Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, affects more children than any other behavioral disorder. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, up to 5 percent of kids meet the criteria for ADHD, yet many go undiagnosed until they are teens or adults. Impulsive behavior, inability to pay attention and excessive physical activity are the hallmark signs of ADHD. Because this condition can have a negative impact on academic performance, social development and job success, a lot of teens and adults who live with ADHD also fall victim to substance abuse and addiction.
How Does ADHD Affect Your Life?
People with ADHD are often extremely bright, creative and intelligent; however, the disorder makes it difficult to sustain mental focus on a single topic or to control the impulse to act out. Kids who have ADHD may be marginalized as “troublemakers” in school and may have difficulty fitting in with their peers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that teenagers with the disorder are more likely to engage in alcohol abuse, drug use and criminal activity:
- Teens with ADHD are twice as likely to have gotten drunk in the past six months.
- Teens with ADHD are more likely to try alcohol or drugs at a younger age.
- Teens with ADHD are more likely to use multiple illegal drugs.
- Teens with ADHD are more likely to use marijuana.
Living with a behavioral disorder can continue to affect your life well into adulthood. Adults with this condition have a higher risk of alcoholism, drug abuse and other compulsive behaviors than adults who don’t have ADHD. They may continue to have trouble sticking with specific tasks or maintaining healthy social relationships. Dual Diagnosis treatment programs offer a path to recovery for adults or teens who are struggling with addiction and ADHD.
Symptoms of ADHD
The symptoms of ADHD vary from one person to another, but the characteristics of this disorder typically fall into three categories:
- Lack of ability to pay attention or focus on specific topics
- Hyperactive behavior, or a state of constant physical activity
- Impulsive behavior, or lack of control over one’s actions
Some individuals with ADHD display a lack of attention without symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity. Others are extremely impulsive and hyperactive but are capable of maintaining attention. Children who are hyperactive and impulsive may be known as “problem kids,” while those who are primarily inattentive may be known as “daydreamers.”
If you or someone in your life consistently displays the following behavioral patterns, you may meet the criteria for ADHD:
- Difficulty finishing tasks
- Problems listening to others
- Difficulty organizing projects or responsibilities
- A tendency to be easily distracted
- Constant fidgeting
- Inability to control speech or actions
- Interrupting others
- Frequently losing or misplacing personal items
The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that between 30 and 50 percent of children with ADHD will continue to display the symptoms of this condition into adulthood. While children are more likely to fidget, jump around, run or climb when they’re distracted, adults with ADHD tend to be restless and edgy. They may have trouble at work because they feel chronically disorganized and misplace the things they need to finish a job. They often forget appointments and overlook social commitments. They may have conflicts in their relationships because they make offensive remarks without thinking or fail to pay attention to others.
Adults and teens with ADHD may turn to alcohol or drugs to relax, to fit in socially or to slow down. They may drink or use drugs in response to a sense of frustration or a low self-image. Recovering from ADHD requires a lot of support from caring professionals who can help you rebuild your sense of self.
Addiction and ADHD Treatment
Clinical studies have confirmed that there’s a strong connection between ADHD and chemical addiction. The National Alliance on Mental Illness points out that while 11 percent of boys and 3 percent of girls without ADHD drink alcohol, 21 percent of boys and 13 percent of girls with ADHD abuse this drug. In many cases, the symptoms of ADHD appear before substance abuse begins, indicating that a lot of kids use drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with the consequences of having this behavioral disorder.
Treating ADHD and substance abuse can be challenging. Many teens and adults with ADHD are treated with medications that are habit-forming. Stimulant medications like Ritalin and Adderall are often effective at managing symptoms, yet they also have a high potential for abuse. Non-stimulant medications, like bupropion and modafanil, or longer-acting stimulant medications may be safer for patients who are struggling with drug addiction or alcoholism.
A Dual Diagnosis of ADHD and substance abuse requires a multidimensional approach to treatment. Counseling, family therapy, self-help groups and holistic modalities are the core components of a successful recovery program. An integrated treatment plan accommodates the symptoms of this disorder by providing a secure, supportive environment that promotes healing.
Individual counseling sessions, group therapy and family counseling focus on the following goals:
- Modifying the 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 treatment is the key to making a full recovery. At Foundations Recovery Network, we approach each client from a fully integrated perspective. With extensive experience at treating co-occurring psychiatric disorders, our therapists have the skills and training to address both addiction and ADHD. Whether you’ve been living with ADHD since childhood or you’ve been recently diagnosed as an adult, we can help you create the fulfilling, healthy future you deserve. Contact us to learn how our recovery programs can help you overcome the disease of addiction and find new sources of strength and hope.
Further Reading About ADHD
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton