Is ADHD Triggering Your Substance Abuse?

Addictions Content Team Info icon
Calendar icon Last Updated: 04/8/2019
Fast, Free & Confidential Help Is Available 24/7.
Call now for:
  • Access to the Best Rehab Centers
  • 24 Hour Support when YOU need it
  • Financial Assistance Programs
Who Answers?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), formerly called attention deficit disorder (ADD), is a condition with three major types of symptoms: inattentiveness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. From person to person the symptoms vary, so no one model of ADHD applies to all the people who have it. Both children and adults have ADHD, but the symptoms always start in childhood. ADHD occurs in early childhood and affects 6% to 9% of juveniles and 4% to 5% of adults.

ADHD and Substance Abuse

Recent studies show that there is a link between ADHD and substance abuse disorders. Studies cited in the book The Truth about ADHD and Other Neurobiological Disorders reveal adults with ADHD are five to ten times more likely to become alcoholics than the general population. In addition, between one third and one half of Adults with ADHD abuse alcohol and as many as one third smoke marijuana and use cocaine.

There are a variety of causes offered up to explain the link between substance abuse and ADHD. To some extent, experts agree that self-medication plays a role.

The Symptom Groups

People diagnosed with ADHD will be inattentive or hyperactive or impulsive. Some my be all three. This is because there are three groups of symptoms:

  1. Inattention
  2. Hyperactivity
  3. Impulsivity

Procrastinating, failing to complete work tasks or school work, and switching from one uncompleted activity to another are all types of inattention. In children, this trait might not appear until they attend school and adults may demonstrate the trait most strongly in social situations or at their place of business.

Sufferers may:

  • Be easily distracted by things that are easily ignored by other
  • Have a hard time paying attention to details and demonstrate a tendency to make careless mistakes
  • Forget about daily activities

Hyperactivity will vary with age. Toddlers and preschoolers will have a hard time sitting still and will, instead, run around, climb on furniture, and dance wildly. Older children will still have a hard time sitting still; they may wriggle, fidget, and talk constantly. By high school and adulthood, hyperactivity will look most like restlessness.

Sufferers may:

  • Squirm when required to stay seated
  • Get up frequently to move around
  • Have difficulty reading or participating in similarly quiet hobbies

Because symptoms all appear before middle school, impulsivity may be hard to catch because all young children are prone to being impulsive. For instance, knocking into things and running into people are somewhat normal child behaviors. Children with ADHD will go beyond this and may consistently find themselves in danger because of the choices they make.

Sufferers may:

  • Constantly interrupt others during conversation
  • Be impatient
  • Begin conversations at inappropriate times

Altogether, these symptoms make it hard for children with ADHD to function like other children who are the same age or developmental level.

Research and Findings

Recently a lot of study has gone into verifying the link between ADHD and substance abuse. The findings are very persuasive and a little scary.

Firstly, it is important to note that substance abuse isn’t defined by the amount of the drug that is used or the frequency of use. It’s about how your use impacts your life and the lives of those around you. When your relationships, health, and work are negatively impacted and you are nonetheless unable to stop using, there is a problem. Often substance abusers with ADHD have not been diagnosed and find themselves using to self-medicate.

A 2014 study of drug using adults found a link between those with a self-reported history of ADHD and younger ages of initiation for alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and cocaine use. Additionally, participants with ADHD were more likely to engage in HIV risk behavior, like injection drug use.

According to an article in ADDitude, “trouble usually starts in adolescence; until age 15, ADHDers are generally no more likely than non-ADHDers to experiment with drugs. From this age on, rates of abuse and dependency skyrocket. Half of all adults with untreated ADHD will develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lives.”