Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition characterized by more than just difficulties with concentration. Its varying symptoms can contribute to a number of health problems, in addition to increasing an individual’s vulnerability to substance use and the development of addiction. This article addresses the link between ADHD and addiction and offers effective treatment options for how to navigate and overcome these conditions.

ADHD and Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

Some people might be surprised to learn that the symptoms of ADHD and substance use disorder (SUD) overlap. The symptoms that characterize ADHD can contribute to emotional distress, which can make an individual more vulnerable to the development of addiction. One research study found that compared to a control group, individuals with ADHD were nearly six times more likely to use alcohol and other drugs.

The same study also estimated that up to 50% of adolescents and adults that struggle with SUD also have an underlying ADHD diagnosis. In some studies, ADHD was more prevalent in those with methamphetamine addictions than those who were in the control group. Additionally, the progression of addiction is more severe in those with ADHD, and it can have more severe psychiatric effects than in those without ADHD.

How ADHD Can Contribute to Substance Use and SUD

Most often, individuals that struggle with ADHD experience seemingly unmanageable symptoms. In an attempt to relieve their symptoms, these individuals may turn to alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate. This is especially common in those who have undiagnosed ADHD, which is more common among women and people of color. Symptoms of ADHD typically begin in childhood but tend to last well throughout adulthood. Specific ADHD symptoms that may contribute to substance use include impulsivity, boredom, and thrill-seeking or risk-taking urges.

In the brain, ADHD occurs from a lack of dopamine. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that is a part of your reward system, which affects your motivation to do things. Those with ADHD might find themselves constantly chasing dopamine releases, particularly through substance use, because they have an enormous deficit that can never be satisfied.

It’s also very common for those with ADHD to have co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. These conditions may result from adverse experiences, including experiences of rejection or failure, that impact an individual’s self-esteem. Those with depressive or anxious symptoms, in addition to symptoms of ADHD, may experience an even greater risk of using substances to self-medicate.

Those with ADHD might also self-medicate to deal with inadequate social support or stressful events during adolescence and adulthood. Typically, individuals with ADHD are more likely to experience disorganization and chaos, leading to stress. They’re more likely to experience job loss, financial issues, and even insomnia. As a result, some might turn to substances, like sedatives, to help them sleep better.

Are Stimulants Dangerous for Those With ADHD?

Since stimulant medications, like Adderall or Ritalin, are common treatment methods for ADHD, it is important to recognize potential concerns that may arise from relying on medication to reduce ADHD symptoms. As stimulants can be addictive, it is important to always take your medication exactly how your doctor prescribes it. Avoid taking your prescription medication in a way otherwise directed by your doctor, as this can result in substance misuse.

Still, it’s common for people that do not have a proper ADHD diagnosis to develop a substance use addiction if they self-medicate. Caffeine and nicotine addiction are common in those that struggle with ADHD, as many may use these substances in an attempt to stay motivated and focused.

Treatment for Those Who Are Struggling

If you find that you have co-occurring ADHD and SUD, it’s important to inform your family members, especially if you have children. Like any mental health condition, the development of ADHD occurs from both genetic and environmental factors. Those with parents who have SUD are likely to pass it down to their children due to addiction exposure and potential trauma. Educate your children and other loved ones about the potential risks.

Treating Both Conditions

Effective treatment for co-occurring disorders, such as ADHD and SUD, must treat both conditions simultaneously. Treatment strategies should keep both conditions in mind. Typically, treatment programs will focus on using individualized treatment plans that address the unique needs and recovery goals of the client. A combination of individual psychotherapy, medication-assisted treatment, and group therapy will likely be recommended for individuals recovering from SUD.

ADHD treatment is usually a combination of therapy, medication, and learning how to manage symptoms. Therapies like motivational interviewing and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) work best with addressing thought processes and behaviors. With your therapist, you can develop plans on how to manage both your ADHD symptoms and SUD withdrawal symptoms. Sessions should be structured and goal-oriented, with active involvement from the therapist.

ADHD is often misunderstood and minimized, which can cause people to not take it seriously. Oftentimes, individuals with ADHD turn to alcohol and other drugs in an attempt to self-medicate their symptoms. As a result, these individuals are more vulnerable to developing a substance use disorder (SUD). Co-occurring ADHD and SUD can worsen the symptoms of one another if they are left untreated. For effective treatment to occur, treatment must be individualized and work to treat both conditions simultaneously. Bella Monte Recovery Center is a treatment facility that offers a wide range of program options for clients. We understand that untreated mental health problems often play the biggest role in the development of substance use disorders. Fortunately, we have various therapeutic approaches that can help treat substance use and underlying mental health disorders. To learn more, call us today at (800) 974-1938.