Cover Story

Substance abuse overlaps significantly with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, according to a report issued last year by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. Learning disabilities affect 10.8 million children in the United States.

A major point of the report is to raise awareness among parents and those involved in special education of a possible link between learning disabilities and substance abuse.

The report also urges substance abuse researchers and counselors to examine the possibility of this link when studying adolescent or adult substance abuse, says Patrick B. Johnson, PhD, psychologist and CASA fellow.

The risk factors for adolescent substance abuse are similar to the behavioral effects of learning disabilities: reduced self-esteem, academic difficulty, loneliness, depression and the desire for social acceptance. Thus, researchers posit, learning disabilities may indirectly lead to substance abuse by generating the types of behavior that typically lead to substance abuse. Prevention of substance abuse requires early identification of learning disabilities and substance abuse treatment for children with learning disabilities must be tailored to deal with both issues, the report noted.

"A large number of these children also suffer from a behavioral disorder," says National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Alan I. Leshner, PhD. "If there is reason to believe that these children may be more likely to take drugs, we need to know and we need to understand the relationship as thoroughly as possible." For more information, click on www.casacolumbia.org.

--J. Daw