Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) And Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on April 19, 2021

Attention deficit disorder is a mental health condition characterized by such behaviors as difficulty focusing and impulsivity. It often co-occurs with substance use disorders, with dual diagnosis treatment being an effective method for treating both.

Dual Diagnosis Attention Deficit Disorder And Addiction

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are neurodevelopmental disorders which are most common in children but can progress into adulthood.

Research has shown that children who are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder are more likely to have substance use disorders later in life.

There is a definite connection between attention deficit disorder and addiction, and because of this there is good reason to treat the two conditions together when co-occurring.

Dual diagnosis treatment is a type of treatment that seeks to do exactly that.

Learn more about dual diagnosis addiction and behavioral disorders

What Is Attention Deficit Disorder?

Attention deficit disorder is a mental health condition that is classified by various behaviors, including hyperactivity and difficulty paying attention.

It most often starts during childhood but can carry on into adulthood as well, and even start in adulthood.

The three types of attention deficit disorder:

  • Predominantly inattentive presentation occurs when the individual is easily distracted and forgetful and has difficulty paying attention.
  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation occurs when the individual is restless, fidgety, and impulsive and has trouble sitting still.
  • Combination presentation occurs when the individual presents equal symptoms of both presentations mentioned.

Who Is Affected By ADD?

While attention deficit disorder is one of the most common disorders found in children today, it can have devastating effects on adults as well.

Some cases are severe enough to interfere with a person’s work, school, and personal life.

Within the adult population, 21% of males with ADHD and 13% of females with ADHD abuse drugs or alcohol.

Symptoms Of Attention Deficit Disorder

The symptoms of attention deficit disorder will vary depending on the type of ADD that the person has.

Symptoms of inattentive attention deficit disorder (ADD) include:

  • difficulty listening
  • difficulty finishing tasks
  • being easily distracted
  • being forgetful about everyday tasks
  • being careless in work or schoolwork

Symptoms of hyperactive-impulsive attention deficit disorder (ADHD) include:

  • talking constantly
  • inability to be quiet
  • fidgeting or being unable to sit still
  • interrupting others frequently
  • being restless or constantly in motion

The symptoms of combination attention deficit disorder will then be an equal combination of symptoms from both of the mentioned categories. This type of ADD is actually the most common.

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No matter which type of attention deficit disorder a person has, the disorder can have a major effect on their social behavior and thus interfere in many aspects of their lives.

The Relationship Between Addiction And Attention Deficit Disorder

Attention deficit disorder shares symptoms with other mental disorders, and it is also known to co-occur with other disorders within the same individual.

Conditions often found co-occurring with attention deficit disorder include:

  • mood disorders
  • anxiety disorders
  • other psychiatric disorders
  • learning disabilities
  • substance abuse disorders

Causes Of Co-Occurring ADD And Substance Use Disorder

There are a couple of possible reasons why someone with attention deficit disorder might be tempted to turn to drugs or alcohol.

People who have ADD tend to have lower dopamine levels than normal and may turn to substances to supplement this important neurotransmitter.

Another reason why people with attention deficit disorder might be prone to substance abuse is that some of the medications prescribed for ADD, like Adderall or Ritalin, are also addictive.

Someone with attention deficit disorder may use alcohol or drugs to combat the negative symptoms of their disorder and the social consequences that they are dealing with.

How Are Addiction And Attention Deficit Disorder Diagnosed?

Once a person has recognized their addiction and would like to seek help, they have committed the first step towards their diagnosis and recovery.

From here, they will want to get started with a physician who specializes in addiction and rehabilitation.

There is no single test for diagnosing attention deficit disorder and it does share similar symptoms with other mental disorders.

To be officially diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, an individual must exhibit symptoms for at least six months.

Diagnosis may also involve a medical exam and the physician will want to take an extensive look at the patient’s history, starting with their childhood.

How Are Addiction And Attention Deficit Disorder Treated?

Addiction and attention deficit disorder can successfully be treated together through a program called dual diagnosis treatment.

This type of treatment not only treats the individual’s addiction but also any underlying causes, such as ADD.

What is included in dual diagnosis treatment?

  • medical detox
  • medication
  • behavioral therapies
  • group therapy
  • family therapy
  • skills workshops

Attention deficit disorder is usually treated through a combination of medications and therapies.

In general, therapy is tried first and medication is avoided if at all possible because the stimulants that are often prescribed for ADD are habit-forming.

If someone is being treated with medications for attention deficit disorder while also being treated for addiction it is especially important to monitor them closely.

Finding Treatment For Attention Deficit Disorder

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with addiction and attention deficit disorder at the same time, we can help you find a dual diagnosis treatment center in your area.

It is never too early or too late to get started, and recovery is just a phone call away.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on April 19, 2021
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