How ADHD Can Lead to Substance Abuse

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is better known by its acronym:  ADHD. Diagnosis of children and adults with ADHD has increased over the past decade, along with a greater understanding of the condition. Following diagnosis, many people are put on medication to control better their focus and decrease hyperactivity. There’s some debate as to whether these medications are appropriate for everyone, however, ADHD, when not properly managed, may be linked to substance abuse problems in adolescence and adulthood. What is the reason behind this increased risk?

ADHD in Childhood

Children with ADHD are usually diagnosed once they start school. It’s not known why some children get ADHD while their siblings don’t. Scientists think that genetics, family history, environment, and risk factors during pregnancy, such as smoking may play a part.

Teachers, daycare providers or parents might notice that a child has trouble focusing, has uncontrolled, excessive energy, or interrupts their teachers and classmates. These children may have trouble tackling subjects that are not of interest or difficulty following through on tasks. These characteristics might sound like just about every kid at some point or another, but children with ADHD often go on to develop social and academic problems that are more serious than the everyday ups and downs associated with growing up.

ADHD and Alcoholism

Though strides have been made in diagnosis and treatment, adolescents and adults with ADHD are at greater risk for developing substance abuse problems than the general populace. In fact, research has found that people with ADHD are ten times more likely to develop alcoholism that someone who does not have ADHD. Also, one in five adults with alcoholism under treatment also have ADHD.

Young people in their teens with ADHD have a higher risk of abusing alcohol than teens without ADHD. Interestingly, alcohol seems to have the most common thread with ADHD, although abuse of other drugs has been noted, too.

Because ADHD is characterized by increased risk-taking, those diagnosed with ADHD may be more impulsive than others and may not think through the consequences of their actions. ADHD and alcoholism risks increase if there is a family history, therefore, for some patients who struggle with the challenges of ADHD, they may self-medicate by using illegal drugs or alcohol.  Depression is more likely in patients who suffer from untreated ADHD, plus those who struggle with multiple mental health issues may have increased risk for substance abuse.

Stimulant Therapy and Risks for Substance Abuse Problems

Stimulant-type medications for ADHD such as Ritalin and Adderall increase dopamine in the body. This substance helps us focus and it also increases a feeling of wellness. In high doses, crushed, or injected, stimulants can create euphoria and high energy – an effect similar to cocaine. This can lead to addiction. At the dosage and proper usage prescribed by your doctor, addiction should not be a problem.

Seeking Alternatives

It is important that medications should be given at the lowest dose possible. Even with precautions, however, medications may not work. There are alternatives, however, that may provide the right balance of focus and energy release that can benefit those with ADHD. With the support of their pediatricians, some parents may seek out certain activities the child enjoys and can let off steam, such as sports; or challenge their intellect, such as computers, robotics, or chess. Adaptive programming and tools within the schools can also help a child with ADHD succeed.

The good news is that children whose ADHD is properly managed and are happy and confident actually have a lower instance of drug and alcohol abuse. When children with ADHD find their niche, they often go on to be successful in their field, whether academic, hobby, or sport.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse and other mental health issues, contact Psy-Visions. We offer comprehensive, responsive care tailored to your individual needs. Psychiatrist Dr. Mark Stracks provides customized treatment that addresses the underlying physical and emotional issues causing your symptoms. Call (203) 405-1745 today and get the supportive care you need to help you resume control of your life or use our online form to request a consultation with Dr. Stracks.


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