ADHD and Addiction: Are They Related?

While many people may be aware of the effects ADHD has on children in school, they may not be familiar with how ADHD relates to addiction. This article will cover what ADHD is, the link between ADHD and addiction, and what treatments are available to those diagnosed with these co-occurring disorders.

What Is ADHD?

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder. It causes a pattern of hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inattentiveness. The person may not listen to others, and it has nothing to do with a defiance problem or not being able to comprehend.1

Some individuals with ADHD have the hyperactivity aspect while others only have the inattentive aspect. In some cases, the person has both attention problems and hyperactivity. The exact cause of ADHD isn’t known. Research indicates the development of the nervous system, the person’s environment, and genetics may play role in the onset of ADHD.1

Symptoms of ADHD

People with the attention-deficit aspect of ADHD may experience the following symptoms:2

  • Fails to pay close attention to details or makes careless mistakes
  • Finds it difficult to hold attention in tasks or during play activities
  • Has difficulties listening
  • Does not complete tasks or follow through on instructions
  • Finds it hard to stay organized and has poor time management skills
  • Dislikes or avoids tasks that require sustained focus
  • Loses items that are needed for activities or tasks such as school materials
  • Is frequently distracted by outside stimuli
  • Exhibits forgetfulness in day to day activities

People with the hyperactivity and impulsivity aspect of ADHD may experience the following symptoms:2

  • Taps or fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in their seat
  • Gets out of seat at times when remaining in seat is expected
  • Climbs or runs around at inappropriate times
  • Cannot play quietly
  • Unable to remain still for an extended timeframe
  • Excessive talking
  • Answers questions before they are done being asked
  • Finds it challenging to wait their turn
  • Interrupts others

As mentioned previously, some people may have a combined presentation of both aspects of ADHD.

How Common Is ADHD?

ADHD is the most prevalent neurobehavioral disorder of childhood.3 It affects over 9% of children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 17, which is equivalent to over 6 million children.4 The American Academy of Pediatrics states that in a classroom of 30, about 2-3 children may have ADHD.5

Children don’t always outgrow ADHD. Some people have it throughout their adulthood. In fact, about 35-65% of individuals diagnosed with ADHD in childhood continue to have the disorder throughout adulthood.6 In the US, 4.4% of adults have ADHD. Of all these individuals, 38% are women and 62% are men.7

How Common Is Substance Abuse in Individuals With ADHD?

The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that compared to children without ADHD, children with ADHD are:8

  • Twice as likely to use nicotine, in particular, throughout life.
  • Three times more likely to become dependent on nicotine during adolescence or adulthood.
  • Twice as likely to misuse or become dependent on alcohol.
  • One and a half times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder.
  • Twice as likely to use cocaine or become dependent on it.
  • More than 2.5 times more likely to develop an overall substance use disorder.

In some cases, people may misuse medications that are prescribed to treat ADHD. Of 21 different studies reviewed, nonprescription use of stimulants ranged from 5-9% in grade school and high school children. The range of college-aged individuals who abuse stimulants was 5-35%. One study conducted on a large university in the mid-Atlantic region found 26.7% of students who had an ADHD diagnosis used more of their medication than prescribed.8

Those with ADHD may also combine their prescribed medications with substances of misuse.9 This practice of polysubstance misuse increases the risks associated with each substance.10

What Causes Substance Misuse in Those With ADHD?

There are many possible reasons why a person with ADHD will develop substance use disorder. It could be that substances are used to self-medicate and seek relief from symptoms of the condition. They may use depressants, like marijuana, to seek calm or relaxation.

They may have self-esteem issues as a result of the condition, especially if they feel they are looked down upon due to their symptoms, and they may turn to stimulants like cocaine to boost their energy and feelings of self-worth.

Individuals with ADHD may have more than one mental health issue, and this may increase the likelihood that they’ll misuse substances. In fact, over two-thirds of people with ADHD have at least one other co-occurring disorder, as noted by Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Approximately 40% of people who have ADHD have oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and 38% have a coexisting mood disorder.13

Children with ADHD are more likely to be depressed than children without ADHD. About 14% of kids with ADHD have depression while only 1% of children who don’t have ADHD have depression. Up to 20% of people with ADHD exhibit symptoms of bipolar disorder. Fifty-three percent of adults who have ADHD also have anxiety while up to 30% of children with ADHD have anxiety. Between one-quarter to one-half of parents with children with ADHD report their child has a problem sleeping.13

It’s suggested that people who have ADHD are at an increased risk for developing an addiction than their peers without ADHD. Abnormalities in certain areas of the brain are involved in both ADHD as well as in substance use disorders. 14

Treatment for ADHD and Substance Use Disorder

In order to successfully treat both issues, treatment for co-occurring disorders is needed. Neither addiction or ADHD is curable, so treatment will focus on managing both disorders. With comprehensive, evidence-based care, a person suffering from ADHD and a substance use disorder can achieve full recovery.

Medications to Treat ADHD and Addiction

Oftentimes, medications are used to manage ADHD. For instance, methylphenidate or amphetamine may be used, under the brand names Ritalin, Adderall, and Vyvanse.15

If a person is at risk for misusing these substances, a doctor may prescribe a non-stimulant medication. Non-stimulants are considered secondary medications, meaning they are not the most commonly accepted medications to treat the condition. Examples of non-stimulants used to treat ADHD include:15

  • Atomoxetine hydrochloride.
  • Viloxazine.
  • Clonidine hydrochloride.
  • Guanfacine hydrochloride.

Therapy for ADHD and Substance Use Disorder

While medications can be critical to managing symptoms, therapy is the foundation of treatment. During therapy, patients will learn ways to manage certain symptoms of ADHD. They’ll also address the underlying issues that led to the initial substance misuse, and they’ll learn how to manage triggers that tempt them to use again.

In a co-occurring disorders treatment program, both the ADHD and the substance use disorder will be treated simultaneously so therapy will address both conditions. Most often, therapy takes place on both an individual and group basis, and complementary therapies may also be used to ensure a robust approach to recovery.

Effective behavioral therapies used for ADHD and substance use disorders include:16

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: Helps patients change harmful behaviors and beliefs.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy: Designed to reduce behaviors that cause self-harm.
  • Therapeutic communities: Assists and supports the “resocialization” of a person with co-occurring disorders.
  • Contingency management: Aims to reward a person when they practice healthy behaviors.

At Recovery First, an inpatient rehab near Miami, we specialize in treating co-occurring disorders. Our experienced clinical team employs evidence-based therapies and customizes treatment plans for each person’s individual needs.

Our Florida addiction treatment programs cover all levels of treatment from inpatient rehab to outpatient drug and alcohol rehab.

How to Pay for Your Dual Diagnosis Treatment

There are several ways to pay for rehab for co-occurring disorders. Recovery First near Miami is in-network with many of the major insurance providers. You can quickly check your insurance coverage for rehab by completing our confidential .

For those without insurance coverage or with limited coverage, alternative payment methods are available. We’re here to help you find a payment method or financing plan that works for you.

When you’re ready for recovery, our compassionate team is ready to support you. Call one of our helpful admissions navigators at to start treatment today.

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