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ADHD and Addiction

Read on to learn more about ADHD and addiction and how the can co-occur alongside each other, as well as treatment for ADHD and substance abuse.

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Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD is a mental health disorder that impacts many people. ADHD usually presents during childhood and can last throughout one’s teenage years and into adulthood.1The rate at which ADHD has been diagnosed has fluctuated over time. In 2003, the number of children diagnosed with ADHD was 4.4 million, and that rose to 6.4 million in 2011; in 2016, however, that number decreased to 6.1 million.2

ADHD and addiction can co-occur alongside one another. When ADHD (or any other mental health disorder) exists with a substance use disorder, it is considered a co-occurring disorder.3 Unfortunately, having a mental health disorder, such as ADHD, can make you more vulnerable to developing a substance use disorder. Individuals who suffer from a mental health disorder are more likely to develop a substance use disorder than those not impacted by a mental health disorder.3 Fortunately, effective treatment exists that can address both mental health and substance use disorders.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD is a mental health disorder that is characterized by chronic inattention or lack of ability to stay focused; hyperactivity; or both.5 ADHD can be diagnosed at any age although the disorder begins in childhood with the median age of onset at 6 years old, and symptoms can range from mildsevere.1 It is estimated that ADHD occurs in about 5% of children and about 2.5% of adults.

Symptoms of ADHD negatively affects a person’s development and ability to function normally.

Symptoms of ADHD

People can experience hyperactivity or inattention at times; however, ADHD is distinctly different in that:5

  • Symptoms occur often and are more severe.
  • Symptoms reduce your ability to function at school, work, or in social situations.

There are some common symptoms of ADHD that you can look out for. Hyperactive symptoms can include:5

  • Squirming and fidgeting while seated.
  • Difficulty or inability to engage in hobbies quietly.
  • Climbing, running, or dashing around the room at inappropriate times.
  • Feelings of restlessness.
  • Talking excessively.
  • Responding to questions before the question is completed or finishing people’s sentences.
  • Difficulty waiting your turn (e.g., in line, while speaking in conversation).
  • Leaving your seat at inappropriate times in the classroom or at work.
  • Intruding or interrupting others, such as in games or in conversation.
  • Constantly being in motion, as if driven by a motor.

Inattentive symptoms can include: 5

  • Becoming easily distracted.
  • Avoidance of tasks that require mental effort, such as homework or completing reports.
  • Presenting as uninterested or not listening to the person who is speaking directly to you.
  • Difficulty maintaining attention during tasks, such as conversations, reading, or lectures.
  • Easily forgetful of daily tasks such as errands, chores, and appointments.
  • Making seemingly careless mistakes and overlooking details at work, school, or other activities.
  • Difficulty following through on instructions.
  • Problems staying organized and doing tasks in sequential order.

The Link Between Addiction and ADHD

While research is somewhat limited, existing studies show that substance use disorders (SUD) commonly occur in those with ADHD at an estimated rate of 23%at.6 Adults with ADHD have been found to primarily use alcohol, nicotine, cannabis, and cocaine.

When ADHD co-occurs with an SUD, it can be highly problematic and there’s an increased risk for more severe disease course for both ADHD as well as the SUD.9 In addition, people with addiction who have co-occurring ADHD have a heightened risk for suicide attempts, hospitalizations, earlier onset of addiction, impulsivity, and polysubstance use.9

There isn’t a simple explanation for why and how these disorders commonly co-occur, but what is clear is that both disorders interact with one another in a complex, bidirectional manner.9 In other words, the development, course, and outcome of one disorder can impact the development, course, and outcome of the other. The reasons behind this connection are still largely unclear. However, studies suggest there are certain pathways that can contribute to developing both disorders: 6

  • There is evidence after studying the brains of individuals with ADHD and SUD, suggesting they both affect similar areas of the brain.
  • Both disorders share common risk factors, such as family history, certain genetic vulnerabilities, as well as environmental factors that can contribute to the increased risk of both conditions.
  • ADHD and other mental disorders can more directly contribute to the development of SUD, as substances are sometimes used to alleviate symptoms of undiagnosed ADHD and other mental illnesses.4 It is important to note, however, that someone taking stimulant medication to manage symptoms ADHD is not subsequently at increased risk for developing a substance use disorder.
  • Substance use can contribute to changes in the brain and behavior that can make you more vulnerable to developing a mental illness or symptoms of a mental health disorder.4

Treatment for Co-Occurring ADHD and Substance Use Disorder

The standard of care for treating co-occurring mental health disorders and addiction is to treat both conditions concurrently.4 Integrated treatment can be modified to suit your individual needs and challenges.

There are a number of different medications that can be used to effectively manage and reduce the symptoms of ADHD. Stimulant medication is traditionally used to treat ADHD and can include Ritalin and Adderall.7 Non-stimulant medications also exist.

Effective treatment of substance use disorders and other mental health disorders addresses your individual, mental health, and substance misuse needs and recovery goals and can include medications and therapies, such as: 4

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).
  • Contingency management (CM).
  • Assertive community treatment (ACT).
  • Family therapy.

Studies show that integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders is effective and may include:8

  • A variety of settings, including inpatient and outpatient.
  • Medications if appropriate.
  • Services to decrease symptoms, increase abstinence, and establish stable housing.
  • Develop meaningful connections with support groups and community resources.

There is also a need for co-occurring disorder treatment. Studies suggest that only 50% of addiction treatment facilities provided specific programming to address co-occurring disorders and 99.8% of SUD treatment facilities reported having clients with co-occurring disorders enrolled in treatment.8

Finding ADHD and Addiction Treatment Near You

Fortunately, there are integrated treatment programs that treat both ADHD and addiction. It may be worthwhile to talk to your doctor about your mental health and substance misuse concerns. Your doctor may be able to provide you with resources that can help you determine your medical needs and find a suitable treatment center. You can also find rehabs near you using the online treatment locator provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Addiction helplines are also available to help support you in finding a treatment facility suitable to your needs, such as the helpline offered by American Addiction Centers (AAC). By calling , you can speak to a compassionate admissions navigator who can help connect you with dual diagnosis treatment for addiction and ADHD. You do not have to wait to get help. Call us today at .