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Is There a Link Between ADHD and Addiction?

There does appear to be a link between ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and addiction. Studies have shown that ADHD is five to 10 times more common among adults addicted to alcohol than among the general population. About a quarter of people in treatment for alcohol and drug addiction have ADHD and about 15 percent of adults with ADHD misuse alcohol or other drugs, compared to about 10 percent of the general population.

Also, teens with ADHD are about twice as likely as their peers to misuse alcohol. This difference starts to emerge around age 15 and continues to grow. The same is true for other drugs. This is especially troubling because early use is a strong predictor of later addiction. Children with ADHD are often disruptive in the classroom and they frequently fall behind academically because they aren’t well suited to the kind of work schools reward. They can also become socially isolated. Both poor academic performance and social isolation are other strong predictors of later addiction.

Parents are often concerned that prescribing Adderall or Ritalin for their child’s ADHD might lead to substance abuse. After all, Adderall is basically prescription meth and is frequently misused. This doesn’t appear to happen in most cases. Prescription doses are closely monitored and children who take Adderall or Ritalin don’t appear to be at greater risk for addiction as adults. It may even have some protective benefit, as it helps kids focus better in school, get better grades, and get along with their peers.

For adults, there are several reasons ADHD often leads to misuse of drugs and alcohol. Early use as children or teens is a major factor. Another factor is that ADHD tends to make people impulsive. Not only that, they’re easily bored. That’s a bad combination when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

One of the biggest reasons, though, appears to be self-medication. Adults with ADHD don’t usually bounce off the walls like kids do. They have learned over the years how to control their behavior. But their brains are often still going full speed. Drugs and alcohol may be a way to quiet down their chaotic minds.

If you have ADHD and addiction, both need to be treated to be effective long-term. It’s usually best to start by treating the addiction. ADHD typically requires medication and it’s difficult to evaluate a medication’s effectiveness if you aren’t sober. So sobriety comes first. If you go the 12 Step route, choose your group carefully. Some AA and NA hardliners will insist that taking medication for ADHD means you aren’t really sober. Learning as much as you can about ADHD and working with your therapist and doctor to keep it under control will help keep you sober.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and ADHD, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.