ADHD and Addiction

The impulsive nature of those struggling with ADHD makes them vulnerable to substance abuse, but it’s more complicated than that.

In an age where mental health illnesses are subjects of discussion, ADHD is a widely recognised condition. We’ll explore the interrelationship between these two illnesses and how proper treatment can help you better manage symptoms, function better, and lead a sober, fulfilling life.

What Is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD, is a complex mental health disorder that interferes with normal brain functioning. This condition appears during childhood and persists throughout a person’s adult years if left untreated. ADHD symptoms manifest in three major categories:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Inattention
  • Impulsivity

When living with this illness, you’ll experience a wide range of distressing symptoms, including:

  • Trouble staying focused on tasks (and skipping obligations)
  • Unable to remain calm for extended periods
  • Forgetfulness
  • Social awkwardness
  • Getting easily bored
  • Lack of control over impulsive behaviour
  • Lack of speech control (constantly interrupting conversations)

Overall, unmanaged ADHD can significantly affect your academic or work performance and social skills. You’ll feel inclined (or may act out of impulse) to resort to substance use and other compulsive behaviours to numb the unpleasant symptoms or in an attempt to lead a normal life.

When addiction and ADHD co-exist, you’re clinically considered to have a dual diagnosis. The good news is, recovery from both conditions is highly possible with the right treatment plan.

The Prevalence of ADHD Across the UK: Facts and Statistics

ADHD is widespread among children and adults alike, as revealed through these findings:

  • ADHD affects 2% of the UK’s adult population
  • Nearly 1.5 million adults in the UK are living with ADHD, but only 120,000 have undergone full diagnosis
  • Between 3 to 5% of school-going children in the UK suffer from this condition
  • It is more commonly diagnosed in males who tend to present more classical symptoms compared with females

Why Are Addiction Rates Higher Among People With ADHD?

Compared to the general population, people living with ADHD experience substance abuse problems earlier in life. There are three main reasons for this:

ADHD Brain Reward System

If you suffer from this condition, it’s likely that you have chemical imbalances in your brain — In particular, abnormally low levels of “feel-good” neurotransmitters such as dopamine, often responsible for eliciting natural feelings of pleasure and reward.

Moreover, dopamine, which is closely linked to the brain’s reward centre, interacts with other neurotransmitters to regulate a person’s mood and emotions. Due to the abnormal dopamine levels, you will struggle with intense mood changes.

To compensate for these imbalances and escape feelings of unhappiness, there’s a high chance that you will turn to drugs and alcohol to experience the euphoric rush released by these substances. While self-medicating with these substances may offer temporary relief, it will worsen your ADHD symptoms in no time.

Mental Health Co-morbidities

If you are battling this illness, you’ll most likely experience other psychiatric issues — for instance, anxiety disorders, depression, or bipolar disorder — due to the overwhelming challenges you face every day when dealing with the condition.

When ADHD symptoms co-occur with other mental health symptoms, the common symptoms of ADHD become more unbearable. This experience can put you at a greater risk of developing dependence on substances or other compulsive behaviours to cope with or escape your frustrations.

Environmental Influences

If you have ADHD, you’re bound to experience tension when within social settings. The desire to feel at ease around your peers, friends, or families may drive you to substance abuse, either to boost your self-confidence or remain calm when around others.

In addition, the pressure to excel academically and perform in the workplace can make you develop performance insecurities. As a result, you may choose to self-medicate with substances to find relief from these insecurities or in an effort to improve performance.

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Should Those With ADHD and Addiction Take Medication?

In normal cases, stimulants are the first-line medications prescribed to manage ADHD symptoms effectively. However, these stimulants may turn out to be part of the problem rather than the solution if you have the condition and are also experiencing substance abuse problems. There’s a high chance of the addiction increasing in severity is high, as these stimulants have strong abuse potential. Stimulant medications can complicate your recovery journey from dependency.

For this reason, most addiction treatment specialists will prefer to prescribe non-stimulant medications (which often have minor potential for misuse and are thus safe) if you’re undergoing treatment for both ADHD and dependence simultaneously. Even so, it’s not uncommon for treatment professionals to still administer stimulants — but only while observing precaution. For instance, strictly regulating your dosage, prescribing extended-release stimulants rather than immediate release, reducing how long you will take the drugs, and closely monitoring your intake — all in an effort to minimise your risk of more dependence issues.

Treating ADHD and Addiction

For best recovery outcomes, these overlapping conditions must be treated at the same time since they feed off each other — addiction aggravates ADHD, and vice versa.

At Providence Projects, we understand your struggles as a dual diagnosis patient and the level of support and care you need. Our integrated dual-diagnosis treatment program, which is fully tailored to match your specific needs, involves a combination of medication-assisted detox, medication use to control ADHD symptoms and co-occurring mental illness symptoms, psychotherapy treatment techniques, counselling, and family therapy.

Our evidence-based dual diagnosis treatment approaches centre on:

  • Ridding your body of addictive substances (detox)
  • Working through all other underlying causes of your addiction (besides ADHD)
  • Reducing ADHD symptoms and managing substance cravings through medication and behavioural therapies
  • Equipping you with lifelong skills and building self-esteem to help you respond to substance use triggers and ADHD environmental triggers effectively
  • Wellness practices to help you achieve a healthy mind-body connection
  • Educating loved ones on dual diagnosis and how to support your recovery

Through our dual diagnosis treatment intervention, manageable ADHD symptoms and a less stressful, addiction-free life will be your new reality.

About the Author




This content has been verified by Paul Spanjar, a leading addiction expert and CEO of the Providence Projects

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