The Relationship Between ADHD and Addiction

The Relationship Between ADHD and Addiction

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a medical condition that includes attention difficulty, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. ADHD is usually diagnosed in children, though adults can have it as well. Although it’s called “adult ADHD,” the condition does not develop in adulthood. It develops in childhood but is not recognized or diagnosed until the person is an adult. 

Unfortunately, untreated ADHD symptoms can interfere with school, work and relationships. Adults with ADHD often have trouble staying organized, managing their time and following through with tasks. Additionally, undiagnosed ADHD is a risk-factor for overuse of drugs and alcohol. Moreover, anecdotally, many treatment centers report growing awareness with their clients of how untreated ADHD has been a significant challenge in their lives. 

Below you’ll find more information about adult ADHD and its relationship to drug and alcohol addiction. 

Recognizing the Signs of Adult ADHD 

ADHD is a mental health disorder that includes a combination of persistent symptoms that can affect relationships, school or work performance and self-esteem. Symptoms start in early childhood, though they sometimes are not recognized or diagnosed. Treatment for ADHD is similar for adults and children, though some adults say their symptoms improve over time. 

Some adults with ADHD are not aware they have the condition. All they know is that they struggle with everyday tasks like managing their time, meeting deadlines and prioritizing tasks. As they lose control of their day-to-day schedule, they may have angry outbursts, impatience and mood swings. 

Below are the most common symptoms of adult ADHD:

  • Impulsiveness
  • Disorganization
  • Poor time management skills
  • Trouble focusing on tasks
  • Difficulty multitasking 
  • Excessive activity 
  • Poor planning
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Trouble coping with stress 

Dangers of Not Treating ADHD 

If a person with ADHD does not receive treatment, they can experience widespread problems in their life. In fact, research shows that ADHD is one of the most highly impairing disorders to live with. There is a 100% increased risk of substance abuse among teens in this group because of the risk of self-medication. 

Generally speaking, the sequence begins with tobacco and alcohol and then shifts to marijuana, cocaine and other drugs. Stimulants are especially popular among people with ADHD because, counterintuitively, they create calm in the ADHD brain. The reasons for this are not completely understood yet.

Research shows that adults with unmedicated ADHD are 78% more likely to be addicted to tobacco and 58% more likely to abuse illegal drugs than those without ADHD. Furthermore, 79% of adults who were not medically treated as children experience anxiety, depression and physical ailments compared to 51% without ADHD. 

While some parents worry that ADHD medicines will put their child at risk for addiction, this is not what research shows. Researchers have found no compelling evidence that treating teens with ADHD medications starts them on a path to substance abuse. When teens receive proper treatment, they are more aware of their physical and mental health. 

Warning Signs of ADHD Self-Medication 

People with ADHD tend to have low levels of dopamine. Drugs can boost dopamine levels, making them addictive. The most common drugs that people with ADHD abuse are alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, alcohol and tobacco. 

Here are some signs that a person might be self-medicating: 

  • Staying away from friends, family and social events
  • Sudden change in hobbies
  • Secrecy about how they spend their time 
  • Neglecting physical health and appearance 
  • Changes in work or school performance 
  • Angry outbursts or mood swings  
  • Unusual financial troubles 

Treatment for ADHD and Substance Abuse 

When a person has an underlying mental health disorder and substance use disorder, they are said to have a dual diagnosis. The best way to treat a dual diagnosis is by treating both conditions simultaneously. Be aware that you must be sober before starting a treatment program for ADHD and substance abuse. It’s nearly impossible to address the ADHD if you aren’t thinking rationally. 

Treatments for substance abuse include individual counseling, group and family therapy and medication. Most dual diagnosis treatment centers also teach relapse prevention techniques, coping skills and stress management. As for ADHD, treatment usually includes prescribed medications, regular exercise and continual behavioral health checkups. If ADHD symptoms are under control, the hope is that the person feels less compelled to self-medicate. 

Concerns Over Digital Devices 

For some young adults with ADHD, it’s important to consider the role that digital devices can play in their recoveries. Digital media use is linked to behavioral problems in kids and teens. Specifically, teens who frequently use smartphones and tablets are twice as likely as infrequent users to show symptoms of ADHD

At this time, researchers can’t draw firm conclusions from one study, but there is a definite link between digital media usage and the development of ADHD symptoms in the future. As content becomes faster, more prevalent and more stimulating, it’s important to give thought as to how often young people should be on these devices. A new generation of children may be at risk for ADHD. 

Continuum Recovery Center is a treatment center that addresses the whole person – mind, body and spirit. We have the tools and resources to work with clients who have ADHD and substance abuse. With our signature Continuum Care, clients are able to progress through treatment in a safe and supportive environment. If you or a loved one is in need of treatment for ADHD and addiction, contact us today to learn about our personalized treatment services.