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If you are suffering from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), then there is a good chance that you may also be struggling with addiction, also called substance use disorder (SUD). In that case, you will need more than just treatment for one or the other. This is considered a dual diagnosis and you will need a comprehensive addiction treatment program that addresses both disorders at the same time.

Adults and teens with ADHD often turn to drugs and alcohol. It has been reported that more than 25% of adolescents with SUDs fit the diagnostic standards for ADHD. One-third to one-half of the time, ADHD lasts into adulthood. Some studies have shown that children with ADHD may be more likely than the general population to develop problems with alcohol abuse and other substances when they get older.


ADHD and Addiction Facts

  • ADHD is 5 to 10 times more common in adults with alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) than it is in people without ADHD.
  • Among adults treated for SUD and alcohol use disorder (AUD), the rate of ADHD is around 25%.
  • It’s more common for children with ADHD to begin abusing alcohol during their teen years. One study of teens aged 15-17 with ADHD showed that 14% had problems with alcohol abuse
  • At an average age of 14.9 years, 40% of children with ADHD began using alcohol,
  • compared to 22% of their peers without ADHD.
  • The occurrence of substance use problems among adults in the general population is about 25%. But 50% of adults with ADHD have a history of substance abuse at some time in their lives.
  • People with ADHD usually start having drug and alcohol problems at an earlier age than people without ADHD.

What are the Symptoms of ADHD?

Not everyone who has ADHD will have the same symptoms because there are different types of ADHD. The type you have can influence the types of symptoms you have.  They are based on symptoms that relate to:


  • Difficulty staying still
  • Excessive talking
  • Frequently losing or forgetting things
  • Fidgeting and squirming
  • Unable to stick to one task


  • Difficulty waiting for their turn
  • Interrupting frequently
  • Taking risks without much thought
  • Blurting out answers

Distractibility and inattention

  • Being easily distracted
  • Difficulty listening to others
  • Forgetfulness
  • Poor study skills
  • Short attention span

The 3 types of ADHD are:


This is the most common type. It includes symptoms of all three categories of symptoms including hyperactivity, impulsivity, distractibility, and inattention.


This type includes impulsivity and hyperactivity but not inattention and distractibility.

Inattentive and distractible

Include the symptoms of distractibility and inattention but not impulsivity and hyperactivity.

For a person to be diagnosed with ADHD, the symptoms must have started before the age of 12 and continued for at least 6 months in at least two settings.

Risk Factors for ADHD

what-are-the-symptoms-of-adhd_ At this time, it’s not exactly clear what causes ADHD but there are certain risk factors that are believed to increase the likelihood of developing it. ADHD may have a genetic, neurological, or environmental origin.

Some research indicates the possibility of ADHD having to do with a reduction of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical messenger in the brain that has an important role in a person’s emotional responses and moods, along with their movements.

Other risk factors include:

  • Premature birth
  • Having blood relatives with ADHD or other mental health disorders
  • Use of alcohol, drugs, or smoking while mother was pregnant
  • Exposure to toxins in the environment

Why Are People with ADHD More Likely to Develop SUD?

Individuals with ADHD are more likely to be impulsive and have behavior problems. Both of these things can contribute to alcohol and drug abuse. Similarly, both ADHD and alcoholism tend to run in families. A child with a parent with alcoholism is more liable to develop AUD. Additionally, researchers have indicated common genes shared between ADHD and alcoholism.

However, there are two general causes for why people with ADHD develop SUDs.


Self-medication is when you use illegal or prescription drugs, caffeine, or exercise to relieve your symptoms. Adults with ADHD are more likely to self-medicate. This is especially true when they aren’t aware of or don’t understand their ADHD and how to manage it.

Many people with ADHD self-medicate with large quantities of caffeine. Some may use nicotine by vaping or smoking cigarettes. Other stimulants that are used are:

  • Cocaine
  • Crystal meth
  • MDMA (ecstasy)
  • Ephedrine

These drugs can all lead to serious health risks (including caffeine in large amounts). And stimulant drugs work by increasing levels of a chemical messenger in the brain called dopamine. This helps improve focus and attention which people with ADHD often have problems with.

Dopamine also affects the feeling of pleasure and emotions by creating a “high” that makes people crave it. Marijuana, alcohol, and other substances can also boost your dopamine levels, just like ADHD medications. That’s why some individuals use them to self-medicate.

Alcohol and ADHD

ADHD sufferers turn to alcohol for different reasons:

  • To relieve the distress that comes with ADHD
  • To help them cope with social and academic problems

Most people don’t realize that alcohol will make their symptoms worse. It has been noted that there is a strong link between impulsive behavior (common in ADHD) and heavy drinking.

When alcohol is used in moderation, it can enhance certain life experiences. But when used in excess, it can become very addictive. Some consider it as severe as heroin addiction. If you are a man drinking more than 14 drinks a week, or a woman drinking more than 7, you may be self-medicating.

Marijuana and the ADHD Brain

Marijuana is reaching a level of acceptance similar to that of alcohol. It’s used to support a feeling of calmness and relaxation. Adults with ADHD who are thinking about using marijuana to tone down their hyperactivity should know that research has found no support for that. In fact, regular use can have a negative effect on

  • Attention
  • Impulse control
  • Focus
  • Memory
  • Activation problems

This means that regular use could possibly worsen problems associated with distractibility, procrastination, and forgetfulness worse.

Sedatives, Tranquilizers, and ADHD

Prescription sedatives and tranquilizers are central nervous system depressants. Their effect is the opposite of stimulant medications. People with ADHD sometimes take them to help their problems falling and staying asleep. When prescribed as sleep aids, they can become addictive with long-term use.


Although caffeine may improve your concentration, it doesn’t work well when used to medicate ADHD. Also, too much caffeine can actually make your memory worse. Children and teens should avoid any caffeine because it can cause poor sleep and affect growth.


You may think that lighting up may help calm you down, but it can backfire and make you more hyper, making your ADHD symptoms harder to manage. In one study, more than half of adolescent ADHD smokers developed SUD in young adulthood. In addition to the major health risks, it may also:

  • Heighten your anxiety
  • Make focusing more difficult when you try to quit
  • Lower your brain function after just 12 hours without one
  • Increase your odds of relapse if you quit
  • Thin your brain’s frontal cortex which helps with memory, learning, attention, and motivation

Thrill-seeking behavior

A lot of adults with ADHD are attracted to thrill-seeking and new and different experiences. One study participant said he liked to “play with” his brain. Many adults with ADHD deal with addictive behaviors including

  • Need for immediate gratification
  • Need for new and different pleasure-seeking experiences
  • It has been noted that there is a strong link between impulsive behavior (common in ADHD) and heavy drinking.

In addition, these life stressors are common for many people with ADHD and are risk factors for SUD:

  • Loss of employment
  • Financial problems
  • Academic problems

Signs of Addiction

Some of the signs and symptoms of addiction are:

  • Strong cravings for the substance or behavior. These cravings might include physical cravings, such as for alcohol or cocaine, emotional cravings for addictive behavior, or both.
  • No control over quantity used. This is why one drink leads to many or one hand of poker leads to an entire night of gambling.
  • Continuing to use despite negative consequences. Many people are aware of the harm they’re doing to themselves and their relationships but continue their addiction anyway.
  • “I don’t have a drinking (or drug) problem.”
  • Can’t stop the behavior even though they want to. They may have quit and relapsed several times.

Dual Diagnosis

People struggling with an addiction often have an underlying mental health issue. This is what made them more susceptible to developing an addiction. As mentioned previously,

when a person has both a substance use disorder as well as another mental health issue, this is known as a “dual diagnosis.” People with mental health issues often self-medicate with drugs or alcohol in an effort to lessen their mental health disorder symptoms.

There can be a vicious cycle of the relationship between mental health problems and addiction. A person who is addicted to a substance can worsen their existing mental health problems by using drugs or alcohol. Someone who abuses substances, at a young age especially, can change the chemicals in their brain which can cause a mental health disorder to appear.

If you have a dual diagnosis, it’s important to receive treatment that focuses on both the mental health issue and the substance use problem. Dual diagnosis programs usually focus on

  • Learning to manage your impulses and recognize triggers of substance abuse
  • Building self-esteem and encouraging your internal motivation
  • Adjusting the destructive behaviors and thoughts that lead to substance abuse
  • Educating partners and family members about ADHD
  • Using medication, therapy, and behavior modification to control ADHD symptoms

A dual diagnosis program can help you work towards

  • overcoming your addiction
  • improving your quality of life while living with ADHD

Through a specific dual diagnosis program, you can learn how to live a functional and healthy life without needing drugs to deal with your ADHD symptoms.

Benefits of Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Some of the benefits of dual diagnosis treatment include:

  • A better outcome for addiction recovery
  • Learning skills that will improve your mental health
  • An improvement in your physical health
  • More personal control can promote a better quality of life
  • More motivation to recover, stick to your treatment, and make changes

How is SUD Treated in People with ADHD?

The best way to prevent addiction in people with ADHD is to start treating the disorder early. Nevertheless, there are a number of different approaches to treating SUD and ADHD. They include

  • Therapy
  • Behavioral interventions
  • Medication

It’s common for people to receive a combination of these treatments. It’s important for individuals with a dual diagnosis to receive treatment that focuses on both their mental health and substance abuse issues at the same time, preferably by the same treatment team.

Casco Bay Recovery Can Help You With ADHD and Addiction

Casco-Bay-Recovery-Can-Help-You-With-ADHD-and-Addiction- If you or a loved one are struggling with ADHD or any mental disorder and a co-occurring substance use disorder, Casco Bay Recovery can provide a comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment program. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has stated that the best treatment for dual diagnosis is integrated intervention, meaning that the person receives care for both diagnosed conditions at the same time. The belief that one condition can’t be treated until the other one is managed is outdated and we recognize that at Casco Bay.

Casco Bay can provide you with three levels of outpatient treatment programs including a partial hospitalization program (PHP) which is also sometimes known as day treatment. This is the highest level of outpatient care and is similar in intensity to residential care. The only difference is that you can still live at home during treatment. Contact us today and talk to one of our admissions specialists. We have a number of special programs and one will be perfect for you.