ADHD and Addiction: A Challenging Combination


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

Table of Contents

As ADHD awareness month approaches, it’s critical to understand the link between ADHD and addiction. Here’s what you need to know. Searching for help with drug and/or alcohol addiction? Call us now at (800) 643-2108.

The Link Between ADHD and Addiction

Mental health disorders and addiction often go hand-in-hand. This occurs because many diseases lead to a lack of self-control, a change in brain chemistry, and hormonal changes.

With the body undergoing such difficulties, addictions often become the comfort that allows the individual to relax genuinely.

When we talk about addictions, we almost always think about drugs, alcohol, or prescribed medications.

However, addiction runs far deeper as distraught behaviors, unhealthy relationships with food, the internet, people, and much more.

These addictions are commonly observed in those with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder.

What Is ADHD?

According to the DSM-5 of the American Psychological Association, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is defined as,

It is a neurodevelopmental disorder often diagnosed in childhood and managed throughout the individual’s life.

The disease is manifested through lack of attention, controlling or impulsive behaviors, or hyperactivity.

"A Persistent Pattern Of Inattention And/or Hyperactivity-Impulsivity That Interferes With Functioning Or Development"

Dr. Russell A. Barkley, PHD Speaks on 30 Essential Ideas on ADHD

In simpler words, ADHD is a persistent disorder where an individual experiences hyperactivity to the point of cleaning their whole house or losing control of their attention to the end of facing difficulty in achieving daily tasks.

If an individual has ADHD, you might notice the following symptoms:

  • A habit of daydreaming
  • Poor memory
  • Consistent movement such as fidgeting
  • Talking without breaks or talking a lot
  • Showing impulsivity in making decisions or taking risks that can be easily avoided
  • Lack of self-control that makes them give in to their temptation
  • Lack of social skills
  • And many more.

While ADHD is a genetic disorder, it can also be caused by brain injury, environmental factors, premature delivery, and low birth weight. 

Furthermore, the usage of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco during pregnancy has also been found to be a leading cause.

Scientific studies have shown that ADHD causes the most significant changes in the brain structure, specifically the frontal lobe. 

The frontal lobe is responsible for many functions, including motor activity, concentration, memory, and more. It is also in charge of controlling impulses, and the lack of it can result in addiction, a shared experience of those suffering from ADHD and addiction.

Many mental disorders can coexist together, such as ADHD and addiction. It is a commonly observed pattern that individuals with ADHD also tend to have addictive tendencies and behaviors due to their lack of control over their impulses.

ADHD has no cure but requires treatment and, at times, medication management.

If the disorder is left undiagnosed, untreated, and unmanaged, it can lead to addiction in adulthood.

The addiction can be to drugs, medications, behaviors, and foods resulting from poor control.

Research shows that an average of 25% of individuals treated for substance abuse disorder have also been diagnosed with ADHD.

Additionally, children diagnosed with the disorder are more likely to succumb to drugs in their teenage years and young adulthood.

These studies prove that the group suffering from ADHD is expected to develop addictions.

While scientific research shows the correlation between ADHD and addiction is due to impulsivity, lack of self-control, and poor decision-making, it can also be caused by a family history of addiction, genetics, and poor environmental factors.

Living life with a chronic disorder such as ADHD is quite tricky.

Daily life stressors and problems are far more challenging to manage, often leading to the individual seeking an escape, gratification, and pleasure.

Hence, these daily environmental stressors become risk factors for addiction for individuals with ADHD.

ADHD And Drugs

ADHD and addiction are more common among adults due to two main reasons;

  • The adult is undiagnosed of their disorder and is continuing to act on their impulses.
  • The adult is looking for a thrilling experience or is surrounded by such an environment where controlling impulsivity is problematic.

In both these scenarios, adults can quickly get their hands on any medication, prescribed pills, alcohol, and even drugs leading to addiction.

Catherine Fassbender, Ph.D. of the UC Davis MIND Institute talks about ADHD and Substance Abuse

ADHD Medication

Perhaps the most common cause of ADHD and addiction is seen in the form of addiction to ADHD medications.

Amphetamines such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse are prescribed to improve the concentration, attention, and memory of ADHD individuals.

These drugs are also often used by college students to perform well in their exams, even though they are sourced illegally.

In an ADHD addictive personality, the individual can become quite used to having heightened performance, and they might start feeling less competent and experience brain fog without the pill.

Hence, they might increase the dosage without their doctor’s consultation to further enhance the effect that they are running after.

This can quickly become an addiction and can cause a great hindrance in the improvement of their disorder.


Coffee, cigarettes, and vapes are commonly used among the current generation.

We start our mornings with or depend on these things to get through the day. However, these stimulants have the opposite effect on an ADHD brain.

Similarly, stimulants such as cocaine, meth, and ecstasy, which are also used, provide temporary benefits and relief from symptoms.

In the long run, these drugs or even caffeine can be fatal.

ADHD brains require constant stimulation to work healthily. However, this stimulation should be achieved through medications provided by a physician and administered in controlled environments.


Alcohol is a common addition to dinners, parties, and get-togethers and is even consumed as a way of de-stressing at the end of the day.

However, this substance is incredibly addictive.
Alcohol addiction is just as harmful as heroin addiction.

It is also one of the most commonly abused drugs in the United States.

When used in excess, it is bound to lead to a dependency that will make the user feel like they constantly need to be under the influence to function normally or carry out daily tasks.

Eventually, it will leave the user incapable of carrying out tasks and ruin all familial and friendly relationships.

With how easily accessible it is, it is pretty easy for an ADHD addictive personality to fall into the cycle of alcohol addiction.


Marijuana is often used to promote a sense of calmness and to relax the individual.

The drug is becoming increasingly accepted in the US, especially since it is also assumed to be used as medication.

It is promoted for its serene feeling and beneficial effects when taken in moderation.

The drug comes in many types, each providing a unique benefit.

While the drug is ideal for reducing hyperactivity in an ADHD brain, long-term and consistent use can lead to many issues.

They include memory problems, difficulty concentrating, procrastination, and lack of attention.

Individuals who have ADHD are already experiencing these symptoms. Hence, marijuana is bound to worsen them further rather than provide any improvement.


Opioids, also known as opiates, are among the most widely abused illicit and prescription medications.

Drugs such as Heroin, Fentanyl, and other variations lead to a country-wide epidemic of Opiate induced deaths.

Opiates are highly addictive since they change the structure and the chemicals in the brain to reduce the feeling of pain.

The calm and numbness that comes after can be pretty addictive for those suffering from ADHD, addictive personality disorder, or any mental health disorder, resulting in a fatal addiction.

Sedatives And Tranquilizers

Sedatives and tranquilizers have the opposite effect as stimulants. Where a stimulant enhances, sedatives relax.

These drugs are often prescribed to individuals suffering from anxiety, panic disorders, sleep disorders, and ADHD.

They help relax the body and relieve the individual from overthinking, which allows them to fall asleep or regain control of themselves.

Sedatives and tranquilizers play a considerable role in ensuring the mental stability of individuals suffering from mental health disorders.

However, they pose a serious threat as they can quickly become addictive when not used under supervision or by a professional or caretaker, especially with those who have an ADHD addictive personality.


Magic mushrooms and LSD are the stars of every college party. These drugs have a mind-altering effect on individuals who experience hallucinations, feel sounds, and hear colors.

Or at least that is how it is explained.
The altered reality can be pretty fascinating for an ADHD addictive personality trying to escape their brain’s hyperactivity or the fogginess they constantly experience.

However, it is also a trap since it increases impulsivity and encourages individuals to act on their intrusive thoughts to experience new things.

The alteration of the brain chemistry is bound to worsen since the effects of the drug can react horribly to any prescribed medication.

ADHD And Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addictions upset an individual’s life just as much as any drug.

Behavioral patterns can be hard to break since the individual might start feeling too comfortable in their habits.

These behavioral patterns can also lead to other life problems such as poverty, financial distress, issues in relationships, and low self-esteem.

ADHD and smartphone addiction

The most excellent distraction of the modern world is the internet. The trap of social media is so powerful that once an individual starts scrolling on the internet, hours can pass before they notice the time.

For an ADHD addictive personality, this is the perfect escape. The distraction of the internet in entertainment, social media, or information is the immediate gratification that an ADHD brain is looking for.

The internet is already an addictive place for healthy individuals; those with addictive tendencies are bound to fall into the rabbit hole.

Excessive use will cause a delay in completing work, a lack of priority, broken relationships, and a sense of false gratification.

All of which will create a great hindrance in improving ADHD and addiction.

ADHD and Gambling addiction

Gambling is a risky game, and it leads to many financial problems. The destructive behavior can take form in any bets, games of chance, or using high-value objects to win a greater one.

The thrill of winning a high-stake game often outweighs the logic of losing a high-value item.

The consequence of this addiction is financial instability, poverty, homelessness, and strained relationships with your loved ones.

These consequences come quickly and follow the individual for the rest of their life.

ADHD’s addictive personality can become easily addicted to such behavior since it provides instant gratification.

ADHD and Shopping addiction

We have all heard, experienced, and made jokes about retail therapy.

A quick shopping spree boosts the mood and turns a bad day around.

Shopping undoubtedly makes us happy; for an ADHD addictive personality, it can quickly become an addiction.

Individuals with ADHD already face a lot of trouble managing their finances because of their impulsivity.

Adding a shopping spree to the list will break them in no time.

The instant gratification they feel from shopping can cause them to lose sight of their spending, encourage their impulsive behavior, and worsen any improvement they make.

ADHD And Food Addiction

The trend of relying on fast food mixed with unhealthy habits has increased the statistics of individuals suffering from food addictions.

Staying late at night has grown the practice of craving more sugary foods, and always being on the run during the day has decreased the time to make food yourself.

In most cases, food addiction is considered a regular eating habit. Individuals call themselves “foodies” or explain how they have a large appetite and continue to feed into their addiction.

While this might be true for some, in most cases, it leads to an unhealthy relationship with food.

While this is a common experience for all, ADHD individuals quickly fall into the addiction.

The high sugar content or the massive levels of carbohydrates that the body receives through junk food leaves a feeling of high contentment and creates a craving to achieve that feeling again.

When the urge becomes irresistible or hard to control, that is where the addiction begins.

Also, when junk food is consumed consistently, it can lead to many physical diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and more.

Excessive calories and saturated fats are the perfect combinations of declining health.

If you feel like you have no control over the portions you eat, if you have harmful diseases because of your weight and you cannot change your behaviors, or if, despite wanting a change, you are unable to create it, you might be suffering from food addiction.

What Scientific Research Says About ADHD And Addiction

A study researching the link between alcohol abuse and ADHD found that at least 25%1 of patients receiving treatment for alcohol and other drug dependence were also diagnosed with ADHD.

Additionally, 20-50% of ADHD patients were also diagnosed with alcohol and other drug dependence.

While the study was focused on interventions to be carried out, it is a great eye opener for the level of occurrence of ADHD and addiction.

The relationship between ADHD and addiction has been researched by many scientists trying to understand the underlying cause of these behaviors.

It is logically understood that the impulsivity, lack of self-control, and poor management experienced by ADHD individuals will cause such erratic addictions.

A study carried out to understand the neurobiology of ADHD and addiction showed three leading causes;

  • Impulsivity that reduces self-regulation and control2
  • The desire for instant gratification due to low sensitivity to reward2
  • Dysfunction or lack of control over emotional and behavioral impulsivity2

However, further research was conducted to find other risk factors or underlying reasons.

To understand the role of personality risk factors in ADHD and addiction, research was carried out on diagnosed and undiagnosed ADHD patients.

The results3 showed that individuals with personality risk factors such as genetics, abusive history, and familial history were more prone to addiction than those with no risk factors.

Furthermore, research studying the relationship between substance abuse disorder and ADHD also concluded that children and adolescents are at a higher risk of developing substance abuse disorders when diagnosed with ADHD.

An estimated 38% of adolescents4 who had cannabis use disorders were also diagnosed with ADHD.

The list of research and studies continues to grow as they show the common occurrence, reasons, and science behind the growing number of addictions caused along with ADHD.

How to Get Help for ADHD and Addiction

Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder is a lifelong struggle to ensure that the individual does not fall into the habit of developing behaviors and addictions that will serve them no purpose.

ADHD requires constant management, medication, professional support, and the support of loved ones to ensure a healthy lifestyle.



[1] The Clinically Meaningful Link Between Alcohol Use and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

[2]The Overlapping neurobiology of addiction and ADHD

[3] Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Relation to Addictive Behaviors: A Moderated-Mediation Analysis of Personality-Risk Factors and Sex

[4] The Complicated Relationship Between Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Substance Use Disorders

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Susana is a recovery, mental health, and addiction education enthusiast with 8 years of experience in addiction recovery herself. Susana holds a Bachelor of Arts from the GCU College of Theology. She is anti-addiction stigma and believes accurate and factual information is essential to beginning the recovery process.
lionel estrada lisac clinical director



Lionel, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) with over 4 years at Cornerstone. Passionate about helping those with addiction, he has trained as an EMDR therapist  adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of addiction, providing an empathetic approach to addiction.

Articles written prior to August 2023 were also clinically reviewed by Karen Williams, LPC 

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