ADHD and Addiction
Studies show that people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also have an increased risk of substance use disorders (SUDs).1 When a person has ADHD or another mental health disorder in the presence of an SUD, this is known as having a co-occurring disorder. Roughly half of teens and adults with SUDs have a lifetime diagnosis of ADHD, and those with ADHD are up to 6 times more likely to have an SUD.1 This article will look at the link between ADHD and substance abuse and offer resources for getting help.
What Is ADHD?
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common childhood mental health disorders, but it can also occur in the teenage or adult years.2 ADHD involves a combination of attention problems as well as hyperactive and impulsive behaviors that cause problems in at least 2 different settings—for example, both at home and at school or work.2–4
Attention problems can look like wandering off task, having trouble focusing and organizing, losing things, and not seeming to listen when spoken to.3,4
Hyperactivity can look like excessive fidgeting or tapping, talking too much or out of turn, being unable to sit still, or being loud.3,4
Being impulsive means to act quickly in the moment without thinking about possible harms. In practice, this can look like crossing the street without looking, interrupting others, not waiting your turn, or taking a new job without enough information.3
That said, it’s important to note that only a doctor or licensed mental health professional can diagnose ADHD.
The Connection Between ADHD and Addiction
People with ADHD have a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder than those without ADHD.7 Studies show that compared to children without ADHD, those with ADHD were 2.5 times more likely to develop an SUD in their lifetime.7 And among adults with SUDs, nearly 23 percent also have ADHD.5
Nobody knows exactly why ADHD leads to higher SUD rates. But one theory is that the impulsive symptoms of ADHD themselves may lead to drug use.2 For example, teens with ADHD often have higher rates of problems in school, including dropping out. They also tend to internalize problems caused by peer rejection, which can lead to depression and anxiety.1 These stressors may lead teens to use drugs to cope, or teens may end up in a social situation with drugs and be less able to turn them down because of the poor impulse control that often goes with ADHD.2
Scientists believe that people with ADHD have a greater number of dopamine transporters in the brain.2 Dopamine is a brain chemical that makes you feel good. The higher number of dopamine transporters means that dopamine leaves the brain much faster and as a result, the “reward” feelings created by the release of dopamine tend to not last as long.2 Drugs like cocaine, amphetamine, ecstasy, nicotine, alcohol, opiates, and marijuana can all increase dopamine levels in the short-term.2 This may lead some to misuse these substances in hopes of increasing how long dopamine lasts and getting the same pleasurable or “high” feelings.2
The good news is that treating ADHD with stimulant medicines can help reduce ADHD symptoms as well as the risk of developing SUDs.2 Stimulant medicines do have some risk of misuse, so it’s important to take them under a doctor’s care.2
How to Treat ADHD and Addiction
Drug addiction, or substance use disorder (SUD), is a chronic, relapsing disease, with relapse being the return to substance use after a period of not using.8 Treating co-occurring disorders often includes long-term care to address the high risk for relapse.5
To treat co-occurring ADHD and substance use disorders (SUDs), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) advises a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), prescription medicines, behavioral coaching, and education.5 SAMHSA further notes that ADHD can make SUD treatment a little more complex, and that unlike other co-occurring disorders, the research doesn’t support treating both disorders at the same time.5
Instead, experts suggest treating the substance use disorder first, then treating ADHD. That said, treatment should ideally still be integrated, meaning that your addiction and mental health care teams work together to address both disorders.5,9 If your addiction is severe, your doctor may suggest starting with brief residential addiction treatment.9
If left untreated, co-occurring disorders can be life-threatening. People with both SUDs and ADHD have a higher risk of suicidal behaviors, more severe SUDs, and hospitalization.5
How to Get Help for Addiction and ADHD
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of co-occurring SUD and ADHD treatment in the state of Nevada and across the nation. Recovery from co-occurring ADHD and SUD is possible, and we can help. At AAC, we tailor treatment to the recovery needs of each person and offer a safe, supportive place to start taking back control of your life. Call to learn more about your treatment options today. It’s free, confidential, and always open.
Does Insurance Pay for Integrated Treatment?
Co-occurring ADHD and SUD treatment is covered by many insurance plans. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 states that insurance groups must offer the same coverage for mental health or substance use disorders as they do for general medical complaints.10
American Addiction Centers accepts many common insurance plans. You can fill out the form below to see if your insurance is in-network with us.