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Is There A Link Between ADHD and Addiction?

October is ADHD awareness month, which means it’s the perfect time to learn about this common mental disorder that impacts millions of people. ADHD, or Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is significantly more common than many people realize. The CDC estimates that 6.1 million children in the U.S. deal with this mental disorder. It doesn’t only affect children, though. Many adults struggle with ADHD, and often they don’t realize it. Leading ADHD researcher, Len Adler, estimates that 75% of adults with ADHD are not aware they have it. 

ADHD and addiction are closely linked. Individuals with ADHD often are at higher risk of developing addiction and substance abuse disorders. Because of this, it’s important to understand how it works: 

What is ADHD?

As the name suggests, people with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder often struggle with inattention and hyperactivity. But there are other symptoms of ADHD, as well. ADHD can cause anxiety, mood swings, and problems with organization or impulse control.

Sometimes, people with ADHD have lower levels of the chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine. Other times, the regulation of these chemicals causes a sudden release of these chemicals, rather than a regulated and moderate level.

Norepinephrine impacts memory, mood, and motivation. People with low levels of this brain chemical may feel lethargic, depressed, or an inability to concentrate. When norepinephrine is not regulated correctly, it can lead to bursts of hyperactivity. Dopamine impacts motivation, learning, memory, and emotions. Both of these chemicals impact how we feel every single day, which is why people with ADHD feel such strong symptoms.

ADHD and Addiction

One of the major issues caused by ADHD is an increased risk for substance abuse disorders. Research has found ADHD to be much more common among individuals with an alcohol abuse disorder than individuals without alcohol abuse issues. In fact, around 25% of adults being treated for substance abuse disorders also have ADHD. 

Unfortunately, many issues with addiction start young, and children with ADHD are more likely to begin abusing alcohol before they are adults. One study found that children with ADHD were 18% more likely to begin using alcohol before they were 15 years old than children without ADHD.

The reason these two issues are linked is related to the way ADHD affects the brain. While individuals with ADHD have lower dopamine levels, alcohol, amphetamines, and opioids increase dopamine in the body. The lack of motivation and feelings of depression and lethargy caused by low levels of norepinephrine also increase the risk of substance abuse. This is because many drugs and alcohol manipulate your body’s norepinephrine levels. 

The symptoms of ADHD, such as low impulse control and inability to focus, are often the same behaviors that drive people to abuse substances. This is why it’s essential for individuals with ADHD to understand how it impacts them and seek healthy treatment methods. Similarly, individuals with substance abuse disorders should be on the lookout for symptoms of ADHD because it could be one of the underlying issues driving the substance abuse problem. 

Understanding how addiction and ADHD are connected is essential for helping individuals with a substance abuse disorder achieve a full recovery and avoid any future relapses. 

Treating A Dual Diagnosis of ADHD and Addiction 

The first step in treating ADHD or addiction is creating awareness. If you’ve never been diagnosed with either of these issues, but you have noticed symptoms of either of the disorders, reach out to a healthcare provider right away. An experienced provider specializing in mental disorders can discuss whether or not you should begin a treatment plan.

If you are diagnosed with both ADHD and a substance abuse disorder, a dual diagnosis treatment plan will likely be the best option for you. Some of the following methods might be included in an ADHD and addiction treatment plan.


ADHD is often treated with medication, so if ADHD causes a substance abuse disorder, it’s important to address both issues. There are both stimulant and non-stimulant medication options for ADHD treatment. Some ADHD medications can be habit-forming, so for individuals who are prone to addiction, a medical provider can discuss the pros and cons of each type of medication. With the help of a doctor, medication can go a long way in helping with symptoms of ADHD, which often makes treatment for substance abuse disorder easier and more effective. 

Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy 

Both ADHD and addiction can be treated with behavioral therapy. Through behavioral therapy, some symptoms of ADHD can be more easily managed. This treatment method can help with impulse control, mood regulation, concentration, and organization. 

Substance abuse disorders also can improve with behavioral therapy. This type of therapy can teach people to recognize substance abuse triggers and replace those triggers with healthy alternatives. 

Cognitive therapy can also help people struggling with destructive thoughts and impulses, which often lead to substance abuse relapses. Through this treatment method, people can learn to improve self-esteem and increase motivation. 

Group Support

Having a strong support group is one of the key components of addiction recovery. It’s important to find groups of people who understand what it’s like to go through recovery. For those with a dual diagnosis of substance abuse disorder and ADHD, finding a peer group with the same issues can be helpful. 

Many people who have struggled with addiction experience ADHD, so finding peer support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Refuge Recovery, or other addiction recovery groups can often connect you with others with ADHD. Many treatment programs also help patients connect with others who share their experiences. This support has been the key component for many addicts in beating their addiction. 

Find The Right Treatment For You

If you are struggling with ADHD, addiction, or a dual diagnosis, you don’t have to deal with it on your own. A healthcare provider who specializes in these mental disorders can help you manage these issues and achieve a healthy and happy life. When you reach out to a provider, like Jackson House Addiction Treatment & Recovery Centers, they can help you determine what treatment is right for you.

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