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The Connection Between ADHD and Substance Abuse

Mental Health ,Substance Use Disorder

adhd and substance abuse

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is most common in children and adolescents. More than three million Americans are diagnosed with ADHD each year, making it one of the most common disorders in the country. And while the vast majority of individuals with ADHD are school-aged children, that does not mean that there still isn’t a connection between ADHD and substance abuse. 

Studies that have been thoroughly conducted on the connection between ADHD and substance abuse have yielded results that highlight just how common drug abuse and alcoholism are in those with ADHD. This does not mean that there are elementary school children out there abusing drugs or alcohol, but it does mean that the impacts of ADHD have lasting effects that can increase their risk for abusing or becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol in the future. 

To understand this connection more, it is important to be aware of exactly what ADHD is. 

What is ADHD?

ADHD is, as previously mentioned, a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is commonly misconstrued as a mental illness, however it does not fit into this category. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that children can be diagnosed with ADHD as early as four years old, however they state that according to reports, the median age of diagnosis is seven years old.

So, what does ADHD look like for a school-aged child? Most children within the age range experience symptoms that fall under a set of three categories: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The symptoms that occur in these categories can include the following:

  • Makes several careless mistakes due to inattention
  • Has difficulty staying focused on tasks
  • Does not follow through with instructions
  • Has trouble organizing tasks 
  • Is easily distracted
  • Often loses things needed to complete tasks
  • Runs or climbs when inappropriate
  • Has difficulty sitting still
  • Talks excessively
  • Frequently interrupts or intrudes on others

ADHD is now one of the most treatable conditions in children, as it has been widely studied and understood. However, it wasn’t always that way. Even as recently as the 1990’s, mental health and medical professionals experienced difficulty understanding what ADHD was exactly, never mind how to fully treat it. This has left several individuals who are now adults without the skill sets needed to cope with their ADHD effectively (unless they have been treated in adulthood). Today, young children diagnosed with ADHD are treated with a combination of behavioral therapies and medications, while their parents are also encouraged to participate in training. But just because the treatment is available does not mean that those who are receiving it are absorbing and applying it, nor does it mean that every child with ADHD is getting treated. Unfortunately, this can further complicate their mental health in the future. 

ADHD and Substance Abuse Potential

Anytime someone, regardless of their age, is experiencing a neurodevelopmental disorder, a mental illness, or some other condition that is compromising their overall health and wellbeing, they can become susceptible to self-medicating themselves at some point in their lives. Children with ADHD are not any different, as they face several obstacles as a result of their condition that can eventually trigger the onset of substance abuse or addiction. Consider the following:

  • Feeling like a failure – As a child, having ADHD can often cause one to feel like they are a failure or unable to be like their peers. This can come from constantly forgetting things, making careless mistakes, struggling with grades, having problems staying organized and focused, and experiencing difficulty sitting still. Children often want to be like their peers and desire to fit in, but when they are not keeping up with basic things, the sense of feeling like a failure can seep in.
  • Being bullied – Bullying is a real threat to children in schools. There are thousands of reasons why kids get bullied, including for having ADHD. Bullies might regularly pick on a child for forgetting things or constantly squirming or talking to excess. Being bullied has proven to produce serious mental health effects in children, resulting in anxiety, paranoia, depression, and even suicide. 
  • Having trouble in social settings – Children with ADHD often talk excessively. They tend to interrupt frequently and are always seemingly being driven by a motor. These are usually not desirable qualities when other children are looking for friends, meaning that many kids with ADHD and these specific symptoms find themselves on the outskirts of friendships. They may have problems developing strong relationships due to inattention and experience heartbreak and upset as a result.
  • Feeling out of control – When unable to sit still, prevent verbal diarrhea, or stop the mind from racing, children of all ages with ADHD can feel like they are constantly out of control. They likely wish they had different outward behaviors but feel powerless to stop them. Therefore, they may look for other situations to control in the future that may not always be positive.

If left untreated, these common emotions children tend to experience when diagnosed with ADHD often set the scene for a difficult future. As children get older, they can become resentful, angry, stressed, and overwhelmed because their symptoms are not being treated. Combine that with experiencing peer pressure to drink or use drugs and the possibility of a bigger problem developing becomes a reality. 

In regards to adults who have ADHD, the same type of process applies. Maybe these adults have never received treatment for ADHD before. Maybe some have never considered they had ADHD. Just like children who become vulnerable to substance abuse and addiction, adults also experience that vulnerability when symptoms are not treated. 

Thankfully, ADHD can be treated in both children and adults. Those children who are diagnosed with ADHD are recommended to seek traditional treatment modalities such as therapy and medication to help quell their symptoms and put them in control of their lives. Adults are also encouraged to do the same, as doing so can alleviate stress, pressure, and fatigue. 

Substance Abuse Treatment in Florida

If you or a loved one are experiencing a substance abuse problem, reach out to us right now. Not only can we help with the substance abuse problem, but we can also help with any underlying conditions like ADHD that may be contributing to it. So, do not wait any longer. Contact My Psychiatrist right now to learn more about how we can help you.