Many people think of ADHD as a problem for little kids. But ADHD affects over 8% of all adults, with half of them developing severe impairment. Also, ADHD has a connection that may surprise you: an increased risk of addiction. People with ADHD are three times more likely than their peers to have addictions.
If you or someone you care about copes with ADHD symptoms, you’ll want to know more about their risk for addiction and how treatment can help.
ADHD brain and addiction
The ADHD brain is affected differently by addiction, making it more vulnerable. Let’s begin by looking at how addiction affects the brain.
The body’s natural reward system releases body chemicals into your blood. The chemicals are neurotransmitters called dopamine and norepinephrine. When you do something you like, these chemicals trigger pleasure. This reaction makes you want to do those activities again.
Substances like drugs and alcohol trigger the same process. However, substances create an intense reaction at first. Your body adjusts to this neurotransmitter overload by turning down the dial. Instead of a flood, the release becomes a trickle. Over time, you have trouble feeling pleasure from anything, including substances.
ADHD and substance misuse
A person with ADHD has impulses and behaviors like a person who misuses substances. They seek new experiences and stimulation, are impulsive and take risks. Their brain has trouble regulating emotions and tracking details. With these challenges already in place, the ADHD brain has a shortcut to addiction.
Many people with ADHD symptoms also use substances to self-medicate. Substances can calm an overactive brain. They also take the edge of physical symptoms like muscle tension and agitation.
Untreated ADHD can lead to more problems in adult life. It’s not hard to see how a person may turn to substances for comfort. Problems regulating emotion and tracking details can lead to difficulties with:
- Staying focused at work, job performance, keeping a job
- Being on time
- Staying organized
- Keeping track of finances
- Having close, supportive relationships
- Sense of self-worth
Addiction and ADHD recovery challenges
For the best outcome, ADHD and addiction should be treated at the same time. Substance use can mask or distort ADHD symptoms. So stopping a person’s use is essential for proper diagnosis. If a person’s substance misuse is less risky, the treatment plan’s mental health side can begin first. But treating substance use first may be the better approach if addiction is in place.
Holistic treatment approach
ADHD and addiction both make it difficult to regulate emotion and think clearly. A holistic treatment approach looks at a person’s health from many angles.
- Individual and group therapy—Talk about symptoms and learn coping skills
- Family therapy—Teach family members about addiction, how to support their loved one
- Self-help groups—Provide support and guidance during and after treatment
- Holistic therapies—Yoga, art classes, diet counseling, exercise, meditation
Challenges with ADHD and addiction treatment
The ADHD brain presents a few extra challenges in treatment. The following symptoms make it difficult for a person to get the most out of ADHD and addiction treatment.
Quick fixes vs. long-term solutions
- May impulsively want to change course or stop treatment
- Tend to be impatient
Less able to handle frustration
- May have a short fuse after facing many frustrating moments with ADHD
- May give up quickly once they feel challenged
A person with ADHD may need more help sticking to their addiction treatment plan. And coping skills that build patience and ease frustration could be beneficial. With these elements, a person with ADHD can get the attention they need for both conditions.
ADHD and addiction—reach out for help
If you or someone you know is living with ADHD and a substance-use disorder, The Right Step Hill Country can help. We’re here to answer questions and help you take the first step.
Call us at 844.675.1628