ADHD and Substance Abuse

ADHD and Substance Abuse

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) represents a mental health condition that at first impacts brain development in young children. The result of ADHD is a diminished capacity to pay attention and a loss of self-control, which can lead to one or more negative outcomes. Considered a relatively new mental health issue, the symptoms of ADHD can last well into adulthood before ADHD symptoms start to lose strength. One of the lasting impacts of the mental health condition is an inability to forge long-lasting friendships.

The loss of friendships can lead to a feeling of detachment that eventually causes someone with ADHD to develop a condition called Substance Use Disorder (SUD), which is the formal clinical name for an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. Because ADHD and substance abuse remains a nascent form of study in the field of mental health, the connection continues to challenge psychologists to develop strategies to mitigate the impact of ADHD and develop techniques to limit the mental health influence of substance abuse.

What is ADHD?

To understand the relationship between ADHD and substance abuse, the first step involves learning about what defines ADHD. Two prominent traits define the disorder: hyperactivity and lack of focus. Not everyone with ADHD experiences difficulty with attention and hyperactivity, but most cases among children and adults involve some degree of lack of attention and the inability to remain calm in situations that warrant calm behavior.

What Are ADHD Symptoms?

Mental health practitioners diagnose ADHD in one of three types:  Inattention, hyperactivity, or a combination of both types. Individuals diagnosed with inattentive type have difficulty paying attention to informal settings, such as the classroom and in business meetings. Inattentive symptoms can lead to careless mistakes at school and/or at work that negatively impacts performance. It can be difficult for someone with the inattentive type of ADHD to organize priorities and follow through with instructions.

The inattentive symptoms can be hard to notice because of the lack of physical behavior cues. With the hyperactive type, individuals display easy to detect signs of mental health conditions. Hyperactivity can include fidgeting, excessive talking, and having a problem with waiting in line. The combination of the two types of ADHD poses an especially tough obstacle to hurdle for people who live with mental health conditions.

What is Substance Use Disorder?

Drug addiction, which also goes by the clinical name Substance Use Disorder (SUD), represents a mental health disease that negatively influences an individual’s behavior. The result is the inability to control the use of alcohol and/or an illegal drug such as cocaine or nicotine. For most individuals living with ADHD, the development of addictive habits starts with using drugs recreationally before using the substance morphs into a full-blown addiction. The level of addiction varies among the various substances. For example, it requires less time and a higher chance of addiction to a drug such as an opiate.

SUD develops several signs that other people notice and/or the addicted individual detects. The feeling of having to consume drugs and/or alcohol frequently indicates someone has a Substance Abuse Disorder. As time passes, the urge to consume more of the same drug to achieve a similar effect also defines a dependency on the use of alcohol and/or a drug. The misuse of finances to buy drugs and committing illegal acts to pay for the purchase of drugs and alcohol also represent the hallmark symptoms of SUD.

ADHD and Substance Abuse

Why do Individuals Experience ADHD and Substance Abuse?

Research into the correlation between ADHD and substance abuse has not yet received consensus confirmation among mental health experts. However, several factors might be the cause of the relationship between the two.

First, impulsive behavior that forms the hyperactivity component can increase the risk of developing drugs and/or alcohol abuse. Second, researchers have conducted intensive research into the genetic connection between ADHD symptoms and the development of a substance abuse problem. Finally, one of the most contentious issues that define the relationship is the scientific conclusion that people living with ADHD symptoms turn to psychoactive medications in an attempt to make their symptoms disappear.

Do Stimulant Medications Lead to the Development of SUD?

As the first line of defense against negative ADHD symptoms, stimulant drugs such as Adderall lessen the impact of inattention and hyperactivity. However, some mental health experts claim individuals living with ADHD are at a higher risk of falling into a substance abuse pattern if they consume prescribed ADHD stimulant medications.

No research study has discovered a definitive link between ADHD stimulant medications and the development of a substance abuse problem. Most mental health experts recommend that the parents of children living with ADHD closely monitor the intake of stimulant medications to treat ADHD symptoms. Your child’s physician is another source for detecting the misuse of ADHD medications.

What Can Parents Do to Prevent ADHD and Substance Abuse?

Because ADHD symptoms develop during childhood, parents play an important role in preventing the development of symptoms and substance abuse. Simply paying close attention to a child living with ADHD can prevent the development of SUD. Educating your child about the negative consequences of relying on drugs and/or alcohol to cope with the stress present in life is another way to stem the tide of the behaviors that lead to substance abuse. Another area of focus should be the friends your child interacts with daily. Peer pressure remains one of the most influential factors that direct children into a lifestyle of taking drugs.

Because ADHD often requires people to take stimulant medications to mitigate the impact of ADHD, parents have a responsibility to monitor the consumption patterns of their children. Stimulant drugs require a prescription, which means you should never have more than the allocated number of pills in a bottle. Most importantly, constantly engaging a child living with ADHD symptoms can help you be aware of behavioral patterns that indicate the development of substance use disorder.


To learn more about treating substance use disorders in Orange County, California, call 855-953-1345 and talk to a member of the Opus Health team today!

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