Sex, Drugs, and ADHD


What is the connection between ADHD diagnosis with sexual activity and substance use among college students?

Wollertz/Adobe Stock

Wollertz/Adobe Stock


Researchers from Syracuse University contributed a poster presentation discussing their research on the relationship between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis, sexual health, and substance use among college students at the 2022 American Professional Society of ADHD and Related Disorders (APSARD) virtual conference.

In the poster presentation, “Sex, Drugs, and ADHD: Sexual Health and Moderators of Risk in College Students,” Ashley Rohacek, study coauthor, reviewed previous research suggesting links between ADHD diagnosis with earlier and more frequent sexual activity, and with increased likelihood of using alcohol and cannabis, as well as links between alcohol and cannabis use with more frequent sexual activity among the general population. As not much is known about the sexual health of college students with ADHD specifically, Rohacek stated that she and her coauthors aimed to learn more about it, as well as to consider alcohol and cannabis use as potential moderators of the ADHD-sexual health relationship among college students.1

Rohacek et al conducted a secondary data analysis of the National College Health Assessment III. They asked sexually active undergraduate students (N=36,236) to report on their sexual activity (ie, number of sexual partners in the past year, condom use, etc), sexual health outcomes (ie, unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted illness [STI] diagnoses, etc), and substance use habits. The investigators used logistic regression models to compare sexual activity and health outcomes in students with ADHD with those of students without ADHD, using substance use as a risk moderator. Results showed that college students with ADHD reported more past-year sexual partners, lower rates of condom use, and higher rates of condom-less sex while drinking, thus significantly raising the risk among students with ADHD for STI diagnoses, unplanned pregnancy, and emergency contraception use.1

According to Rohacek, these findings show that substance use is a significant moderator between ADHD and sexual health, and that college students with ADHD are differently impacted by substance use in ways that make them a more vulnerable population to poor sexual health outcomes. The findings also suggest that sexual health prevention strategies should specifically target individuals with ADHD who report substance use, and that future research should consider the impact of ADHD’s common comorbidity with other disorders associated with risky sexual activity.1

The study’s additional coauthors included Madison Firkey, MS; Sarah E. Woolf-King, PhD; and Kevin M. Antshel, PhD, ABPP, all affiliated with Syracuse University.


1. Rohacek A, Firkey M, Woolf-King S, Antshel K. Sex, drugs, and ADHD: sexual health and moderators of risk in college students. Presented at 2022 APSARD Conference. January 15, 2022.

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