Helping Someone with Co-Occurring ADHD & Addiction

Addiction often exists alongside other mental heath conditions. When an individual has a substance use disorder and at least one other mental illness, these disorders are said to “co-occur.”

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a type of mental illness commonly linked to substance misuse. Read on for more information about ADHD, its connection to addiction, and how to get help if you or someone you love is suffering with co-occurring disorders, such as ADHD and substance use.

What Is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition characterized by a lack of attention or focus, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviors that affect a person’s ability to function on a regular or daily basis.

Research indicates that ADHD exists in about 4%–7% of children and 2.5% of adults.1

Despite its prevalence, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is associated with a wide range of symptoms and can present quite differently from person to person, making it difficult to diagnose.1

What Are the Symptoms of ADHD?

The signs and symptoms of ADHD vary greatly. Doctors typically categorize them into two groups: symptoms of inattention and symptoms of hyperactive-impulsivity.2

If you’re concerned you or someone you know may have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, here are some behaviors to look for:2

Many people experience problems with inattention and hyperactivity, but for individuals with ADHD, these symptoms are persistent and debilitating.

How Is ADHD Diagnosed?

Only a trained and experienced medical professional can diagnose ADHD. To reach this conclusion, clinicians utilize the criteria listed above, which is more thoroughly outlined in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (5th ed.), also known as the “DSM-5.”

Because some behaviors associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder overlap with psychotic and other mental disorders, doctors will also consider whether the presenting symptoms are attributable to another condition (e.g., schizophrenia or substance use disorder). If they are, then the individual may be suffering from another type of mental illness and not ADHD.2

What Causes ADHD?

Researchers are still trying to better understand what causes ADHD. Like other mental health disorders, ADHD may be caused by a combination of several different factors including:3

  • Genetics.
  • Exposure before birth and/or as a child to environmental toxins, such as alcohol, cigarettes, and/or drug(s).
  • Low birth weight.
  • Injury to the brain.

For instance, a study published in Pediatrics found that having been exposed to tobacco before birth or lead in childhood (evaluated with current levels of lead in the blood) were linked to ADHD in American children, especially in those exposed to both.4

Co-Occurring ADHD & Substance Use Disorder

woman in a crowed covering her face in stress and frustrationIt is common for a person with ADHD to also have other mental health conditions. Studies estimate 80% of adults with ADHD suffer from at least one other psychiatric disorder.5,6

These frequently coexisting disorders include:1

Substance use disorders are one of the most prevalent of these comorbid conditions. When ADHD and substance use disorder are present in the same individual at the same time, they are called “co-occurring disorders.”

The most frequently misused drugs among people with ADHD are:1

Can ADHD Lead to Addiction?

While ADHD may not directly lead to or cause addiction, it can increase a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder.

As researchers are working to better understand the causes of ADHD, they are also working to better under its complex relationship to addiction. Experts typically describe this relationship between the two disorders as “bidirectional,” meaning one can influence or worsen the course of the other, and vice versa.1

Experts believe there are multiple factors that drive this increased risk, including genetics, brain chemistry, and the intersecting characteristics associated with both ADHD and substance use disorders.1

Additionally, some people with ADHD may use drugs or alcohol as self-medication manage their mood, sleep issues, and other problematic symptoms.

Can ADHD Medication Be Addictive?

Studies indicate ADHD medications, like methylphenidate (Ritalin), dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (Adderall), and other stimulants, do not increase the risk of addiction in patients with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, when used as prescribed. But, illicit or non-medical use of the same drugs could lead to a substance use disorder.7,8

When a patient with ADHD also has a history of substance abuse, doctors may prescribe a non-stimulant medication to treat their ADHD symptoms.1

Addressing ADHD and Substance Use Disorder in a Loved One

The presence of a co-occurring disorder, such as ADHD and substance use disorder, can make diagnosis and treatment even more complex.9 If you are worried about a loved one with this dual diagnosis, there are different ways to address the issue and support their path to recovery. For example:10

  • Express your concerns in a gentle, nonjudgmental manner.
  • Encourage, but don’t force, them to seek treatment.
  • Do your own research about co-occurring disorders.
  • Participate in family or group therapy with them.
  • Attend your own therapy or mutual support groups like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon.

At Greenhouse Treatment Center in Grand Prairie, Texas, we have multiple resources for family and friends of people with addiction and other mental health conditions.

For more information on how to help a loved one with co-occurring ADHD and addiction, contact us at .

Treatment for ADHD & Addiction

Because treatment for co-occurring disorders is more complex, the standard of care is an integrated approach that addresses both conditions at the same. With an integrated approach, psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, and case managers collaborate to create a comprehensive treatment plan that works toward the same goals.11

At Greenhouse, we specialize in the treatment of co-occurring disorders. We tailor treatment plans to meet each patient’s individual needs, and our programs combine various evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and treatment medications (as needed).

To learn more about our luxe rehab facility amenities and quality programs, call us at . Our admissions navigators are available 24/7 to answer your questions and help you start the rehab admissions process.

Our staff can also go over the various ways to pay for drug and alcohol rehab, how to use insurance to pay for addiction treatment, and .

Don’t let your addiction reach rock bottom. If you or someone you love is struggling with a dual diagnosis and unsure where to turn, call us today at .

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