ADHD and Addiction

Individuals with ADHD tend to be overly active, have trouble concentrating, and become bored easily.  Oftentimes, people who suffer from ADHD are more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder to cope with the symptoms of ADHD.  These disorders combined commonly provoke a cycle of addiction that can be difficult to break without serious treatment. 

ADHD and Addiction

ADHD and Addiction

Individuals with ADHD tend to be overly active, have trouble concentrating, and become bored easily. Oftentimes, people who suffer from ADHD are more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder to cope with the symptoms of ADHD. These disorders combined commonly provoke a cycle of addiction that can be difficult to break without serious treatment.

Table of Contents

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition that impacts a person’s ability to concentrate, sit still, and handle tedious tasks or boredom. Although ADHD is often diagnosed in children, about one-third to one-half of ADHD patients will experience symptoms as they grow older.1 ADHD often goes undiagnosed in adults, especially those who have another mental health condition.2    

If you are an adult with ADHD, you may be more likely to experience substance abuse. ADHD patients often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the symptoms they experience or become addicted to stimulants they receive to treat their condition. Co-occurring ADHD and substance abuse can create a cycle of addiction that can be difficult to break without professional treatment. 

Facts and Figures About ADHD

In 2016, approximately 6.1 million children between the ages of 2 to 17 had ever received a diagnosis for ADHD.3  Out of this number, 6 out of every 10 children had a co-occurring mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder in addition to their ADHD diagnosis.

These issues can carry well into adulthood. While there is no cure for ADHD, symptom management is possible. Approximately 77% of children with ADHD in 2016 received treatment for their condition, with 30% receiving medication alone, 15% receiving behavioral therapies, and 32% receiving a combination of treatments.

ADHD and Addiction

Causes of ADHD

No one knows the exact cause of ADHD. However, there are certain risk factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing the condition.

Family History

Genetics may play a major role in ADHD development. Child ADHD patients are four times more likely to have a family member with ADHD than people who do not have the condition.4

Exposure to Lead

Lead is a toxic substance that may cause developmental issues, kidney damage, and anemia. Since lead can disrupt brain development, children exposed to this substance may have a higher risk of developing ADHD.5

Tobacco Use During Pregnancy

Using substances like alcohol or drugs during pregnancy can harm an unborn child. Prolonged exposure to nicotine in cigarette smoke can damage a baby’s brain development, causing changes that contribute to ADHD.6

ADHD Signs and Symptoms

ADHD symptoms can vary in severity, and different people often experience different symptoms. The most prevalent symptoms fall under two categories: inattentiveness and hyperactivity. If you have ADHD, you may primarily experience inattentive symptoms, hyperactive symptoms, or a combination of both. Girls with ADHD tend to experience more inattentive and less hyperactive symptoms, while boys are usually more hyperactive.7
Inattentive ADHD symptoms include:
  • Being distracted 
  • Difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • Failing to pay close attention to details
  • Difficulty staying focused during activities
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Avoiding tasks that require sustained mental focus
  • Forgetting to do daily activities
Hyperactive ADHD symptoms include:
  • Fidgeting, tapping, and squirming
  • Difficulty staying seated
  • Talking too often
  • Being in constant motion
  • Difficulty accomplishing an activity quietly
  • Difficulty waiting for a turn to speak or participate in activities
  • Interrupting or intruding on others’ conversations or activities

The Link Between ADHD and Addiction

People with ADHD are twice as likely to develop an addiction to drugs and alcohol than people who do not have ADHD. 8  In addition, people with ADHD and a co-occurring conduct disorder are four times more likely to develop a dependence on a substance than those without these conditions.9  There are many reasons why substance abuse is so prevalent among adult ADHD patients, from social factors to brain chemistry needs.

School, Work, and Relationship Issues

If you have ADHD, you may experience issues at work or in school. You may be unable to focus on tasks, misplace items you need to complete an assignment, and feel chronically disorganized. You may forget social engagements, obligations, and important dates, leading to interpersonal conflicts.

As a result, ADHD symptoms can strain your relationships and cause issues in your personal and professional life. These aggravating factors can cause ADHD patients to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their symptoms.

Dopamine Deficiency

ADHD patients have lower levels of dopamine in their brains, a neurotransmitter responsible for controlling pleasure, focus, and motivation. 10  When you take drugs or drink alcohol, a rush of dopamine enters your nervous system, triggering your brain’s reward system. Many adults with ADHD may abuse substances to make up for their dopamine deficiency, relying on larger amounts of the drug or alcohol to feel the same euphoric effects.

Stimulant Prescriptions

Many medications used to treat ADHD are stimulants, such as Adderall or Ritalin. Stimulants can cause feelings of alertness, euphoria, and increased concentration, speeding up the messages between the brain and body.11

While these prescriptions are effective at managing symptoms of ADHD, stimulants have a high rate of misuse and you may develop an addiction to them. Because of the high rate of substance abuse among people with ADHD, doctors who prescribe stimulants need to carefully monitor patients closely to prevent misuse and dependence.

Co-Occurring ADHD and Addiction Treatment

If you have co-occurring ADHD and substance abuse, professional help is necessary to break the cycle of substance abuse. Entering a dual diagnosis program can help you receive targeted treatment for your ADHD and addiction, as well as any other co-occurring conditions. Treating both conditions at once is necessary to relieve your symptoms and develop healthier strategies to cope with underlying mental health issues.

Dual diagnosis programs are valuable for multiple reasons. They help you modify destructive behavioral patterns and thoughts that contribute to substance abuse, as well as control symptoms of ADHD through medication and behavior management. This treatment also helps build self-esteem and encourage motivation, easing the transition to a healthier, substance-free lifestyle.

Drug and alcohol rehab programs provide a safe, secure environment to receive multiple types of treatment:
Medication:In rehab, you will receive medication to treat your ADHD, as well as medication for other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. You may also undergo a medically-assisted detox and receive treatment to cope with painful withdrawal symptoms. If you receive stimulants, your doctor will monitor you for signs of addiction and will prescribe alternate ADHD medication if a stimulant may trigger relapse.
psychotherapy session
Therapy: Stress is a major risk factor for addiction, and you may encounter frustrating situations that contribute to your substance abuse risk. Through guided therapy sessions, you can learn the skills you need to navigate difficult situations and avoid drug and alcohol dependence. You may attend behavioral therapies, social skills training, and psychotherapy, depending on your doctor’s recommendations.
support groups
Group counseling: A supportive community of peers is important for addiction recovery. During an inpatient rehab program, you may attend group therapy sessions where each participant shares his or her experiences, allowing the community to learn from one another. After initial treatment, you may attend addiction support groups to stay in touch with your supportive community and seek help if you find yourself close to relapse

If you experience ADHD symptoms and struggle with substance abuse, you are not alone. Thousands of people experience co-occurring ADHD and addiction, and professional treatment can relieve these symptoms and restore your quality of life. Visit a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center as soon as possible to discuss your options for treatment.


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