The Link Between ADHD And Addiction

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a disorder in which a person is unable to control focus and behavior due to difficulty in processing neural stimuli. While ADHD can be diagnosed during adulthood, it is most often discovered during childhood. But new evidence suggests that adults with ADHD may be more likely to become addicted to substances, the Internet or even gambling.

happy children group in school The Link Between ADHD And AddictionIt is common for people with ADHD to turn to addictive substances such as alcohol, prescription drugs, heroin, nicotine, caffeine and cocaine in attempts to soothe their restless brains and bodies. Using substances to make ourselves feel better is known as self-medicating. The self-medicating seems to work, at least at first. It provides the person with ADHD and addiction instant relief from their restless brains and bodies. Some find relief from their symptoms when they drink or smoke marijuana, others find that street drugs like cocaine and speed enable them to focus, think clearly and follow through with their tasks.

But unfortunately, the self-medicating brings on a whole new set of addiction related problems. What starts out as a solution can cause major issues down the line. Even caffeine and other legal stimulants can cause sleeplessness and withdrawals that can make it difficult to work. Drug addiction takes a physical toll on the body and mind and can lead to impulsive crimes, domestic violence, job loss and strained relationships. Using alcohol or drugs to self-medicate will only make the situation worse.

People with ADHD are also more likely to be drawn to addictive behaviors such as gambling and spend countless hours using devices like smartphones. This is most likely due to a lack of impulse control. While a person without ADHD can often stop a behavior when it’s time, people with ADHD may have a harder time regulating themselves. Time management can be an issue with people who have ADHD. These addictions may not have the same physically disastrous effects as chemical addictions, but they can be equally as devastating in terms of loss of relationships and financial disaster.

The best way to prevent addictive behaviors from creeping into someone’s life is to diagnose and treat the ADHD as early as possible. The child or adult should see a Newport Beach psychiatrist right away for a complete analysis. Once he or she is diagnosed, the psychiatrist can help with behavioral therapy and medication if necessary. Children with ADHD will need some help from their parents at first, but they can (and do) become fully self-sufficient adults with the right care.

But still, that doesn’t change the fact that adults with ADHD are more likely to indulge in addictive behaviors. Substances like alcohol and illegal drugs are tempting even to those who don’t have ADHD, so it’s understandable that someone could be easily persuaded to try them. To help someone with ADHD resist the temptation, it’s best to thoroughly explain what can happen if he or she decides to experiment. And while not everyone with ADHD needs medication, the right dosage can greatly improve decision-making abilities and help them stay balanced so they may not need to self-medicate.

Untreated ADHD can contribute to addictive relapse. It can also make a recovering person feel depressed and miserable. Many people in recovery for alcohol and drugs end up in therapy and only then are diagnosed with ADHD, which may have prevented their addiction in the first place. It is not enough to treat addictions and not treat ADHD, nor is it enough to treat ADHD without treating the co-occurring addictions. Both need to be diagnosed and treated together.

Parents, don’t worry—not every child who has ADHD ends up an addict as an adult. Staying diligent with treatment and behavioral modification is a great way to keep your child happy and mentally healthy. Also, teenagers tend to experiment now and then, and this also doesn’t mean they will become addicted to alcohol or drugs. Watch for the signs and symptoms of teen drug use:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Red, flushed cheeks or face
  • Clenching teeth
  • Chewing gum or popping mints to cover up breath
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Constant secretive phone calls
  • Going out every night and constantly breaking curfew
  • Unusual smells on clothes (or smoke smell)

Signs of teenage alcohol abuse include:

  • Drastic change in groups of friends
  • Neglecting responsibilities at school, work and home
  • Unusually passive or argumentative behavior
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Lying, sneaking behaviors
  • Smell of alcohol on clothes
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Short-term memory loss

If your ADHD teen displays these symptoms, have an honest conversation. Keep your tone as calm as possible. Explaining to a young adult that reckless behavior now can lead to consequences later may not work, but if you approach the subject gently, you may get better results. Do insist on getting them help, however, before they venture further down a dangerous path.