ADHD and Addiction: The Correlation

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a real problem. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a mental disorder, characterized by inattention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and problems with memory, motivation, organization and social skills.

According to the CDC, approximately 9.4 percent of American children, between the ages of 2 and 17, have been diagnosed with ADHD. This amounts to over 6 million people under the age of 18 being diagnosed with a disorder that can be devastating and create significant hardship.

New research into the causes of ADHD suggest that neural chemical and connectivity differences are to blame. The relationship between norepinephrine, dopamine and neural communications are proving to be different in those with ADHD.

ADHD is so common that people may misunderstand that ADHD is a real disorder and an actual problem for some people. Any distraction or lack of attention is not ADHD. This disease is known to make it nearly impossible for people to focus, stay still, keep organized or maintain relationships with peers.

How Can ADHD Lead to Substance Abuse?

Addiction often arises in the midst of turmoil and distress in a person’s life. School years are difficult enough without any extra problems, so when ADHD is added to the mix, the situation can become dramatically worse.

ADHD causes distraction and distress and can create issues in social situations. People with ADHD may begin to feel as though they lack the strong emotional connections and support from peers that everyone needs. Feelings of being different are compounded when the individual is singled out or gets into trouble for his or her symptoms of ADHD.

For adolescents, feeling as though everyone is laughing at you or thinks of you in a negative way can be devastating. With all the pressure to conform and excel in school, to feel as though you are different and simply cannot succeed in the eyes of others pushes many people, of any age, to substance abuse.

Drugs and alcohol abuse is not always about getting high. Some may try to self-medicate with mood and mind-altering substances. When the pain and discomfort become great enough, anyone will turn to a drink or a pill to get some relief.

ADHD Medications and Possible Dangers

The most common treatment for ADHD is pharmaceuticals such as Adderall, Vyvanse, or Ritalin. Stimulants like these work in the short term; however, long term aid is minimal at best. New research has suggested that long-term use of these medications becomes detrimental with regard to the symptoms of ADHD specifically.

Aside from the successfulness of treating ADHD with stimulants, these substances are extremely prone to abuse. Additionally, ADHD stimulants are highly addictive. When emotional distress and lack of strong social bonds is combined with a highly addictive substance that is labeled as medicine, the situation easily becomes a complex tangle of addiction and denial. The lesson being taught is that substances are the answer to problems.

Symptoms of stimulant abuse can be difficult to distinguish from regular medicine side effects. Weight loss, anxiety, and mood fluctuations can all be signs of abuse; however, it should be noted that these symptoms are not definitely linked to abuse.

Untreated ADHD also significantly increases the risk of developing an addiction. Problems caused by untreated ADHD can cause depression, anxiety and lead to self-medicating behaviors.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to go about this problem. The treatment for ADHD should include cognitive therapy to overcome the emotional and social aspects of the disease. Learning coping skills other than pharmaceuticals is critical to preventing and overcoming the disease of addiction.

Treating ADHD and Addiction

ADHD and addiction must be treated simultaneously. Like any other co-occurring disorders, treatment for both mental illnesses must be concurrent, otherwise the symptoms of one are likely to amplify the symptoms of the other.

Depression, anxiety, ADHD and other mental health problems that are commonly seen in conjunction with addiction all lead to substance abuse behavior if not treated at the same time as addiction.

Coping strategies and treatment that target both ADHD and addiction must be done simultaneously. The reason is easy enough to visualize: during addiction treatment, if an individual is still suffering from a mental illness that is causing significant distress, that person is more likely to turn to a substance as soon as it becomes available.

Many addiction treatment centers are well-equipped to treat clients with co-occurring disorders. The best treatment centers offer integrated treatment plans, which supply each client with a customized plan. No two people are alike, so integrated treatment plans are preferable to all other options.

Addiction is a complex mental disorder caused by environmental, genetic and situational factors. Understanding that addiction is not simply a lack of character or will power is critical for successful defeat of addiction. The approach to treating this disease must be multidimensional and target the mind, emotions, body and spirit.

At A Better Today, we understand what you are going through. Don’t suffer another day. Addiction is treatable and your better life is just a call away.


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