Is There a Connection Between ADHD and Addiction?

Are You Struggling with ADHD and Addiction?

Despite the stigma, ADHD is not a disease. Instead, psychology labels Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder (ADHD) as precisely that, a disorder. Addiction, however, is a disease and requires medical care. This article discusses the correlation between ADHD and addiction.

Table of Contents

ADHD 101: Understanding the Struggle

Not to be taken lightly, ADHD is a real struggle for millions of Americans. Both children and adults suffer from ADHD symptoms. Furthermore, the number of undiagnosed people is impossible to know or consider in data. ADHD and addiction cross paths more often than statistics can show.

Like other neurodivergence, ADHD is a spectrum with very different polarities. For example, some may suffer more from memory loss, whereas others may be unable to sit still. Regardless, each person with ADHD falls on their part of the spectrum and struggles in their own ways.

As a mental disorder, ADHD is characterized by symptoms such as:

  •  Impulsivity.
  •  Hyperactivity.  
  • Memory loss.
  • Disorganization. 
  • Difficulty socializing.
  • Difficulty focusing.

In America, around 6-7 percent of children and 5 percent of adults fit the bill for an ADHD diagnosis. These statistics account for over 6 million people under 18 years old being diagnosed. This disorder can cause lifelong turbulence. 

ADHD can disrupt sleep patterns due to hyper-overthinking, exhaust energy on “masking” among peers, and cause sensory overload. “Masking” is when you put on a show to disguise your struggle to others, e.g., lying about being able to handle a situation that others may have dealt with easily.

How Does ADHD Affect the Brain?


New research into the neural behaviors of ADHD suggests that neural chemical and connectivity differences are a potential source of dysfunction. The relationship between norepinephrine, dopamine, and neural communications is different in those with ADHD.

This neurodivergence is so common that people often misunderstand that ADHD is a real disorder and an actual problem for some people. Any distraction or lack of attention is not ADHD. This disorder makes focusing, socializing, or relaxing incredibly difficult every day. Focus is a luxury that many with ADHD cannot afford to enjoy, at least without intense effort.

How Are ADHD and Addiction Connected?

The weight of expectations can strain anyone, children and adults alike. Furthermore, neurodivergence is punished in a world built by neurotypicals by creating a society that shames the individual’s character rather than acknowledges their struggle. The weight of expectations combined with the constant inner turmoil of ADHD is a recipe for a desperate human.

Imagine a world where you labor every day in the white noise of your brain to handle your responsibilities like anyone else. But you struggle because the lights are always too bright, you can hear the electricity in every room, and you keep forgetting details that were imperative to remember. 

Furthermore, you constantly feel a day late, a dollar short, and cannot seem to get your life together. You know you are capable of typical things, but for some reason, your brain never prioritizes the things you tell it. Like setting the alarm for work, but the alarm never goes off, you always feel in trouble or punished for things beyond your control.

Can you see how some people are so desperate for peace that their substance use is a desperate cry for relief? A break? Just a moment of mental quiet?

This desperation for mental peace does not justify the misuse of substances. Still, to understand ADHD and addiction, we must educate ourselves and show compassion. Daily ADHD symptoms can open the pathway to substance misuse.

Much like adults, these painful emotions beg for comfort from a loud mind. Addiction was never the goal. Sometimes using drugs or alcohol was never the goal. Still, unattended cries for help can quickly handicap rational thought.

ADHD and Addiction Medications: Possible Dangers


The most common treatment for ADHD is pharmaceuticals such as:

  • Adderall.
  • Vyvanse.
  • Ritalin.

Stimulants like these work in the short term; however, long-term aid is minimal at best. In addition, new research has suggested that long-term use of these medications becomes detrimental to the symptoms of ADHD specifically.

Aside from the varied success rate of treating ADHD with stimulants, these substances are incredibly prone to misuse and being poorly prescribed. As a result, medical practitioners are being sued for overprescribing stimulants to their patients. In addition, physicians are beginning to be held accountable for contributing to the progression of America’s current opioid crisis.

adhd and addiction medication

Additionally, ADHD stimulants are highly addictive as they are. When emotional distress mixes with substances disguised as medicine, the situation becomes complex quickly.

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How Can You Tell the Difference Between ADHD and Addiction?

Symptoms of stimulant misuse can be difficult to distinguish from regular medicine side effects. For example, weight loss, anxiety, and mood fluctuations can all be signs of misuse. However, it’s worth noting that these symptoms do not definitively identify substance misuse.

Untreated ADHD also significantly increases the risk of developing an addiction. Additionally, people with untreated ADHD are more likely to develop depression or anxiety symptoms.

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.

therapy for adhd and addiction

Treating ADHD and Addiction


Rehabilitation experts know that doctors must treat ADHD and addiction simultaneously when both conditions are present. Like any other co-occurring disorder, treatment must be concurrent. Otherwise, the symptoms are likely to amplify the symptoms of the other.

Autism, ADHD, Schizophrenia, and borderline personality disorder are often connected with addiction. However, just because someone is neurodivergent does not automatically indicate they will become addicted. Conversely, in addiction studies, a great majority of addicts were neurodivergent in some way.

Where Can I Get Help For My ADHD and Addiction?

Rehabilitation centers are best for addiction treatment. Many addiction treatment centers are well-equipped to treat clients with co-occurring disorders.

Communicating with rehab specialists about your ADHD (and any medications) can make you confident that dual-diagnosis treatment will keep the patient balanced. Coping strategies from therapies targeting ADHD and addiction must happen simultaneously. During addiction treatment, medical staff must properly handle mental disorders to avoid patient relapse.

The best treatment centers offer integrated treatment plans, which supply each patient with a customized plan. No two people are alike, so integrated treatment plans are preferable to all other options.

If You’re Struggling with Addiction and ADHD, Reach Out Today


ADHD and addiction are complex mental disorders caused by environmental, genetic, and situational factors. Understanding that ADHD and addiction are not simply a lack of character is critical for success. Treatment must be multidimensional and target the mind, emotions, body, and spirit.

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

Sources

[1] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/adb.12849
[2] https://vtdigger.org/2019/09/29/doctor-sanctioned-for-overprescribing-adderall-after-patient-dies-at-37/
[3] https://health.usnews.com/health-care/for-better/articles/are-doctors-to-blame-for-prescription-opioid-overuse-in-america

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