Written by Neuro Section9 Medial Team on
May 16, 2022
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Neuro Section9 Medial Team on:

ADHD and addiction often go hand-in-hand. ADHD can make it difficult to resist impulsive behaviors, while addiction can cause changes in the brain that make it hard to control impulses.

As a result, people with ADHD are at a higher risk of developing an addiction.

Fortunately, there are treatment options available for those who suffer from both ADHD and addiction.

In many cases, treatment for ADHD can help reduce the risk of relapse and improve outcomes for those in recovery.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the link between ADHD and addiction as well as the common medications and therapies that you might want to consider.

We’ll also provide tips in identifying if a loved one is struggling with both conditions.

Let’s get started.

What exactly is ADHD?

Attention, Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurological condition with sets usually around early childhood. It may go well into adulthood if not managed or treated.

The common signs of ADHD include the following:

  • difficulty staying still
  • trouble paying attention
  • inability to cope with tedious tasks and boredom
  • impulsive and controlling behavior

Research tells us that people with ADHD may feel an inclination to use alcohol and drugs to cope with difficulties in their lives. Some even resort to hard drugs like heroin, eventually requiring heroin addiction treatment and rehab.

Others who are prescribed stimulants may develop addiction-related issues to ADHD drugs. In any case, the chances of addiction are ever-present.

The Link Between ADHD and Addiction

A growing body of evidence suggests that children with ADHD are at a greater risk of developing drug and alcohol dependence than the general population. The following statistics and facts further support this link –

  • ADHD is up to 10x more common among adults with alcohol use disorder (AUD).
  • Children with ADHD diagnosis are far more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol in their teens and later years of life.
  • Young adults (averaging 25 years of age) with ADHD diagnosis run a higher risk of using excess alcohol than young adults without the diagnosis.
  • Between ADHD versus non-ADHD groups, the former is more likely to begin abusing substances earlier.

These statistics and facts beg one question – what makes individuals with ADHD more prone to drug abuse? Research tells us that it’s partially due to the impaired ability to control impulses and behavioral issues with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. These everyday frustrations may initiate a person to turn to drugs.

How To Know If a Loved One Has ADHD and Addiction

The most typical way to determine if an adult has ADHD is if they have trouble paying attention and/or difficulty delivering adequate work performance. They may have trouble organizing things as well. Forgetting social commitments, appointments and misplacing items are other common signs. 

Also, it’s not uncommon for ADHD individuals to make off-handed remarks without a lot of thinking. As a result, their relationships may suffer. They may have trouble paying attention to others due to heightened distractions. Over time, these minor issues become one big issue, eventually causing them to turn to drugs as a way to escape, fit in socially, or slow down.

ADHD and addiction can receive simultaneous treatment via a dual-diagnosis treatment program. Treating both issues together is crucial so that the frustration of one point doesn’t feel the other or lead a person to self-medicate and do drugs.

ADHD Symptoms and Effects

Development signs and symptoms of ADHD can vary from one person to another. A person may show signs that others lack based on the disorder.

With that said, here are the core categories of symptoms to look for – 

  • Trouble focusing or paying attention to work and/or studies
  • Constant physical activity; trouble sitting still
  • Impulsive behaviors

Within these three categories, here are some other behavioral patterns that meet ADHD criteria: 

  • Trouble initiating or finishing tasks
  • Struggle organizing responsibilities and projects
  • Trouble listening to others
  • Forgetfulness
  • Constant fidgeting
  • Easily distracted
  • Inability to control specific actions or speech
  • Misplacing items and frequently losing them

Common ADHD Medication and Therapies

Although medication is an effective way to treat this neurological disorder, it could lead to addiction or dependence on medication if abused. Two of the most common ADHD medications prescribed are – Vyvanse (an amphetamine), Ritalin (A stimulant for the central nervous system), and Adderall (a stimulant or amphetamine). 

It’s crucial to separate ADHD patients from those who don’t have this disorder when talking about medication abuse. Much of the negative attention around Ritalin and Adderall relates to students abusing these drugs, hoping for better concentration and academic performance. It is not uncommon for those students to abuse the drugs so much as to require the help of local rehab centers for addiction.

As for individuals with ADHD, studies tell that Ritalin or Adderall does not contribute to the risk of addiction to drugs.

Other than frontline treatments like psychostimulants, ADHD patients may benefit from supportive treatment services. The treatment is more effective when coupled with medication. Standard treatment services are –

  • Lifestyle coaching
  • Exercise programs
  • Diet management
  • Nutritional guidance
  • Parenting advice
  • Stress management 
  • Educating on ADHD
  • Skill-Building Workshops

How can ADHD and addiction be treated effectively together?

The Psychiatric Times published an article addressing a few of the complexities involved in substance abuse and ADHD treatment. For example, the article discusses how a person continuing with ADHD medication may receive a more extended treatment than those who don’t.

But, at the same time, a person receiving substance abuse treatment who also happens to have access to stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin may abuse it. 

So, what’s the solution? The critical aspect of dual diagnosis treatment for SUD and ADHD is to monitor it in rehab. Rehabs are better at accommodating dual diagnosis treatment under one roof. Another solution is to coordinate care with a psychiatrist. It’s essential to track or monitor both treatments. 

It’s also important to factor in both issues while drawing up a treatment plan. For example, the psychiatrist can talk about the possibility of a recovering person developing an addiction to Ritalin. 

So, they may decide not to prescribe a stimulant during the first three months of the Adderall addiction treatment or other SUD treatment. They may then monitor the non-stimulant treatment plan while discussing its progress with addiction treatment specialists. The point is that there are multiple ways to go about this treatment that go way beyond medication.

Final Thoughts

The true success of dual diagnosis treatment for ADHD and Substance Use Disorder lies in different specialists working together. It’s essential to consider a person’s history, personal challenges, and individual circumstances to develop an effective plan. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with ADHD and addiction, please seek professional help. Addiction is a serious disease, but it is treatable. With the right treatment team in place, recovery is possible.

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