ADHD and Substance Abuse

Is there a link?

A recent survey found that about 15 per cent of adults who have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) had abused alcohol or drugs in the past year. That is nearly triple the rate for adults without ADHD. The question arises: what causes these individuals to abuse alcohol or drugs?

Several studies have shown a strong between ADHD, alcoholism and drug abuse. Generally, ADHD is five to 10 times more common among adult alcoholics than in people without the condition.

Individuals with ADHD tend to be more impulsive and likely to have behavioural issues, which may precede alcohol and drug abuse. The receptors in the brain that are involved in ADHD are the same as in substance abuse problems.

This indicates that ADHD patients are prone to develop addictions or vice versa. Moreover, both ADHD and alcoholism may be passed down. If a child with ADHD has a parent who abuses alcohol, the child is most likely to develop an alcohol abuse problem in adulthood.

Individuals with ADHD commonly self-medicate for relief from the related symptoms. Treatment of ADHD and substance abuse together can prove challenging since medications are almost always used to treat ADHD, and most of these drugs can become habit-forming.

Stimulants drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall are primarily effective at managing ADHD symptoms, but they also have a high possibility of abuse.

ADHD and Alcohol

Alcohol usage combined with ADHD is a dangerous mix that is likely to lead to dependence and addiction. Many persons drink alcohol to help them relax since it is a depressant. However, in the case of individuals with ADHD, they may use alcohol to soothe their hyperactivity. Ironically, alcohol can have the opposite effect of what they are seeking. 

The effects of alcohol are similar to the symptoms of ADHD. In both cases, the brain’s frontal lobe is mainly affected and reduces the individual’s ability to think clearly. When the effects of alcohol are paired with those of ADHD, this can worsen the symptoms of ADHD. If a person stops drinking suddenly, they may experience withdrawal symptoms, which is likely to cause increased mental and physical symptoms of ADHD.

ADHD and Drug Abuse

People who have ADHD are more prone to use drugs or alcohol to cope with the symptoms of this disorder. Other people may be prescribed stimulants to treat ADHD and, consequently, develop drug dependency. Both circumstances can lead to a cycle of addiction that may require professional help.

Substance abuse often starts with social use or experimenting with drugs in high school or college. The impulsivity, poor judgment and social awkwardness that are usual symptoms of ADHD can lead to overindulgence on drugs such as:

Marijuana: People who struggle with ADHD may use cannabis to manage symptoms of hyperactive behavioural symptoms. However, this drug may also aggravate attention deficit issues and impair cognitive development in young people.

Benzodiazepines: Someone who is distressed by ADHD symptoms may use benzodiazepines like Xanax to calm down. However, this is not a solution to dealing with ADHD. Benzodiazepines are sedatives that induce a temporary state of calm. When their effect wears off, a person’s ADHD symptoms will return and be more disturbing than before.

Opiates and Opioids: People affected by ADHD may experience chronic pain. Opiates may appeal to them because they are potent pain-relieving drugs that can be useful in easing different sorts of pain. Popular opioids like OxyContin, Vicodin and hydrocodone are highly addictive. Consistent use of these drugs can lead to an opioid use disorder. 

Stimulants and ADHD: Many stimulant drugs are prescribed to treat ADHD symptoms. Such drugs can be beneficial in managing ADHD symptoms; however, they can also be abused.

Treating ADHD and Co-Occurring Disorders

Individuals with ADHD are highly vulnerable to developing a co-occurring substance abuse disorder. A dual-diagnosis integrated treatment program that will treat both ADHD and addiction can be effective for these people. 

To treat co-occurring conditions, both disorders must be treated simultaneously. When one of the conditions goes untreated, it may trigger the treated condition. 

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