Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Substance Abuse

Many people suffer with a mental health condition, which can increase the risk of developing a substance use disorder or addiction. Often, one or more underlying mental health illnesses co-occur with a substance use disorder or addiction. When anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and ADHD are untreated, a person might self-medicate with drugs or alcohol as a way to cope.
According to an article on ADHD and substance abuse for WebMD, “People with ADHD tend to be more impulsive and likely to have behavior problems, both of which can contribute to drug and alcohol abuse, researchers say.”  Addiction and ADHD also tend to run in families. A child with ADHD who has a parent with an alcohol abuse problem is at high risk of alcohol abuse and addiction.
ADHD is treated with stimulant medications, such as Ritalin or Adderall. These medications can be addictive, but not when used as prescribed. Ritalin and Adderall work by raising levels of dopamine in the brain, improving attention and focus. Dopamine affects emotion and feelings of pleasure and creates a high that makes a person want more.
In large amounts, Ritalin does cause similar effects to that of cocaine, but there are differences between the two drugs. One factor that can lead to addiction and substance abuse is how quickly dopamine levels rise. When dopamine levels go up quickly, there is a greater risk for abuse. Ritalin takes about an hour to raise dopamine levels compared to seconds with inhaled cocaine.
According to Carl Sherman, Ph.D. who wrote an article on ADHD and addiction for Additude, some people assume that taking Ritalin or Adderall is too risky. “In truth, it’s the opposite: people with ADHD who take these medications as prescribed are less likely than their untreated counterparts to drink or abuse drugs. Put another way, treating ADHD effectively is powerful protection against substance abuse.” Doses of Ritalin and other stimulants used to treat ADHD are lower and longer acting, which reduces the risk of addiction and substance abuse.
People who are at risk of developing a substance use disorder or addiction can be prescribed non-stimulant medications. If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder and ADHD, get help now. Both conditions are treated simultaneously as a dual diagnosis. Do not wait another day.

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