Published On: February 14, 2024Categories: Dual Diagnosis TreatmentComments Off on How Does ADHD Affect Addiction?

What is ADHD Exactly?

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder often characterized by inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. The hyperactivity element sometimes subsides in adulthood, which is likely why people once believed that ADHD was something children would simply “grow out of”. 

Today, we know that ADHD is a lifelong condition, but it can be overcome and many of its symptoms can be moderated. It is also associated with creativity and the ability to “hyperfocus” on certain areas of interest, so it’s not always seen entirely as a negative or a disability. In more recent years, ADHD has also come to be associated with addiction.

This is due, in part to the challenges many people with ADHD have with impulse control, among other reasons, like the fact that the most popular medications for ADHD symptoms are amphetamines with some abuse potential. 

What Does The Science Say About ADHD and Addiction?

Research indicates a correlation between ADHD and increased risk of various forms of addiction, including substance abuse and internet addiction. Several studies conducted over the past two decades suggest that individuals with ADHD are at a higher risk of developing various addictions, including internet addiction, gaming addiction, and substance abuse. 

However, it’s important to note that the exact nature of this relationship is complex and influenced by other factors, including age, gender, and the presence of other mental health disorders. This makes it difficult to point to ADHD as the sole or even primary trigger for addiction.

The scientific view of ADHD and addiction holds that:

  • ADHD can increase a person’s risk of developing addictions or compulsions.
  • There are many variables involved in developing addiction, and ADHD is only one. 
  • Other factors in addiction include age, gender, mental health, and environment. 
  • More extensive research is needed to determine how much of a role ADHD can play in addiction. 

So, Are People With ADHD More Likely To Get Addicted?

Based on what we now know, it is fair to say that, yes, the presence of ADHD can make someone more vulnerable to becoming addicted. It’s important to note that this correlation is not inevitable, though. That said, people with ADHD should use extra caution when it comes to drugs, alcohol, pornography, video games, and other things that people often become addicted to. 

Parents of children with ADHD should “go the extra mile” in impressing the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction to them. It’s also wise for parents of those with ADHD to pay special attention and look for signs of substance abuse in their children due to their increased vulnerability/susceptibility. 

With extra care and attention, there is no reason why a child or adult with ADHD should not be able to avoid the pitfalls of addiction. It may be worth these individuals considering abstinence from all drugs or alcohol though, even if they have not experienced addiction. This is a practical measure that can help to substantially reduce the risk of addiction in the ADHD sufferer. 

How Might ADHD Play a Role in Developing Addiction?

Science tells us there appears to be a correlation between ADHD and an increased risk of addiction. But, why is that so? The answer is complicated and involves several factors. The first factor is the effects of ADHD, especially diminished impulse control. Impulse control and emotional maturity around decision-making are key factors in avoiding picking up drugs or alcohol in the first place, as well as abusing substances. Less impulse control = more risk. 

Disorders like depression and anxiety are more common among those with ADHD and we know that depression and anxiety by themselves can increase the likelihood of addiction. So a person with both ADHD and a co-occurring disorder may face compounded risk for addiction. 

People with ADHD also often have behavioral problems in childhood which can cause not only academic difficulties in school but may lead to ostracization or bullying. Challenges with socialization or “fitting in” can not only increase the odds of addiction as an adolescent but also result in trauma which persists into adulthood and could contribute to the risk of addiction. 

Where Does ADHD End and Other Causes of Addiction Begin?

The complex layers of risk factors for addiction in people with ADHD present a bit of a “chicken and the egg” dilemma. How do we know how much ADHD itself is contributing to addiction compared to secondary factors, like depression or socialization problems which are exasperated by ADHD? The answer is we don’t. 

There simply isn’t enough data yet to say how much of a role ADHD by itself may play in addiction. We only know that it can be a significant factor. 

Most behavioralists and neuroscientists agree that more extensive research with larger population samples and longer timeframes is required before we can draw the more definitive conclusions we’re looking for. 

For now, though, we can say that:

  • ADHD can increase the likelihood that someone will develop addictive behaviors. 
  • ADHD also often contributes to secondary factors (depression etc.) that increase risk.
  • The correlation is clear enough that it would be wise for people with ADHD to abstain.

Do You Still Have Questions About ADHD and Addiction?

If you have questions about Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and addiction — North Jersey Recovery Center has answers. Give us a call at (877) 790-5873

If you believe you or someone you care about may be struggling with addiction, NJRC can help. Our dual-diagnosis addiction treatment center works with the majority of private health insurance plans. We have helped thousands of people achieve sobriety and better mental health — we can help you or your loved one too, but only if you call. 

NJRC offers a full range of programs to fit busy lifestyles, with day and evening Intensive Outpatient Treatment available. All it takes is a phone call to begin moving in the right direction.