The Connection Between ADHD & Addiction

Several studies have displayed a connection between ADHD, and addiction (drug abuse, and alcoholism).


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What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is one of the most common neurodevelopmental, mental health disorders impacting children. ADHD can occur in both kids and adults. However, if not diagnosed during elementary years, the condition often goes unnoticed. Children diagnosed with ADHD experience high energy levels, an inability to focus for long periods, and display impulsive behavior.

Several studies have displayed a connection between ADHD, drug abuse, and alcoholism. ADHD is more common among adult alcoholics than it is in people without the condition. Among adults being treated for alcohol and substance abuse disorders, the rate of ADHD is about 25%.

It is also more common for kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to start abusing alcohol during their teenage years. In one study, 14% of children ages 15-17 with ADHD had problems with alcohol abuse or dependence as adults rather than peers without ADHD. Another study found that at the average age of 14.9 years, 40% of children with ADHD began using alcohol, compared to 22% of children without an ADHD diagnosis which proved to be a strong predictor of alcohol and substance abuse in adulthood.

Symptoms of ADHD :

Preschool-Grade 2:

  • Not following directions
  • Taking things without asking
  • Constantly needs reminders to stop the behavior and listen to directions
  • During quiet activities, I am often talkative, disruptive, and fidget.

Grades 3–8:

  • Daydreams and struggles with staying on task
  • Items or school work disorganized or missing
  • On edge when sitting in one place for too long
  • Acts without worrying about consequences

High School:

  • Difficulty getting started, inability to prioritize tasks
  • Displays impulsive or risky behaviors
  • Talkative
  • Difficulty adhering to deadlines or completing assignments or chores


  • Easily distracted
  • Lack organizational skills
  • Short-tempered
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Inpatient
  • Constantly interrupting people when speaking
  • Inability to cope with stress
  • Mood swings
  • Not able to adhere to deadlines
  • Late for work or events

What are the Risks of Leaving ADHD Left Untreated?

ADHD left untreated during childhood can lead to problems during adulthood. Since attention deficit hyperactivity causes an inability to focus, it usually impacts an individual’s learning experience and results in poor grades.

Kids with ADHD tend to face problems not only academic issues at school but also behavioral and social issues. Children with ADHD often struggle with taking turns, sharing, and expressing emotions, impacting their ability to socialize appropriately. ADHD creates impulsivity; when children don’t think before they act, this can result in more injuries. According to a study by Child Development Research, “Children with ADHD were more likely to utilize emergency department services within the previous year than children who did not have ADHD.”

Whatever the explanation, untreated ADHD difficulties usually start in adolescence; until age 15, people with ADHD are generally no more likely than people without ADHD to experiment with drugs. From age fifteen on, rates of abuse and dependency increase. According to Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Timothy Wilens, half of all adults with untreated ADHD will develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lives.

Preventing the Potential of ADHD leads to Addiction:

One of the easiest ways to prevent an individual with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder from becoming an addict later on in life is acknowledging and treating the disorder from an early age. Many studies have shown that individuals diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed medication for the condition at an early age are less likely to become substance abusers later in life. Dr. Wilen’s team at Harvard conducted a study that returned compelling data to support the claim. They analyzed data from six studies and found that people with ADHD who received appropriate treatment in childhood (almost always with stimulants) were a remarkable 50% less likely than their untreated peers to abuse drugs or alcohol in adolescence or young adulthood. Treatment for ADHD is most effective when medication is combined with behavioral therapy included in the treatment plan. For children, sometimes this behavior therapy is also used to train the parent to develop strategies to help their child.

Common Prescribed Medications for ADHD:

Several medications treat ADHD in children and can help control symptoms in adults as well. Some of the prescribed medications include stimulants, non-stimulants, and antidepressants.

  • Adderall XR (amphetamine)
  • Concerta (methylphenidate)
  • Dexedrine (amphetamine)
  • Evekeo (amphetamine)
  • Focalin XR (dexmethylphenidate)
  • Quillivant XR (methylphenidate)
  • Ritalin (methylphenidate)
  • Strattera (atomoxetine hydrochloride)
  • Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate)

What Are The Side Effects of ADHD Medication?

Generally, stimulant medications have similar side effects that include:

  • Reduced appetite
  • Stomach pains
  • Interruption of sleep
  • Migraines

Some side effects associated with non-stimulants include:

  • Fatigue
  • Stomach pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Nausea

When starting the medications listed above, it is common for patients to experience side effects. Medical professionals usually prescribe a lower dosage initially and then increase the dosage as the patient adjusts to the medication. What works for one patient might not work for another; if side effects are intolerable, the doctor may switch the patient to another drug. Stimulant medication is often the first method of treatment for ADHD.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for ADHD:

Cognitive-behavior therapy is a psychological treatment that focuses on making the individual self-aware of their thoughts and emotions that can impact their behavior. CBT is a productive way to help individuals cope with stress and respond to stressful situations better.

CBT assists individuals with strengthening time management, organizational skills, and eliminating procrastination. Simple methods like keeping checklists, keeping a daily planner, and wearing a watch are effective methods to improve an individual with ADHD’s ability to prioritize tasks, time management, and organizational skills.

If an individual with ADHD does not receive the appropriate support, they may have difficulty staying focused and maintaining relationships with other people. They may also experience frustration, low self-esteem, and certain other mental health conditions, leading to substance abuse.

How to Find Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders?

Suppose you are an individual with ADHD and suffering from addiction. In that case, Avatar Residential Detox Center offers integrated treatment programs designed to treat your co-occurring disorders and get you on the road to long-term recovery. Our integrated treatment plans at our mental health recovery center in NJ are tailored to meet each patient’s individual needs.

Regardless of your substance abuse or mental illness, we offer various support groups to help you face your withdrawal symptoms and meet your behavioral health needs. A supportive approach to therapy helps build self-confidence and regain self-esteem, a positive place to process your feelings.

A lot of people with ADHD do not know that they have ADHD. If you think you have any symptoms of ADHD, speak with your doctor, they can suggest different treatment options or behavioral therapies that can help command the symptoms.

Avatar Mental Health Recovery Center in NJ provides quality drug and alcohol addiction treatments and behavioral health services. If you or someone you know is struggling or has questions about the connection between ADHD and Addiction, please call (973)-774-7222 for more information. We provide a variety of treatment services for individuals struggling with addiction and mental health issues. Get the support you need from a team that cares. Each of our programs is customized to support the individual needs of our patients.

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