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The Link Between ADHD and Substance Abuse

The Link Between ADHD and Substance Abuse

Author: Shernide Delva

There long has been a known connection between ADHD and substance abuse. Research shows that adults with ADHD are drastically more likely to be involved with substance abuse than adults without the disorder. According to surveys, close to 25 percent of adults treated for alcohol and substance abuse also have ADHD.

The stress of dealing with ADHD can complicate tasks which can trigger the use of drugs. Many with ADHD turn to addictions like drugs, alcohol and gambling to provide a way of coping with their condition. For example, Niall Greene, the founder of the nonprofit organization Adult ADHD NI, says he turned to drugs to help when he felt he needed an escape from reality.  It was not until he was diagnosed with ADHD was he able to regain his life back after going through doctors, therapists, rehab, and even a suicide attempt.

The three symptoms of ADHD are:

  1. Inattentiveness
    – Inability to Pay Attention
    – Forgetfulness
    – Trouble Staying on Topic
    – Easily distracted by trivial noises or events
    – Lack Focus
  2. Impulsivity
    – Inpatient
    – Inability to Concentrate
    – Frequently Interrupting and Intruding on Others
  3. Hyperactivity
    – Fidgeting and Squirming
    – Getting Up and Moving Frequently
    – Trouble Being Quiet
    – Talking Excessively

Many studies have demonstrated that ADHD and substance abuse disorders often go hand-in-hand. A 2010 study found that people with the disorder are “two to three more likely” to have substance abuse issues than people without it.

The diagnosis of ADHD can help an addict recognize patterns of addiction that stem from ADHD as well as recognize patterns of self-control, impulsive and compulsive behaviors. By doing so, they can overcome many of the destructive addiction in the process and learn more about themselves.

Diagnosing ADHD in Adults

Most people are unaware that adults can have ADHD and those who believe they may have are often reluctant to seek help for their condition. ADHD has also been linked to depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and poor diet which also can further the chances of falling into addiction.

Adults with undiagnosed ADHD tend to have more symptoms of addictive behavior and are highly likely to try to self-medicate untreated ADHD symptoms with drugs and alcohol. They may engage in addictive behavior because they are trying to cope with symptoms they are unaware is actually ADHD symptoms.

Treating adults with ADHD is difficult especially since common treatments such as stimulants are often abused. Medications for ADHD such as Adderall and Ritalin are often abused so treating patients with these substances must be carefully and thoroughly evaluated.

Why Addiction is Such an Issue

Addiction is a major issue especially for those coping with mental disorders. Often addicts are not aware they have an underlying issue they are trying to overcome through the use of substances. In one study, only 30 percent of people surveyed said they used substances to get high. The other seventy percent said they used substances to “improve their mood, to sleep better, or for other reasons.”

Self-medication is extremely common among individuals whose ADHD have not been diagnosed. Often stimulants such as cocaine provide temporary relief. Alcohol has a similar effect. The medication used to treat ADHD has stimulant properties so the potential for abuse among people who have a history of substance abuse is one of great concern.

Still, raising awareness about the link between ADHD and substance abuse can result in more people learning about their condition. Perhaps the increase in diagnosis can help people avoid self-medication through the use of substances like drugs and alcohol. For now, treatment centers will have to help patients understand their underlying conditions that may have sparked their desire to use drugs.

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