ADHD and Addiction

Individuals with ADHD may struggle with a substance abuse issue as a way to cope with their mental condition. Find out how to locate a treatment program that actively addresses both disorders.

Understanding ADHD and Substance Abuse

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological disorder that is usually diagnosed during childhood. Approximately 25% of adults that go to a treatment center for alcohol and substance abuse also live with ADHD.

People with ADHD may be more inclined to abuse drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with the symptoms of their disorder. Some people who are prescribed stimulants to treat ADHD may become hooked on the drug. The cycle of addiction is hard to diagnosis or treat for individuals with ADHD.

Addiction treatment programs for individuals with ADHD emphasize a dual diagnosis treatment approach and use different types of therapy to allow for healing and healthy habits to take form.

How Does ADHD Develop?

There are several things that can affect someone’s chance of developing ADHD.


Heredity is the most common cause of ADHD. Children with ADHD are four times as likely to have a family member who also has been diagnosed with ADHD.

Exposure to Toxic Substances

Based on research, there appears to be a link between mothers who used tobacco products or alcohol during pregnancy and the development of ADHD. Exposure to lead has also been linked to hyperactivity.


Traumatic brain injury, brain tumors, stroke, or disease can cause inattention and poor regulation of motor activity and impulses. This is an uncommon cause of ADHD.

ADHD and Addiction

Research has shown that about 21% of males with ADHD and 13% of females with ADHD abuse drugs or alcohol. Individuals with ADHD can suffer from a negative impact on their academic or job performance. Their social development may be impacted as well. Those individuals may turn to substance abuse as a way to cope with the effects of their ADHD.

The medications used to treat ADHD and substance abuse can be habit-forming. This makes it difficult to treat the substance abuse. Ritalin and Adderall, which are stimulants, are effective at managing the symptoms, but they have the potential of being abused. While in treatment, it is extremely important to monitor both issues at the same time.

“I think everybody in the field agrees, if you can get a toehold on the addiction, you should think about treating the ADHD relatively quickly. If you treat ADHD aggressively and you monitor for substance abuse, you’re going to reduce [delinquency].” – Dr. Howard Schubiner, ADHD researcher

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ADHD Symptoms and Effects

The symptoms and characteristics of ADHD varies from person to person. Some people will show symptoms of the disorder that others do not.

The core characteristics of this disorder fall into three categories:

  • Lack of ability to pay attention or focus.
  • Hyperactive behavior or constant physical activity.
  • Impulsive behavior.

There are various behavioral patterns criteria that all three categories meet.

  • Difficulty finishing tasks
  • Problems listening to others
  • Struggles with organizing projects or responsibilities
  • Forgetfulness
  • Being easily distracted
  • Constant fidgeting
  • Inability to control speech or actions
  • Frequently losing or misplacing personal items

ADHD in adults presents itself in the individual having trouble performing adequately at work. They struggle with organization, misplacing important items, completing tasks, and forgetting appointments or social commitments.

Adults with ADHD often have difficult forming relationships. They struggle to pay attention to others because they are easily distracted or will make comments without thinking through the thought process. The inability to form relationships can be frustrating and oftentimes cause the individual to abuse drugs and alcohol in order to be able to fit in socially or as a means of escape from their situations.

Addiction and ADHD Treatment

The cycle of frustration for an individual with ADHD can cause the person to begin self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. Addiction and ADHD can be treated simultaneously through a dual diagnosis program. Therefore, it’s important that the addiction and disorder be treated at the same time.

A supportive and comfortable setting needs to be provided in the treatment center in order to encourage healing for the individual. Therapy (family and individual), counseling, self-help groups, holistic therapy should be the core components of a successful recovery program for individuals with ADHD.

A dual diagnosis program focuses on:

  • Modifying destructive thoughts and behaviors that promote substance abuse.
  • Building self-esteem and encouraging internal motivation.
  • Controlling the symptoms of ADHD through behavioral modification and medication therapy.
  • Identifying substance abuse triggers and learning how to manage impulses.
  • Educating partners and family members about ADHD.

Dual diagnosis programs are designed to help manage the symptoms of ADHD and change the individual’s responses to trigger situations while in recovery. When an individual participates in this type of program, they will be able to live a healthier, more functional life without the dependence on any substances.

If you or your loved one has ADHD and is struggling with substance abuse, please call us now for help.