ADHD and Substance Abuse

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is usually thought of as a childhood condition. But this is a misperception.

While ADHD is primarily diagnosed in children, the disorder does not automatically disappear once a victim reaches a certain age. In fact the symptoms of six out of 10 ADHD sufferers will continue into adulthood, and in some instances ADHD will only be uncovered in later years after not being diagnosed earlier.

Like other types of mental disorders, ADHD in adults is associated with an increased risk for substance abuse. The reasons for this connection vary and are still open to speculation, but the link does exist and it can create much difficulty for men and women suffering from these conditions simultaneously.

Our dual diagnosis program at Footprints BHC is flexible enough to provide comprehensive, customized treatment services for co-occurring disorders of all types, including ADHD when it is present alongside drug or alcohol addiction. Your struggles with a dual diagnosis may push you to the limits but we know you are capable of rising to the challenge, and if you come to us for treatment we will help you find the inner strength you need regain control of your fate.

What is ADHD?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that interferes with a person’s ability to stay focused and attentive. More commonly diagnosed in children than adults, ADHD often has a negative impact on performance in school and in the workplace, or in any other situation where success requires concentration, patience or perseverance.

Whether it appears in children or adults, (ADHD) can be a difficult condition to diagnose. The symptoms are distinctive—regardless of the age people with ADHD tend to be impulsive, fidgety and easily distracted—but are often subtle enough to escaped detection in the early stages. It is the consistency and frequency of such behaviors that ultimately reveals the existence of ADHD and makes it possible for medical experts to diagnose the condition.

In general, ADHD in adults is not dissimilar to ADHD in children. But the hyperactivity that is virtually universal in kids is not always present in affected adults, even though their psychological struggles continue.

Signs and Symptoms of ADHD

No two cases of ADHD are ever alike. This is especially true in adults, who are more capable of adjusting to accommodate their symptoms. But there is a consistency to the disorder that makes it identifiable, once you realize it might be present.

Adults with ADHD are often:

  • Unfocused
  • Easily distracted
  • Forgetful
  • Impatient
  • Poor listeners
  • Disorganized
  • Impolite
  • Argumentative
  • Frequently tardy
  • Prone to speak out of turn
  • Impulsive in their decision-making
  • Mercurial in their moods
  • Unable to finish what they start
  • Easily frustrated
  • Quick tempered
  • Unable to read others’ intentions
  • Lacking in motivation
  • Inconsistent and unreliable
  • Incapable of multi-tasking
  • Obsessed with pleasurable activities to the exclusion of all else

There have been a few theories offered to explain the existence of ADHD. Some of the most popular include:

Possible Causes of ADHD:

  • Brain structure and/or chemistry issues (i.e., a shortage of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate thinking and attentiveness).
  • Genetics and family history: People who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD are four times more likely to have relatives who’ve been diagnosed with the disorder than members of the general public.
  • Environmental factors: Some research indicates that childhood or in-utero exposure to toxic chemicals (like lead, for example) may be linked to ADHD diagnoses.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: Some studies have found a connection between ADHD symptoms and a lack of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Other possible links to nutritional deficiencies have been investigated and some suggestive data collected, but these relationships are difficult to establish definitively.
  • Too much television: Television may promote poor attention span in general, but if it plays a role in the development of ADHD it is likely only a small one.

Some combination of these factors is likely responsible for the onset of ADHD, although other as-yet-unidentified causes could be involved as well.

Health and Life Consequences of ADHD

If you suffer from adult ADHD there will be consequences, and some of them may be quite serious.

Depression and anxiety are common in adult ADHD sufferers, who experience constant stress related to their condition. Because they struggle to maintain their focus simple tasks can become exceedingly difficult for those with ADHD, and the pressure they feel to perform does not help them overcome these challenges.

Bipolar disorder, learning disabilities and oppositional defiant disorder are other conditions frequently diagnosed in those with a history of ADHD. In addition to psychological troubles ADHD sufferers are often plagued by stress-related physical ailments, including panic attacks, agoraphobia, heart disease, high blood pressure and insomnia.

In school and at work ADHD sufferers face obvious barriers to success. Chronic underachievement often results from these difficulties, and if the condition is left untreated failing grades or job loss may be inevitable. ADHD sufferers also struggle to manage their financial affairs and are often plagued by stress-inducing debt.

People with ADHD frequently experience relationship problems. Their behavior may seem disinterested or disrespectful and even those who know about their conditions may eventually become frustrated and impatient. If and when they do seek help for their ADHD family therapy is often recommended, since healing broken relationships may be necessary before true recovery can begin.

Statistics on ADHD and Substance Abuse

Just over four percent (4.1) of American adults will experience the symptoms of ADHD over any 12-month period, and 41.3 percent of these cases could be classified as “severe.”
(National Institute of Mental Health)

The lifetime prevalence of ADHD is 7.8 percent for adults age 18-29 and 8.3 percent for those ages 30-44.
(National Institute of Mental Health)

Up to 45 percent of adults with ADHD have co-occurring alcohol abuse disorders. As many as 30 percent suffer from co-occurring drug addiction.
(The American Journal of Psychiatry)

Why Do ADHD and Substance Abuse Occur Together?

Studies have revealed that approximately 25 percent of those who seek treatment for drug or alcohol dependency have symptoms consistent with ADHD, which is remarkable considering only four percent of the adult population suffer from the latter condition.

People with ADHD often turn to drugs and alcohol to dull their senses and slow their racing minds. Alcohol and marijuana abuse is especially prevalent among this group; these drugs can have somewhat of a calming effect for ADHD sufferers, until tolerance develops and they lose their effectiveness. ADHD sufferers may also be vulnerable to heroin or prescription (opioid) painkiller abuse, but they usually avoid stimulants like methamphetamine or cocaine that can make the symptoms of ADHD worse.

In addition to the self-medication factor, genetics almost assuredly play a role in the ADHD-substance abuse connection. Impulsivity is a dominant aspect of ADHD, and those whose brains crave risk and excitement are also believed to be prone to substance abuse. Research shows that ADHD sufferers almost always begin using drugs and alcohol to excess during their teen years, when impulsivity levels for human beings in general are at their highest.

Life failures are closely associated with an ADHD diagnosis (troubled personal relationships, poor performance in school, inability to hold down a job, financial setbacks, etc.). These events are closely linked to substance abuse problems as well, so drug and alcohol abuse among ADHD sufferers would likely be found even without any direct causal connection.

“Whatever the reasons for the association, more than a third of all adults with ADHD will develop chemical dependency at some point in their lives. If you are facing this dual dilemma you should know you are not alone.” – Nick Russie, Co-Founder

Treatment for a Dual Diagnosis of ADHD and Substance Abuse

Medication is the primary method of treatment for ADHD in both children and adults. It can take up to six weeks for anti-ADHD drugs to take effect, however, so if a person enrolls in a treatment program for substance abuse and ADHD it may take a while for the symptoms of the latter to subside.

Drugs for ADHD may be administered to the patient during the detox stage, when they are undergoing supervised withdrawal from drugs and alcohol. In these instances, physicians and other medical experts responsible for providing detox services will proceed carefully, to make sure any and all medications prescribed are appropriate and won’t compromise the patient’s recovery from addiction.
During formal treatment, the patient’s substance abuse problem and ADHD symptoms will both be addressed. Treatments offered will include individual, group and family therapy, and in these sessions strategies for managing ADHD symptoms will be introduced. The idea is to give the patient new and improved options for coping with their attention-deficit-related struggles. Meanwhile, the patient will be encouraged to search for the root causes of their substance abuse issues by exploring their personal history deeply and honestly. More than ADHD is likely to be involved, and all aspects of the situation must be open to scrutiny.

In addition to daily counseling, patients will also attend lectures and presentations and participate in solution-oriented group discussions. These educational sessions will focus on healthy and sustainable ways to overcome mental health challenges, and participants will also learn how to resist the temptation to return to drugs and alcohol when times get rough.

At the conclusion of the formal treatment program, vitally important aftercare services for substance abuse will be offered, and if medication has helped the patient recover from ADHD it will continue to be prescribed for as long as it is needed.

Medications for ADHD

The most commonly prescribed drugs for ADHD are the stimulants methylphenidate (Ritalin) and an amphetamine/dextroamphetamine combination (Adderall). But adults with ADHD do not always respond well to these or other stimulating medications, and as a result alternatives may be offered.

Other (non-stimulant) medications frequently prescribed for ADHD include:

Guanfacine (Telex or Intuniv)
ClonadineClonidine (Kapvay)
Atomoxetine (Strattera)
Desipramine (Norpramin) Bupropion (Wellbutrin)

The latter two drugs are anti-depressants, and psychiatrists and physicians will occasionally prescribe other types of anti-depressants to men and women diagnosed with ADHD as well.

The use of pharmaceuticals for the treatment of ADHD in children is controversial, but there is little doubt these medications can provide relief for adults suffering from this condition in many instances.

Treatment for ADHD and Substance Abuse: The Footprints BHC Approach

When you come to a Footprints BHC for assistance, your mental health counselors and addiction treatment experts will develop a fully integrated and comprehensive menu of treatment services for co-occurring ADHD and addiction.

Treatment at Footprints BHC is a highly personalized affair. The members of your dual diagnosis intervention team will acknowledge and respect your needs as an individual, and your therapies and educational experiences will be designed to help you recover your life, as it was and how you’d like it to be again.

In our treatment program we place a great emphasis on self-help. We want you to develop reliable and practical methods for healing the mind, body and spirit. To assist you in this process, we will offer you opportunities to immerse yourself in a variety of holistic healing practices, which will help you learn how to manage your emotional responses and preserve your tranquility when difficulties arise. We will also introduce you to nutritional therapies that can help you restore and maintain your physical health and psychological equilibrium.

It is important to emphasize, these techniques are designed to complement the effects of any medications you may need to help soothe your ADHD symptoms. Our approach to recovery and wellness blends the innovative and the traditional, that is how we’ve built our reputation for excellence and that is what we know will make the difference for you.

“Footprints BHC’s dual diagnosis treatment program is designed to help you heal from your co-occurring disorders. But we will also show you how to live more productively, intelligently and intentionally in the future. We want your recovery from ADHD and substance abuse to be just the beginning of a more satisfying and fulfilling life.”
– Nick Russi, Co-Founder

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