnus Dr. Rafael A. González, now at the NHS Foundation Trust and Imperial College London in the U.K., along with Albizu Ph.D. students Natalie Sánchez-García and Alexandra Ramos-Fernández. The international group of co-authors includes experts from across the world, including the United States, the U.K., the European Union, Australia and South Africa.

Dr. Vélez-Pastrana leads the Puerto Rico team of the International Collaboration on ADHD and Substance Abuse, an international network of ADHD and SUD researchers which is based in the Netherlands. She was a co-Investigator at the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus School of Public Health in a NIH-funded project entitled “Dimensional Perspective of ADHD and its Comorbidity with SUD in Latino Prison Inmates” and has been a recipient of the Distinguished Researcher award from the Puerto Rican Psychology Association. Her research has been published and presented internationally.

Known for its transformative work in mental health, Albizu University was founded 55 years ago in response to the need for culturally sensitive professional training in clinical psychology, particularly in the Hispanic community.