ADHD and Addiction

What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. ADHD is a brain disorder that interferes with functioning or development.

The three primary symptoms of ADHD are:

  • Inattention (difficulty focusing or staying on task, not due to lack of understanding or behavioral problems);
  • Impulsivity (a tendency to make rush decisions without thinking due to desire for immediate gratification and/or lack of consequence recognition);
  • And hyperactivity (extreme physical agitation including difficulty sitting still, constant fidgeting, or constantly “on the go”).

Inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity are all common experiences at some point for most individuals, and having these feelings does not mean a diagnosis of ADHD.

In order for a diagnosis of ADHD to be considered, the individual must be experiencing these symptoms with such frequency, duration, and intensity, and without ability to respond to resulting negative consequences, that work, school, and social functioning are severely impacted.

An accurate diagnosis of ADHD should be made by a licensed mental health professional, as ADHD has very specific criteria and should not be made based on the presence of these symptoms alone.

Signs and Symptoms of ADHD

Children with ADHD often have increased difficulty with school. They frequently have outstanding test scores but perform poorly in the classroom and frustrate teachers due to their difficulty sitting still through class.

They may find it difficult to socially interact with other children as well as adults, and may often seem to be “always on the go” or “full of energy, all the time.” Difficulties may lead to frustration, which may in turn lead to acting-out behaviors.

Adults with ADHD primarily experience trouble in the workplace due to difficulties to focus on completing tasks, although many adults who were diagnosed with ADHD as children are able to effectively learn skills to help them successfully cope with their symptoms in the adult world.

ADHD and Addiction to Alcohol and Drugs

Individuals with ADHD sometimes find temporary relief from their primary symptoms (hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating)  and feelings of anxiety, depression or frustration by using drugs and alcohol.

Drugs and alcohol can thus become a way to self-medicate for individuals with ADHD. In the long-term, drug and alcohol use will compound the problems associated with ADHD symptoms and lead to serious physical and psychological dependency.

Prescription Drug Addiction and ADHD

There are two kinds of prescription medication that have been approved for treating the symptoms of ADHD.

The first kind, which is stimulant-based, carries a high risk of addiction potential. Some common stimulant medications prescribed for ADHD are Adderall (amphetamine-based), Ritalin and Concerta (both methylphenidate-based). The second kind of medication is Strattera (atomoxetine), which is the only non-stimulant based medication approved for the treatment of ADHD.

ADHD is frequently over-diagnosed through inaccurate evaluations. These patients frequently end up on a “roller-coaster” of self-medication with other drugs and alcohol, because the medications make them feel uncomfortably energetic and then they turn to other substances to counter that feeling.

This can lead to a dangerous and destructive cycle of substance-use ups and downs. Additionally, individuals may go on to abuse stronger stimulant medications, such as methamphetamine.

How to Recover from ADHD-Related Addiction in Rehab

In rehab for ADHD-related addiction, affected individuals will learn how ADHD works, and how drugs and alcohol interact in the brain of an ADHD sufferer.

At Castle Craig, patients gain insight into how their ADHD contributed to their addiction. Through personal addiction therapy and group therapy, patients learn new skills to cope with the primary and secondary symptoms of ADHD and practice managing their symptoms more effectively without the use of alcohol or drugs.