ADHD And Addiction | Dual Diagnosis

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 14, 2020

Many people with mental or behavioral disorders, including ADHD, may also have problems with a substance use disorder. When this happens, it’s important to seek treatment for both. This is where dual diagnosis treatment centers can help.

ADHD And Addiction | Dual Diagnosis

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that’s usually diagnosed in children or young adults. Still, contrary to what many people may think, ADHD can last throughout adolescence and into adulthood.

Unfortunately, mental health disorders and behavioral disorders have been linked to an increased risk of drug abuse and drug addiction.

Whether someone has an ADHD diagnosis or has symptoms but has never been evaluated, they may turn to illicit substances as a way to self-medicate. Most commonly, people with ADHD may abuse alcohol, nicotine, or marijuana.

Additionally, it’s more difficult to diagnose adults with ADHD. It may be even more challenging to recognize ADHD in an adult with substance abuse problems.

If you or any family members may potentially be having problems with both ADHD and addiction, it’s important that both disorders are treated for a successful and lasting recovery.

ADHD Symptoms And Effects

ADHD is most often seen in children and adolescents, but it can also last into adulthood.

In general, children, teenagers, or young adults with ADHD may:

  • easily get lost in thought
  • have problems with memory
  • lose things often
  • fidget or be restless
  • often be bored
  • talk a lot
  • make careless mistakes
  • take unnecessary risks
  • not be able to resist temptation

In adulthood, symptoms of ADHD may cause problems at work, at home, or in a person’s personal relationships.

Types Of ADHD

The symptoms may look different from one individual with ADHD to the next. There are three main types of ADHD.

Predominantly Inattentive Presentation

Predominantly inattentive presentation is one of three types of ADHD.

If a person has this type of ADHD, he or she may:

  • struggle with organization
  • find it challenging to finish tasks
  • have problems with inattention
  • easily get distracted
  • forget details of daily routines
  • have difficulty following instructions or keeping up with conversations

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation

Some cases of ADHD present themselves as predominantly hyperactive-impulsive.

Individuals with this type of presentation may:

  • fidget
  • talk a lot
  • find it challenging to sit still for long
  • seem to have a lot of energy
  • feel restless
  • have trouble with impulsivity
  • interrupt others a lot
  • have difficulty waiting or listening
  • may have more accidents due to impulsive behavior

Combined Presentation

Some people may experience symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive presentations. When this is the case, a person is typically diagnosed with a combined presentation of ADHD. The symptoms of ADHD may change over time.

How ADHD Can Be Linked To Addiction

Unfortunately, many adolescents and adults who have ADHD also develop one or more substance use disorders. Specifically, alcohol abuse, nicotine abuse, and marijuana abuse are common among teenagers and young adults with ADHD.

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Throughout the world, approximately 6 to 9 percent of children and teenagers are affected by ADHD, and up to 5 percent of adults. In a recent study related to cannabis use disorders, the National Institutes of Health found that 38 percent of young adults were also affected by ADHD.

In a different international study, 23 percent of young adults who sought treatment for a substance use disorder were also found to have ADHD. Additionally, people who were diagnosed with ADHD during childhood have been shown to have an increased risk factor for problems with drug use.

Many people who are dealing with both ADHD and a substance use disorder claim that their drugs of choice help them to sleep, control their mood, stay focused, or produce other desirable effects.

Unfortunately, this short-term self-medication can lead to potentially severe long-term effects including an increased risk of addiction.

Addiction Development, Signs, And Effects

Because ADHD typically shows up early in life, addiction may develop as a way to cope with the side effects of ADHD.

In the general population, up to 30 percent of adults struggle with substance use disorders. An estimated 9 percent of young adults develop a drug use disorder and around 6 percent meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder.

Of course, the risks of substance use disorders and addiction are increased for individuals who are dealing with additional challenges including ADHD. If one of your family members has developed an addiction, you may notice certain behavioral, physical, and social changes.

Common noticeable signs of a substance use disorder can include:

  • loss of motivation
  • skipping work, school, or social events
  • using substances while driving
  • being secretive or suspicious
  • changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • mood swings, changes in attitude, or irritability
  • anxiety or paranoia
  • bloodshot eyes
  • changes in weight
  • changes in peer groups or hobbies
  • unexplained financial problems

Specific symptoms may vary based on the specific substance that a person has been abusing. Substance abuse and addiction, in general, can cause permanent damage to the brain in areas that affect learning, decision-making, stress, memory, and behavior.

Treatment Options For ADHD And Addiction

A person who has ADHD may have difficulty following treatments for substance use disorders. For this reason, it’s important to be aware of both mental health issues.

Unfortunately, ADHD can be difficult to diagnose in adults, especially if there’s also a substance addiction. For these reasons, it’s important to find a customized treatment program that works for you and is able to treat both ADHD and addiction.

Treatment Of ADHD

In the United States, ADHD medications such as Ritalin, Adderall, and Concerta are common. ADHD is typically treated with stimulant medications including methylphenidate and amphetamines.

Alternatively, some non-stimulant medications, including antidepressants, may be used in the off-label treatment of ADHD symptoms.

Addiction Treatment Options

Generally, addiction treatment consists of either inpatient or outpatient treatment programs.

Inpatient programs are best for those with severe addictions to potentially dangerous substances. Alternatively, outpatient programs are best for individuals who aren’t able to stay full-time at a treatment center.

In either program, an individual may participate in support groups, family therapy, psychiatry, and/or evaluation for other mental illnesses.

Dual Diagnosis Programs

One of the most effective ways to treat both ADHD and addiction is by finding a dual diagnosis program that works with you to create a customized treatment plan. In a dual diagnosis program, an individual with ADHD and addiction may participate in psychotherapy and psychoeducation for the treatment of ADHD.

Additionally, cognitive behavioral therapy and coaching/behavior modification may be used to help a person recognize when they’re tempted to use drugs and consciously decide against it.

Find Help For Dual Diagnosis ADHD And Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one may be struggling with ADHD and addiction, reach out to an treatment specialist today to find the best treatment center and treatment programs for you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 14, 2020

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