A common dual diagnosis is addiction plus ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. About 25 percent of people seeking addiction treatment also have ADHD and more than 15 percent of adults with ADHD struggle with substance abuse. There are a number of reasons addiction may be higher among people with ADHD.
Kids with ADHD start using drugs and alcohol at a younger age.
Studies have shown that by age 15, kids with ADHD are about twice as likely as their peers to have used alcohol. After that, the gap widens. Early use is one of the biggest predictors of developing addiction.
There are several reasons kids with ADHD are more prone to experimenting with drugs and alcohol. One is that their inability to focus makes it hard to succeed in a traditional classroom. They may be disruptive and get low marks, which can alienate them from their peers. Lack of social connection and poor academic performance are both strong predictors of drug and alcohol use among kids.
Another reason is that there is a genetic component to ADHD, and their parents are also more likely to struggle with addiction. Having a parent with an addiction is probably the biggest risk factor for developing an addiction.
People with ADHD often self-medicate.
This is especially true of people with undiagnosed ADHD. They know they can’t focus, that their thoughts race, and so on, but they don’t really know why. They might discover that alcohol or marijuana turn down the chatter a bit or that stimulants help them focus. As children grow up, the hyperactivity tends to decrease, making the condition less evident, but they may still struggle with the distractions. Getting an accurate diagnosis and starting well-controlled medication often makes sobriety easier for people with ADHD.
People with ADHD are often impulsive.
ADHD makes it hard to think through the potential consequences of an action. What’s more they often find delaying gratification extremely difficult. As a result, they may be more likely to use drugs or alcohol even when it’s obviously a bad idea. This increases their risk of addiction just by way of increased exposure. It also makes it harder to stay sober because the trigger to relapse pathway is extremely short.
This is why it’s especially important for people with ADHD to find a treatment programme that can address the ADHD along with the addiction. Getting the ADHD under control is necessary for recovery to succeed. It can be a bit of a tricky process, as you may have to start new medication while detoxing from other substances. The brain chemistry is unstable during this period, making ADHD and addiction one of the trickier dual-diagnoses.