September 22, 2022

ADHD and Addiction: A Challenging Combination

As ADHD awareness month approaches, it's critical to understand the link between ADHD and addiction. Here's what you need to know.


Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Contributors & Editors

Susana Spiegel

Recovery Writer and Advocate

Last Update on March 21, 2024

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. While ADHD is often associated with challenges in school, work, and social settings, it is also linked to an increased risk of substance abuse and addiction. Research has shown that adults with ADHD are more likely to develop substance abuse problems than those without the disorder.

The Relationship Between ADHD and Addiction

Mental health disorders and addiction often go hand-in-hand. This occurs because many diseases, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), lead to a lack of self-control, a change in brain chemistry, and hormonal changes. Research has shown that the link between ADHD and substance abuse is significant, with many adults with ADHD having had a substance abuse problem at some point in their lives. When we talk about addictions, we almost always think about drugs, alcohol, or prescribed medications. However, addiction runs far deeper and can include distraught behaviors, unhealthy relationships with food, the internet, people, and much more. These co-occurring disorders, ADHD and addiction, are commonly observed in those with deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD.

ADHD and Substance Abuse

The relationship between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and substance abuse is well-documented, with studies such as the one referenced highlighting a significant link between ADHD and addiction.1 Individuals with deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD, characterized by impulsivity, hyperactivity, and attention deficits, are at a higher risk of substance abuse. This risk is attributed to the fact that ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects decision-making and impulse control.

Research reveals that about half of adults with ADHD have had a substance abuse problem at some point in their lives, suggesting that untreated or undiagnosed ADHD is a pivotal factor in the development of addiction. The impulsivity and search for stimulation inherent in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder often lead individuals towards substance use as a coping mechanism for daily stressors and ADHD-related challenges.

The co-occurrence of these disorders, ADHD and substance abuse, underscores the need for early detection and comprehensive treatment of ADHD to mitigate the risk of substance abuse. Addressing both conditions concurrently is essential for the effective management and prevention of substance abuse in adults with ADHD. Understanding the link between ADHD and addiction is essential for developing targeted interventions and support systems for individuals with deficit hyperactivity disorder and substance abuse issues.

ADHD and Comorbidity with Addiction

Perhaps the most common cause of the link between 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 individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. 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 deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD.
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ADHD and Impulse Control Disorders

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that significantly impairs daily functioning and development across various settings, including home, school, and work environments.2 While hyperactivity is often the most visible symptom of ADHD, it is the impulsivity aspect that presents the most significant challenge, profoundly impacting various aspects of life, behavior, and decision-making. Key factors of impulsivity issues can manifest as:
  • Poor inhibitory control: Individuals with ADHD often struggle to control their impulses, leading to hasty decision-making, interrupting others, and engaging in risky behaviors without considering the consequences. Difficulty delaying gratification: Impulsivity in ADHD can make it challenging for individuals to wait for rewards or resist immediate temptations, often leading to poor choices and impaired goal-directed behavior.
  • Emotional impulsivity: People with ADHD may experience intense and rapid mood swings, leading to impulsive, emotional reactions and outbursts that can strain interpersonal relationships and social interactions.
  • Lack of forethought: Impulsivity can cause individuals with ADHD to act without thinking through the potential outcomes or long-term effects of their actions, resulting in poor planning and organization skills.
  • Sensation-seeking behavior: Some individuals with ADHD may engage in impulsive, thrill-seeking activities or take unnecessary risks to satisfy their need for stimulation and excitement.
  • Impaired decision-making: Impulsivity can lead to hasty and irrational decision-making processes, as individuals with ADHD may struggle to consider multiple options, weigh the pros and cons, or learn from past mistakes.
  • Difficulty with response inhibition: Individuals with ADHD may have trouble stopping or controlling their responses, leading to impulsive behaviors such as blurting out answers, interrupting conversations, or acting without permission.
Recognizing the complex interplay between ADHD and impulse control difficulties is extremely important. It illuminates the far-reaching impact of ADHD on an individual’s life and emphasizes the necessity of targeted interventions to manage impulsivity effectively. This understanding is a foundation for improving outcomes and enhancing the overall well-being of individuals living with ADHD. By addressing these key factors of impulsivity, individuals with ADHD can develop strategies to regulate their behavior better, make more informed decisions, and improve their daily functioning and relationships.

Quick Tip

Lifestyle Modifications and Adaptive Strategies

Beyond medical interventions, adopting lifestyle changes and developing coping mechanisms can aid in managing the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and reducing the risk of addiction. This includes implementing stress reduction techniques, engaging in regular physical activity, and maintaining a nutrient-rich diet to support overall mental and physical well-being.

ADHD and Co-occurring Disorders

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that often co-occurs with other psychiatric conditions, such as substance use disorders (SUD), anxiety disorders, and mood disorders. The presence of these co-occurring disorders can significantly impact the diagnosis, treatment, and overall management of ADHD.

  • Prevalence and Significance: ADHD frequently co-occurs with substance use disorders (SUD), anxiety disorders, and mood disorders, complicating diagnosis and treatment. Recognizing co-occurring disorders is crucial for developing comprehensive treatment plans.
  • Impact and Challenges: Co-occurring disorders can exacerbate ADHD symptoms, leading to greater impairments in personal, social, and occupational functioning. The overlap between ADHD and other psychiatric conditions complicates accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.
  • Specific Co-occurring Disorders: Anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and substance use disorders are the most common conditions that co-occur with ADHD, each with its symptoms, diagnostic criteria, and treatment guidelines, making management a multifaceted endeavor.
  • Integrated Treatment Approaches: Treating ADHD and co-occurring disorders concurrently is essential for optimal outcomes. Combining pharmacotherapy and psychotherapeutic interventions, an integrated approach requires collaboration among healthcare professionals and personalized treatment plans addressing the individual’s needs.

Having an understanding of the complex interplay between ADHD and co-occurring disorders is truly important for the prevalence, impact, challenges, and necessity of integrated treatment approaches; this underscores the importance of a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach to managing ADHD when it co-occurs with other psychiatric conditions.3 As healthcare professionals, it is our responsibility to recognize the significance of co-occurring disorders in ADHD and to develop personalized, evidence-based treatment strategies that address the unique needs of each individual, ultimately improving their overall functioning and quality of life.

ADHD and addiction are linked by impulsivity and self-medication, leading to a higher risk of substance use as a coping mechanism.
Individuals with ADHD are more prone to addiction due to genetic factors, impulsivity, and the tendency to self-medicate to manage ADHD symptoms.
While ADHD itself doesn’t directly cause addiction, it can significantly increase the risk of developing addictive behaviors due to impulsivity, a core symptom of ADHD. This, combined with challenges in coping with ADHD symptoms, may lead to substance abuse as a form of self-medication.

ADHD and Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addictions can be just as disruptive to an individual’s life as substance abuse, particularly for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The relationship between ADHD and addiction extends beyond drugs and alcohol, as individuals with ADHD are more likely to develop behavioral addictions due to their impulsivity and desire for instant gratification.

These behavioral patterns can be hard to break since the individual might start feeling too comfortable in their habits, leading to other life problems such as poverty, financial distress, issues in relationships, and low self-esteem. The link between ADHD and behavioral addictions is a significant concern for those with co-occurring disorders, ADHD, and addiction.

ADHD and Smartphone Addiction: The internet and smartphones provide the perfect escape for an individual with an ADHD-addictive personality. The distraction of the internet in entertainment, social media, or information is the immediate gratification that an ADHD brain is looking for. Excessive use can lead to a delay in completing work, a lack of priority, broken relationships, and a sense of false gratification, creating a great hindrance in improving deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, and addiction.

  • ADHD and Gambling Addiction: Gambling is a risky game that can lead to many financial problems. The thrill of winning a high-stakes game often outweighs the logic of losing a high-value item, and the consequences of this addiction can be severe. An individual with an ADHD-addictive personality can become easily addicted to such behavior since it provides instant gratification, further reinforcing the link between ADHD and addiction.
  • ADHD and Shopping Addiction: Shopping can provide a quick mood boost, but for an individual with an ADHD-addictive personality, it can quickly become an addiction. Impulsivity, a common symptom of ADHD, can cause individuals to lose sight of their spending and worsen any improvement they make in managing their disorder. The relationship between ADHD and shopping addiction highlights the need for comprehensive treatment that addresses both conditions.
  • ADHD And Food Addiction: Food addiction is often overlooked, but it can have serious consequences for individuals with ADHD. The high sugar content and massive levels of carbohydrates in junk food can create a feeling of contentment and a craving to achieve that feeling again. When the urge becomes irresistible or hard to control, it can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and physical diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. The link between ADHD and food addiction emphasizes the importance of addressing both the psychological and physical aspects of addiction.

Furthermore, children and adolescents with ADHD are at a higher risk of developing substance abuse disorders, with an estimated 38% of adolescents who had cannabis use disorders also being diagnosed with ADHD.4 The growing body of research highlights the complex relationship between ADHD and addiction and the need for comprehensive treatment approaches that address both conditions simultaneously.

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ADHD and Alcoholism

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and alcoholism are two conditions that often co-occur, creating a complex and challenging situation for those affected. The significance of this co-occurrence cannot be overstated, as the presence of ADHD significantly increases the risk of developing alcohol use disorders.

This alarming statistic underscores the importance of understanding the factors contributing to this increased risk, the consequences of co-occurring ADHD and alcoholism, and the most effective approaches to treatment and recovery.

  • Increased Risk: Studies show that at least 25% of patients receiving treatment for alcohol and other drug use disorders (AODDs) also have ADHD.5
  • Contributing Factors: Impulsivity, self-medication, and genetic and environmental influences contribute to the increased risk of alcoholism in individuals with ADHD.
  • Consequences: Co-occurring ADHD and alcoholism can lead to exacerbated symptoms, mental health disorders, and severe physical health consequences, making management challenging.
  • Treatment Approaches: Effective treatment requires addressing both conditions simultaneously through integrated plans, including behavioral therapies, medication management, and support systems.

The co-occurrence of ADHD and alcoholism is a serious issue that requires a multifaceted approach to treatment, considering the unique challenges posed by the combination of these two conditions. By understanding the increased risk, contributing factors, and potential consequences, healthcare professionals can develop targeted interventions to support individuals in their journey toward recovery and improved overall functioning.

Key Takeaways

Treatment Options For Someone With Both ADHD and Addiction

When an individual is diagnosed with both attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and substance abuse, it is really important to address both conditions simultaneously. The co-occurring disorders, ADHD and addiction, require a comprehensive treatment plan that takes into account the unique challenges posed by the combination of these conditions. The link between ADHD and substance abuse is significant, with many adults with ADHD having had a substance abuse problem at some point in their lives.6 Nearly half of adults with ADHD have had a substance abuse issue. This highlights the importance of addressing both conditions to manage the symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse effectively. Treatment options for individuals with both ADHD and addiction may include:
  •  Medication management: Medications such as stimulants can help manage ADHD symptoms, while medications used to treat substance abuse, such as buprenorphine or naltrexone, can help reduce cravings and prevent relapse.
  • Behavioral therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other forms of therapy can help individuals with ADHD and addiction develop coping strategies, improve impulse control, and manage stress.
  • Support groups: Joining a support group for individuals with ADHD or addiction can provide a sense of community and help individuals feel less alone in their struggles.
  • Lifestyle changes: Adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and good sleep hygiene, can help manage symptoms of both ADHD and addiction.
It is important to work with a healthcare provider who understands the relationship between ADHD and addiction and can develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses both conditions. With the right treatment and support, individuals with ADHD and addiction can learn to manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives.

How Can We Help

ADHD and addiction is a complex and challenging issue that requires a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to treatment. By understanding the unique risk factors and potential consequences associated with this dual diagnosis, individuals struggling with these conditions can take the first step toward recovery. At Cornerstone Healing Center, we recognize the importance of addressing both ADHD and addiction simultaneously, offering tailored programs that combine behavioral therapies, medication management, and a supportive environment to foster lasting change.

Our experienced team of professionals is dedicated to helping individuals navigate the challenges of co-occurring ADHD and addiction, providing the tools and resources necessary to build a strong foundation for recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with ADHD and addiction, we encourage you to reach out to Cornerstone Healing Center to learn more about our comprehensive treatment programs. With the right support and guidance, overcoming these challenges and leading a fulfilling, healthy life is possible. Don’t wait – take the first step towards recovery today by contacting Cornerstone Healing Center!

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Author & Reviewers

susana spiegel recovery writer and SEO expert

Susana is a recovery writer and advocate with over 8 years in addiction recovery. She is passionate about sharing accurate and helpful information about mental health, addiction, and recovery. She holds a Bachelor’s in Christian Studies from Grand Canyon University and has over 7 years of working in the addiction field. 

lionel estrada lisac clinical director

Lionel is the Clinical Director of Cornerstone’s Scottsdale treatment facilities. He has had over 4 years at Cornerstone. He is personally in recovery and passionate about helping others overcome substance abuse and mental health challenges; he is trained as an EMDR, adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues.

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