Addiction and ADHD
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By: Harmony Staff

Clinically Reviewed by Dr. Deja Gilbert, PhD, LMHC, LPC

Updated on 02/24/2022

Our understanding of the nervous system is still in its childhood in many ways. Since our knowledge of this system is still young, so too is our comprehension of brain disorders. Two such disorders are Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. These are commonly known as addiction and ADHD. Understanding how these issues occur, and how they work together can help people living with these conditions.

The Addiction and ADHD Connection

Doctors and researchers have seen a recent rise in teenagers and young adults who have both SUD and ADHD. Studies have also shown that those with ADHD may be at higher risk for developing SUD. This is likely due to similar brain function in both substance abusers and those with attention deficit issues. This similarity leads to several traits common in both addicts and those with ADHD. These include:

• Difficulty controlling impulses
• Impatience
• Emotional Agitation
• Reward Seeking
• Dislike of Boredom
• Trouble with self-regulation

These problems are caused by the reward pathways in the brain. People with both ADHD and SUD need a lot of stimulation to feel good. Often, they need increasing stimulation to get the same positive feelings. This means they constantly need more in order to get the same feeling of satisfaction.

Risk of SUD in People with ADHD

The similar brain operation of people with ADHD and SUD is only the beginning of the problem. People with ADHD have difficulty with impulse control. They also have a constant need for stimulation. As a result, they have more troubles operating in society. This leads to environmental factors that create more challenges. These include:

• Social isolation or feeling different from their peers
• Trouble with work or school
• Difficulty focusing
• Feelings of hopelessness and frustration
• Conflict with authority such as teachers, parents and bosses
• Poor performance in the often boring tasks of everyday life
• Desire to calm their overactive mental system

These problems begin in childhood and adolescence. In their youth, these people often feel less able and less intelligent. Those struggles can plague them into adulthood. This causes them to feel lonely and depressed. They feel unable to function “normally.” This leads to low self esteem and poor self-image. Often they’ll turn to substances to help alleviate these feelings.

Many people with ADHD report wanting to slow down their brain. They want to feel better without the irritation and crushing boredom that afflicts them when they are forced to merely sit still. This naturally leads them to alcohol and cannabis.

Sometimes the drugs used for ADHD treatment may also lead to addiction. Many ADHD medications are stimulants or amphetamines. These include:

• Adderall
• Concerta
• Desoxyn
• Dexedrine
• Focalin
• ProCentra
• Ritalin
• Vyvanse

If a doctor has prescribed these medications to you or a family member, it is important to be aware of signs of amphetamine dependence.

Warning Signs of Amphetamine Dependence

Anyone who uses an amphetamine should be aware of the dangers. Even when taken as prescribed, these might not always be beneficial. If any of the following symptoms occur, it is important to seek out a doctor’s advice immediately:

• Increased anxiety or insomnia
• Memory loss
• Sudden changes in weight or appetite
• Using more than prescribed
• Behavior changes
• Differences in relationships
• Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms can be highly varied. These will only happen when a person stops taking the medication. Adderall withdrawal can be especially difficult. The symptoms of withdrawal usually include nausea, fatigue, insomnia, vomiting, irritability, and depression. Typically these only occur if medication has been taken excessively. Stopping after prescribed use should have limited side effects.

Managing ADHD Without Medication

The first thing necessary for managing any disorder is the help of trained professionals. Before you attempt any treatment regimen, you should consult with a physician. They can suggest how to cope with ADHD without medication. It is helpful to talk with a family doctor, as well as a psychiatrist and a neurologist. The more help you have the better your chance of success.

It is possible to manage attention deficit disorders without medication. Those that are concerned about substance use disorder might wish to consider these options. However, it is important to know that research does not suggest ADHD medications cause SUD. Though some medications can be abused, it is extremely rare in those who actually have ADHD. Typically, the people who misuse medications like Adderrall do not suffer from ADD or ADHD.

Handling SUD and ADHD Together

Recovery from SUD is more difficult for people with ADHD. Each disorder reinforces the other. In order to recover fully, each illness must be treated separately. They must also be treated together. Here are a few treatment suggestions.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Studies have shown Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is useful for both SUD and ADHD. This is a good starting point, since these issues begin in the brain. Medication can ease the symptoms of ADHD. This allows the person to be calmer and more receptive to other treatments.
There are also medications which can reduce drug cravings. Many of these do not interact poorly with ADHD medication. However, when taking multiple medications it is vital to have the supervision of a doctor.

Support Groups

Support is a key component in recovery from SUD. It is likewise helpful to have a support group for ADHD, though these are harder to find. Any support system is positive. There are many addiction support groups available. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are the most popular, but they are not the only choices. Self-Management And Recovery Training (SMART), Refuge Recovery, Celebrate Recovery, Rational Recovery, and many others are equally useful for managing substance use.

ADHD groups include Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) and the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA). These have support groups for those with ADD and ADHD. More information can also be found through the National Resource Center on ADHD.


Working with a mental health professional can assist in managing both SUD and ADHD. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be highly effective in treating SUD. It can also help manage some of the impulsivity of ADHD. Using a psychiatrist is also positive. They are able to help manage both medical and psychological issues. This creates a more total treatment.

The key to treating addiction and ADHD is to take action. Because these disorders start in the brain and then infect every part of life, they won’t go away on their own. It is necessary to find medical help, therapeutic help and as much support as possible. The sooner you reach out, the sooner you or your loved one can begin the process of living better. If you have any questions about addiction and ADHD or treatment for addiction, you are welcome to call us at (704) 368-1131

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