Attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) & Substance Abuse

Last Edited: December 3, 2020

Nicole Arzt

Clinically Reviewed
Andrew Lancaster, LPC, MAC

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and certified by an addiction professional.

Understanding the Relationship Between ADHD and Substance Abuse

Many people struggle with both ADHD and substance abuse. People with ADHD may use drugs or alcohol to cope with symptoms related to impulsivity, hyperactivity, and impulse behavior. That said, these substances tend to exacerbate their mental health problems.  

These conditions can be frustrating to live with, and they can both be challenging to treat. That said, recovery is possible. It’s essential to treat both conditions together when seeking help. 

Regardless of your circumstances, you can learn to live a happier and healthier life. Let’s get into what you need to know. 

Understanding ADHD

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental health conditions in America. It impacts nearly 10% of children in the US, a figure that has been steadily rising in recent years. The first symptoms typically appear when the child is between 3-6 years old. 

Although some people believe it only affects children, this isn’t true. In fact, ADHD affects 10 million adults. At times, it may go unrecognized during childhood and adulthood, which can cause complications for the individual struggling. The common signs and symptoms of ADHD in adults include:

  • Becoming easily distracted when engaged in low-priority interests. 
  • Difficulty paying attention in various settings.
  • Feeling like the mind is perpetually racing. 
  • Overlooking details, which can result in making frequent mistakes.
  • Daydreaming during conversations or important tasks.
  • Difficulty completing tasks.
  • Poor organization skills.
  • Frequently forgetting commitments or appointments.
  • Interrupting others.
  • Impulsive behavior. 
  • Trouble sitting still and constantly fidgeting.
  • Getting bored quickly and needing more stimulation.

At times, ADHD may be misdiagnosed for other conditions like depression, anxiety, or oppositional defiant disorder. Similarly, adults may overlook their symptoms or dismiss them as them being lazy or easily distracted. 

The Misuse of ADHD Drugs

Stimulants, like Ritalin and Adderall, are FDA-approved for treating ADHD. When taken as prescribed, these medications can help with focus and concentration. They can also reduce some of the impulsivity and racing thoughts associated with ADHD.

It should be noted that many people taking ADHD drugs take them appropriately. Rather than desiring to get high, they take the medication for relief. Stimulants can help restore dopamine levels, which helps improve one’s mood. 

That said, stimulants contain dextroamphetamine and amphetamine- chemicals that have the potential to be habit-forming. You can build a tolerance to your medication, which means you will need to take more to achieve the desired effect. 

Likewise, some people may start abusing their medication as a means of getting high and feeling a sense of euphoria. You can abuse these medications by taking them orally, crushing and snorting them, or injecting them intravenously.  

Over time, this pattern can evolve into a substance use disorder. Furthermore, if you combine your ADHD medication with other substances, like alcohol or opioids, the effects can be extremely dangerous.

Does ADHD Cause Addiction? 

Research shows a clear link between ADHD and substance use. ADHD is 5-10x more common among adults struggling with alcohol use disorder. In treatment settings, the rate of clients with ADHD is about 25%. Additionally, it is more common for children with ADHD to start abusing alcohol during their teenage years than their counterparts. 

That said, substance use disorders are complex and multi-faceted conditions. Experts agree that addiction is probably caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. ADHD alone is not the culprit for substance use.

That said, people with ADHD may be more likely to develop addiction. ADHD is associated with issues related to poor judgment and impulsivity. People also often struggle with relationships, school and work, all of which can affect their self-esteem. These variables may raise the risk for someone developing addictive behaviors. 

Treatment For ADHD And Substance Abuse

When seeking treatment for substance use, it’s imperative to seek comprehensive care that focuses on co-occurring disorders. If you neglect to treat your mental health, you may increase your chance for relapse. Additionally, even if you achieve sustained sobriety, your ADHD symptoms could worsen, causing more problems. 

Therefore, comprehensive treatment should include:

  • Individual therapy.
  • Group therapy.
  • Psychoeducation about both mental illness and addiction.
  • Understanding of triggers.
  • Medication management and compliance.
  • A focus on positive peer support.
  • Learning relaxation skills. 
  • Relapse prevention planning.
  • Safe housing. 
  • A focus on making healthy, sustainable lifestyle changes.  

Your treatment plan should be unique to your specific needs. Depending on the severity of your substance use, you may need detox treatment. Detox is typically the first step for safely withdrawing from drugs or alcohol. After detox, you will transition into either an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program. These programs offer the support and resources you need for your recovery. 

Do You Have To Stop Taking Your ADHD Medication?

If you want to seek help for your substance use, you might feel worried about whether you can continue taking your ADHD prescription. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and the answer will depend largely on your recovery and your treatment team. 

To protect yourself from a relapse, it is a good idea to:

  • Disclose any issues related to abusing your ADHD medication.
  • Taking medication in front of someone else. 
  • Consider asking about non-stimulant prescriptions like antidepressants.
  • Storing medication a trusted loved one’s home, instead of holding onto it yourself.
  • Asking your doctor or psychiatrist for smaller prescriptions at a time.

Remember that finding the right treatment can be a process. It’s important to be patient and open-minded about trying different approaches. You may need to try a variety of medications to find the solution that works best for you.

Final Thoughts

It’s no secret that living with ADHD and substance abuse may feel frustrating and discouraging for you and your loved ones. After all, you may have been struggling with these symptoms for many years. 

However, it is possible to find relief. With the right support, you can learn to live a happier and more meaningful life. 

At Detox To Rehab, we are here to help you find the treatment you need to get things back on track. Contact us today to get started.