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ADHD and Addiction
Is There a Scientific Link Between ADHD and Addiction?
With the opioid crisis raging across the nation, we have seen many people go through the process of developing an addiction to legal prescription medications and then transition to an illegal substance.
Many people are prescribed painkillers like Oxycontin and Percocet and develop a tolerance to theses medications.
Over time when the prescription runs out, they move to something easy to get on the street and less expensive, such as heroin.
ADHD medications have also been overprescribed for years and share some of the chemical structures of other addictive drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine. But we don’t see the same links between ADHD and addiction that are seen in opioid users.
Although there might not be the same causation with ADHD drugs like there is with opioids, there can still be a connection between ADHD and addiction.
Compared with those without the disorder, patients with ADHD have a 6.2 times higher risk of developing a substance use addiction.
Up to 45% of adults with ADHD have a history of alcohol abuse or dependence, and up to 30% have a history of illegal drug abuse or dependence.
Conversely, an estimated 35% to 71% of alcohol abusers and 15% to 25% of substance-dependent patients have ADHD.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can cause difficulty with task-specific concentration. This often leads to a failure to meet deadlines and struggles with organization.
Someone who has ADHD will have a reluctance to focus on activities like preparing reports and can be easily distracted.
In severe cases, they might forget to do routine activities like taking a shower or eating. They may also overlook social commitments, due to getting caught up in their own flight of thoughts.
People with ADHD tend to talk frequently and may have trouble staying seated in one location. They may also interrupt conversations often or be prone to zoning out.
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Why Do People With ADHD Often Abuse Substances?
Many people who have ADHD choose to use substances because of the calming effect they have on their mind. This usually allows them to feel more focused and give them an opportunity to relax.
Like many people, those with ADHD feel that alcohol and drugs help them get along better in social situations and use substances to ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
This kind of self-medication can be very dangerous. But these people are often not misusing substances to get high. The majority of users state that they are trying to improve their mood or sleep better. They begin using drugs or alcohol as a way to calm their brain for a moment, but end up eventually trapped in a vicious cycle.
Some people with ADHD frequently develop an addiction to substances because they have trouble fitting in with others. They use alcohol or drugs to ease their awkwardness and fit in with friends socially.
Understanding the Risk of Addiction
Before the age of fifteen, the rate of addiction for both those with, and without ADHD is roughly the same. But after fifteen years old, the rate of addiction for people with ADHD skyrockets.
Many researchers correlate this escalation with the increased pressure of trying to start a new job or having a child and becoming a parent. Since problems are more prominent in adults, many people will seek medication as an escape for their first time.
The medications prescribed for ADHD are controlled substances that are essentially amphetamines. Many people think that those who get a medication prescription are more likely to develop an addiction problem, but that’s not entirely true.
In fact, those that take their prescribed medication are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol since their symptoms are under control.
This is good news for people suffering from ADHD symptoms who are afraid that taking medication might lead to problems. Properly treating ADHD as recommended by a physician is the best way to protect against substance abuse and addiction.
The Importance of a Dual Diagnosis Program
Treating a dual diagnosis disorder can be difficult, but there are successful treatment options available. Finding a program that is specifically tailored to deal with substance addiction and mental health issues is the best option for recovery. These programs offer the best opportunity to manage all conditions without the use of non-prescribed drugs or alcohol.
A dual diagnosis treatment facility might use medications to alleviate the ADHD symptoms and educate using evidence-based techniques to help deal with the stress and pressure that caused the initial substance misuse.
Traditional addiction treatment programs that don’t focus on dual diagnosis will only target the addiction and bypass treating the underlying condition of ADHD. If left untreated, there is a good chance of relapse in the future.
Dual diagnosis programs can help change the destructive thought patterns and substance abuse together. They teach their clients how to motivate internally and build self-esteem.
They can also help get on the right medication, identify potential triggers for relapse, and put a long-term plan in place for sobriety. They provide the tools needed to rejoin society and function with a positive outlook on life.
Not all addiction treatment facilities offer dual diagnosis treatment and it’s important to find one that has doctors and staff trained in both addiction and mental health issues for treatment and recovery to be successful.
What is Dual Diagnosis?
Many people who end up addicted to drugs and alcohol are also dealing with an underlying mental health condition that drives them to self-medicate with other substances. This condition is known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder.
In order to deal with both the substance addiction and mental health issue, it’s imperative to treat both conditions at the same time.
Popular co-occurring disorders include:
When someone has ADHD and substance abuse problems combined, they must be properly managed together. In order for this treatment to occur, both the ADHD and the addiction have to be diagnosed, recognized, and treated simultaneously.
This is a challenge because many people who show up for treatment are unaware of the depth of their problem.
Understanding ADHD Medication
Medications prescribed for ADHD can work in combination with therapy to give those in need a better life. Popular medications include Ritalin and Adderall that are both amphetamines that give users a burst of concentration and focus.
Since they work so well, many people who don’t have ADHD have begun to take these medications to get a competitive edge at work. Unfortunately, there are also negative side effects of these medications.
Side Effects of ADHD Medications Include:
- High blood pressure
- Decreased appetite
- Tics and spasms
- Abdominal pain
- Liver damage
For those that wish to avoid medication, doctors often prescribe self-help groups, holistic therapy options, and cognitive therapy. They also recommend setting up a supportive environment where it’s conducive to heal while in recovery.
Steps to Treatment for ADHD and Addiction
Knowing the right way to get help for a dual diagnosis issue is a challenge. Some professionals recommend trying to stay sober for a month or two before beginning medication. It would be impossible to know if the ADHD medication is working correctly otherwise.
It’s also a good idea to consider psychotherapy options and look for group meetings in your area. But be aware that many of these groups may not understand your need for medication and will advise against taking it. In that case, you will need to educate your group on what ADHD is and how your medication works to control the disorder.
Being on the proper medication can help you begin to grow again emotionally and allow you to reawaken into a stable mind.
If you are particularly concerned about relapsing or abusing the medication, there are skin patches available that supply the correct amount of medication in a time-released format, making them much less likely to be abused.
Tips for Overcoming Addiction and ADHD
In order to avoid relapse, try to exercise regularly and eat three healthy meals a day while limiting intake of caffeine and sugar. This will allow the medication to work properly as directed.
It’s important to learn how to talk about your emotions and not bottle them up. This skill is key to avoid reacting to a stressful situation by turning to drugs or alcohol for relief.
You should also try to avoid periods of time where you feel lonely. Reach out to people you know and create a network around you of supportive people who you can talk to about the challenges you are facing.
Notice yourself beginning to slip towards a relapse by keeping a journal of your thoughts and establish a plan for dealing with your temptation when it arises.
Reach Out For Help
The above tips for overcoming addiction offer a practical roadmap for staying sober, but addiction must be dealt with on a daily basis, and ADHD can complicate matters.
ADDHD medication can be invaluable, yet sometimes the symptoms are too much to conquer alone, and instead of using other substances to deal with the symptoms, it’s necessary to reach out for professional help.
At Alo House, we are a licensed Dual Diagnosis Facility that is experienced at treating co-occurring disorders such as ADHD and addiction.
We are well-versed in medication management and understand that properly treating ADHD symptoms with prescriptions might be necessary to balance the brain before beginning addiction recovery.
We will preform an assessment to uncover any underlying conditions or triggers that promote addictive behavior and utilize proven evidence-based treatment therapies to overcome the combined addiction and mental health issues.
Some of the most popular treatment modalities we use for ADHD include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Relapse Prevention Therapy
Trying to conquer addiction alone can be an overwhelming task, so it’s important to know that professional help is available in a compassionate and caring environment.