Objective: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is common among adult patients with a substance use disorder, yet often goes undetected. This is a qualitative study to explore implementation barriers to a guideline developed in Belgium for the recognition and treatment of ADHD in adult patients with substance use disorder and to gain a better understanding of the strategies to overcome these barriers.
Methods: Focus groups were conducted with caregivers and patients to explore experiences with comorbid substance use disorder and ADHD. The barriers reported in these focus groups became the subject of further study in focus groups with addiction professionals (physicians, psychiatrists, and psychologists) who had tried the guideline and with psychiatrists specializing in addiction but without experience with ADHD.
Results: Our analysis revealed a number of barriers to the implementation of this guideline, including lack of information from the family, pressure from patients and caregivers to make an ADHD diagnosis, and the potential for abuse of ADHD medication. Furthermore, diagnostic instruments for ADHD have not been validated in people with substance use disorder. Although patients with ADHD are usually treated in an outpatient setting, patients with ADHD comorbid with substance use disorder are difficult to identify in an outpatient setting for various reasons. Finally, there is a lack of specific ADHD expertise in substance use treatment organizations.
Conclusions: Despite the availability of an approved guideline for recognizing and treating adult ADHD in patients with a substance use disorder, underdiagnosis and inadequate treatment still persist. As in general substance use treatment, medication only plays a supportive role in the treatment of substance use disorder with comorbid ADHD. An integrated approach and further improvements in the competence of practitioners may help to reduce the resistance to diagnosing ADHD in substance use treatment centers. Practitioners who specialize in addiction medicine and therapists without medical education view the problem from different perspectives and therefore each group needs specific information and training. Targeted interventions need to be developed to keep these patients in treatment.
Keywords: ADHD; addiction; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; barriers to implementing; guideline; qualitative research; substance use disorder.