What if I have BOTH

ADHD and Substance Use Disorder?

It’s true that ADHD combined with a substance use disorder can be twice as difficult to diagnose and treat. But both disorders CAN be managed with appropriate care. 

People suffering from certain psychiatric disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), are more likely than others to turn to drugs and alcohol to ease their symptoms.

According to the most recent edition released in May 2013, ADHD is categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder.

What are the DSM-5 Symptoms for ADHD?


  • Difficulty sustaining attention in tasks
  • Trouble organizing tasks or activities and a failure to meet deadlines
  • A reluctance to engage in activities that require focus, such as preparing reports
  • Easily distracted by external stimuli, which include unrelated thoughts
  • Forgetful of daily activities or overlooking social commitments
  • Excessive talking
  • An inability to stay seated, or being constantly “on the go”
  • Interrupting conversations or using other people’s belongings without permission
  • “Zoning out” or the appearance that one is daydreaming

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 30 to 50 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD will carry the disorder into their adult lives. Furthermore, adults with ADHD are far more likely to find themselves victims of drug and alcohol misuse, with some studies suggesting 50% of ADHD patients will eventually exhibit some form of a substance use disorder.

Why do Adults with ADHD also have a Substance Use Disorder?

  • Drugs and alcohol might have a calming or a “slowing down” effect, making them feel more relaxed and focused
  • Many feel that using alcohol or drugs helps them adjust in social situations
  • Some are frustrated with the problematic symptoms of their mental illness
  • Drugs and alcohol can temporarily ease anxiety and depression
  • Others are troubled by a low self-image as a result of their disorder


Why Are People With ADHD More Likely to Abuse Drugs and Alcohol?**(SAMHSA)

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. Also, both ADHD and alcoholism tend to run in families. A child with ADHD who has a parent with alcoholism is more likely to also develop an alcohol abuse problem. Researchers have pointed to common genes shared between ADHD and alcoholism.

Once a dual diagnosis is verified, effective treatment options are available. It is very important that anyone living with both conditions seek treatment at a facility equipped to handle both disorders. Many drug or alcohol recovery centers don’t offer dual-diagnosis treatment because they don’t have staff trained in psychiatry to work with mental disorders. Treating only the addiction won’t offer lasting success and the patient will ultimately relapse because the underlying condition wasn’t properly treated.**

When properly diagnosed, ADHD can be treated with medication. And when dual diagnosis is a factor (substance abuse as well as ADHD), the best approach typically includes treatment for both the substance use disorder as well as ADHD. 

If your loved one is suffering from ADHD, be sure to watch for the signs of substance abuse and understand that help is available for treating both conditions.

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