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To treat addiction, it’s crucial to pinpoint its underlying causes. Mental health disorders often factor into the equation, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one example of a common co-occurring disorder. So, if you are living with ADHD and addiction, please know that help is available for you. Learning more about this dual diagnosis can help steer you in the right direction as you seek treatment and recovery. 

If you have ADHD and struggle with substance abuse, it’s crucial to seek dual diagnosis treatment that simultaneously addresses both conditions. Untreated ADHD can trigger relapses, and untreated substance abuse can create a downward spiral that may destroy your life.

Addressing both conditions at once is the most effective way to regain control of your life. Fortunately, at North Jersey Recovery Center, we offer a dual diagnosis treatment program for people suffering from co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders, including ADHD and addiction.

What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD, is a neurological disorder typically diagnosed in childhood, but it often continues into adulthood. The condition is primarily associated with difficulty staying still and paying attention. People with ADHD may exhibit impulsive behavior and struggle to sit still or cope with boredom.

ADHD Risk Factors

A lot remains unknown about ADHD and why some people develop the condition, and others don’t. However, some risk factors for developing ADHD include the following:

  • Genetics – People who have blood relatives with ADHD or other mental health disorders are at an increased risk of developing this disorder.
  • Gender – Boys are more likely to develop ADHD than girls. As a result, the condition is often misdiagnosed in women and girls.
  • Toxins – Exposure to environmental toxins like lead, often present in old pipes, may increase the risks of developing ADHD.
  • Maternal drug use – Children whose mothers use drugs or smoke cigarettes while pregnant are more likely to develop ADHD.
  • Premature birth – Children born prematurely may have an increased risk of developing ADHD.

Characteristics of ADHD

The primary characteristics of ADHD fall into the following three categories:

  • Inability to focus or pay attention – For some people living with ADHD, the condition primarily affects their ability to pay attention or focus when necessary.
  • Impulsive behavior – Other people with ADHD primarily struggle with controlling impulsive or compulsive behavior.
  • Hyperactive behavior – In still other people, ADHD mostly shows up in the form of hyperactive behavior, including an inability to sit still.

Symptoms of ADHD

Across all forms of ADHD, some of the most common symptoms include the following:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty finishing tasks
  • Problems listening to others
  • Inability to control actions or speech
  • Frequently misplacing or losing important items
  • Struggling to organize responsibilities and activities
  • Being easily distracted
  • Constant fidgeting

How ADHD Impacts a Person’s Life

Untreated ADHD can wreak havoc on a person’s life. For example, it can negatively impact work or school performance, causing the sufferer to feel chronically disorganized or making them frequently misplace essential items needed to complete tasks. They may forget appointments or overlook other commitments.

ADHD can also create relationship problems. The condition can cause sufferers to blurt out things without thinking, hurting others’ feelings. It can also make it difficult for them to pay attention when others speak, making them come across as self-centered or uncaring.

What is Addiction?

Addiction refers to the compulsive abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs. Also known as substance abuse, addiction involves a pattern of using a substance that causes distress and significant problems in the sufferer’s life. For example, individuals may struggle to keep up with work or school commitments. Or they may use substances in dangerous situations, like when driving. If left untreated, substance use disorder, as it’s also known, can trigger serious legal, social, and financial problems.

Risk Factors for Addiction

Some of the top risk factors for substance abuse include the following:

  • Peer pressure
  • Lack of family involvement
  • Having a mental health disorder
  • Using drugs or alcohol early in life
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Experimenting with highly addictive drugs like cocaine or opioid painkillers

Symptoms of Addiction

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), defines addiction as experiencing two or more of the following symptoms over a 12-month period:

  • Giving up or reducing important activities
  • Recurrently using the substance in hazardous situations
  • Needing to continually increase the amount used to achieve intoxication
  • Taking a substance over a longer period or in larger amounts than intended
  • Spending lots of time obtaining, using, and recovering from using the substance
  • Continuing to use the substance despite persistent or recurrent interpersonal issues
  • Persistently trying to cut down on or control the use of the substance without success
  • Experiencing issues at school, work, or home from using the substance
  • Encountering withdrawal symptoms after not using the substance
  • Experiencing cravings or strong desires for the substance

Addiction is a progressive disease. Without treatment, most sufferers will continue on a downward spiral that may lead to hospitalization, prison, or death.

ADHD and Substance Abuse

Now that you know a little about addiction and ADHD, you may already understand a little about why both conditions may co-occur.

Self-Medicating to Treat the Symptoms of ADHD

As a neurological disorder, ADHD causes issues with the regulation of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. Imbalances of these crucial chemical messengers create significant suffering for people with ADHD, who often report feeling restless and easily bored.

To combat the negative feelings that ADHD causes, sufferers may turn to substances to self-medicate their way out of them. Until they are diagnosed with ADHD and begin receiving treatment, they may turn to drugs and alcohol to escape those uncomfortable feelings. Unfortunately, this often triggers substance abuse, creating a vicious cycle and prolonging the time it takes to address the underlying neurological disorder.

Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorder and ADHD

ADHD and addiction may also arise independently. For example, people who abuse alcohol are 5 to 10 times more likely to have ADHD than non-alcoholic people. Additionally, around 40% of people with substance use disorders have underlying mental health disorders, including ADHD.

Impulsivity and Other Behavioral Triggers

Finally, impulsive behavior is a common symptom of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Impulsivity is also a common characteristic among people who abuse drugs or alcohol. Likewise, people with ADHD struggle to deal with boredom, and those feelings can trigger them to turn to substances like drugs and alcohol. Therefore, the very behavioral traits seen in ADHD can be significant risk factors for substance abuse.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for ADHD and Substance Abuse

If you have ADHD and are coping with a substance abuse problem, it’s easy to feel like you’re way over your head. You may assume that you’ll have to seek treatment for one condition and then the other; in reality, the best course of action is to seek dual diagnosis treatment that addresses both conditions simultaneously.

Without addressing the symptoms of ADHD, achieving and maintaining sobriety from drugs or alcohol is significantly more difficult. The temptation to self-medicate will still be there even if you refrain from using the substance of your choice because the neurological impact of ADHD is still at play.

Regardless of whether the ADHD came before the substance abuse or the other way around, the first step in treating both conditions is getting sober. Until you can put down the substance and maintain consistent sobriety, treating the underlying ADHD will be far more complex. By addressing both issues with dual diagnosis treatment, you can explore the connections between them while getting the professional help you need to cope with – and overcome – both issues.

Key Aspects of Dual Diagnosis Treatment for ADHD and Addiction

Some of the main aspects and benefits of dual diagnosis treatment for substance abuse and ADHD include the following:

  • Regain self-esteem – By addressing both issues in a secure environment, you can see how both have impacted your ability to live life. In turn, you will realize that your issues aren’t happening because you’re a bad person but because you have underlying, untreated conditions beyond your control.
  • Modify destructive thoughts and feelings – During dual diagnosis treatment, you will learn to identify, address and modify the thoughts and feelings triggered by ADHD that you sought to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Through therapy and other methods, you’ll learn how to respond to such triggers in healthier ways.
  • Control symptoms of ADHD – Dual diagnosis treatment of addiction and ADHD uses behavioral modification, medical therapy, and other techniques to help you identify and control symptoms of ADHD. Instead of turning to drugs or alcohol, you’ll learn how to cope with symptoms like impulsive thoughts and boredom in productive ways.
  • Identify substance abuse triggers – During dual diagnosis treatment, you’ll learn to identify substance abuse triggers so that you can avoid them and cope with them more effectively in the future.
  • Learn how to manage impulses – Impulsivity is a major symptom of ADHD that can be effectively addressed through dual diagnosis treatment by qualified professionals.
  • Boost internal motivation – Through dual diagnosis treatment, you’ll learn how to drown out that negative voice in your head and improve your ability to stay motivated and on task.
  • Educate loved ones – Finally, the best dual diagnosis treatment services bring family and friends on board, educating them about ADHD and substance abuse and arming them with tools to support their loved ones.

Seek Treatment for ADHD and Addiction at North Jersey Recovery Center

If you live in northern New Jersey and believe you or someone you know is suffering from ADHD and substance abuse, North Jersey Recovery Center can help. Our team understands the intricacies of helping people overcome various mental health disorders with co-occurring substance abuse. We offer a comprehensive progression of addiction treatment services, including dual diagnosis treatment for addiction and ADHD. Please contact us today for more information.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Medical Reviewer

Laura comes to NJRC with 23 years of vast clinical experience in hospital, residential, outpatient, and community outreach settings where she has worked, supervised clinical teams, and volunteered. She has provided substance abuse and mental health counseling, clinical coordination, and advocacy to individuals, families and groups, and specializes in co-occurring disorders for both adults and adolescents.