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ADHD and Substance Abuse
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Individuals who are diagnosed with both ADHD and a substance use disorder are clinically considered to have a co-occurring disorder. In most cases of co-occurring disorders, the best approach is seeking treatment at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility that is equipped to treat co-occurring disorders. As a rule, both disorders must be treated at the same time for either to be effectively healed or managed.
What is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder that primarily affects children and teens, but it can persist into adulthood. ADHD often causes children to be impulsive, hyperactive, and to have a hard time paying attention. These symptoms may cause interference at home and at school. Adults who have ADHD typically have challenges with organization and time management, frequently making it hard to maintain a job. Additionally, individuals with ADHD may have difficulty with self-esteem, relationships, and addiction.
There are numerous symptoms of ADHD in children that are divided into three categories, hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. These symptoms are as follows:
- Has trouble staying seated
- Often fidgets, squirms, or bounces when sitting
- Has trouble playing quietly
- Talks excessively
- Is always moving, running, or climbing
- Forgets about daily activities
- Has problems organizing tasks
- Is easily distracted
- Doesn’t follow directions or finish tasks
- Doesn’t appear to be listening
- Doesn’t like doing things that require sitting still
- Doesn’t pay attention
- Often loses things
- Tends to daydream
- Is always on the go
- Has trouble waiting his or her turn
- Blurts out answers
- Interrupts others
As a person with ADHD grows older, the symptoms may look different. Adults with ADHD may exhibit the following:
- Chronic lateness
- Easily frustrated
- Mood swings
- Low self-esteem
- Poor Judgment
- Chronic boredom
- Trouble concentrating on written material
- Problems at work
- Trouble controlling anger
- Relationship problems/social awkwardness
- Substance abuse or addiction
What is Substance Abuse?
Substance abuse is a term that refers to a pattern of using substances (drugs or alcohol) that cause significant problems or distress. This may be missing school or work, using the substance in risky situations (like when driving a car), or it may lead to legal problems, relationship problems, or both.
Substance use disorder, a recognized brain disorder, refers to the abuse of both illegal and legal substances, such as alcohol, prescription medications (like benzodiazepines or opioid painkillers), marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, or heroin. Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the US.
The Connections between ADHD and Substance Abuse
There is a link between ADHD and substance abuse. In fact, there have been several studies that show the strong correlations between ADHD, substance abuse, and alcoholism. It is estimated that about 25% of adults who have substance abuse issues also have ADHD. The patterns of distraction and impulsiveness, both traits associated with ADHD, can make it easier for an individual to fall into addiction. Additionally, people with ADHD typically experience a lot of stress dealing with the disorder, and that can also lead to self-medicating, substance abuse, and sometimes, addiction.
Treatment for ADHD usually includes psychiatric medication. The most widely prescribed are methylphenidate and amphetamine (brand names Ritalin and Adderall, respectively), which are controlled substances – meaning that they can become addictive. These medications are often abused by people without ADHD for the feeling they produce. So, it is logical to wonder if it is a good idea to treat patients who might be predisposed to addiction with these drugs. In the case of ADHD, research has shown that it is. In fact, people with ADHD who do take these types of medications are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. Treating ADHD properly is a powerful preventative measure against substance abuse and addiction.
Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders
Treatment for individuals who have co-occurring disorders like ADHD and substance use disorder, must integrate both disorders into the treatment and recovery process, instead of treating each condition independently. A dual-diagnosis of ADHD and substance use disorder will most certainly bring many challenges with it – for the individual, their family, and their friends. While the diagnosis of co-occurring disorders may make treatment more complicated, there are many treatment programs that are experienced in it. With the right treatment facility or programs, becoming educated about co-occurring disorders, and having a strong support system, individuals can have successful, long-term recovery.
Inpatient Treatment for ADHD and Substance Abuse
The accepted approach for ADHD and substance abuse treatment is integrative. Combining traditional addiction treatment techniques and psychiatric treatments for ADHD can be successful in preventing relapses, reducing suicidal thoughts and ideations, and in promoting long-term sobriety.
It is critical to treat co-occurring mental health disorders and drug or alcohol addiction together due to the following factors:
- The integrated approach aims to decrease the negative side effects of ADHD, including paying attention, depression, and tendency to isolate oneself from others.
- Individuals are more likely to be able to treat their substance use disorder and mental illness at the same time when medication therapy addresses both disorders.
- Treating both addiction and mental health disorders simultaneously reduces an individual’s risks of relapse and mood swings, depression, or panic attacks.
- Individuals with co-occurring disorders who undergo group therapy strengthen their support network.
A co-occurring disorder treatment program focuses on the following:
- How to modify destructive thoughts and behaviors that may trigger substance abuse
- Building self-esteem and internal motivation
- Managing ADHD symptoms using behavioral modification and medication therapy
- Learning coping skills for handling substance abuse triggers and managing impulses
- Educating family members about ADHD and substance abuse
Covering the Cost of ADHD and Substance Abuse Treatment
For many people, the cost of treatment for addiction and ADHD is the biggest deterrent to them seeking the help they need. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. No matter what your financial situation is, there is a way for you to receive treatment for co-occurring disorders, whether you have health insurance or not.
If you do have health insurance, your policy’s behavioral health benefits will help cove some of the costs of treatment. The exact amount it will cover depends on your personal policy plan. You can call you insurance provider to inquire what your coverage is, or you can have the treatment center you want to attend call and check for you.
If you don’t have medical insurance, you still have options. You can look for free or low-cost rehabs in your area. Nearly all cities have some type of treatment facility that is affordable for everyone. Alternatively, you can find a treatment center that will allow you to set up a payment plan, or one that offers sliding scale pricing. Some drug and alcohol treatment programs offer scholarships and financial aid. It may take more looking, but options can be found.
Final Thoughts about ADHD and Substance Abuse
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with ADHD and are struggling with drug or alcohol problems, take heart. There is effective help and support to help you begin recovery. When properly treated, those with ADHD can live much more productive lives. Many rehab facilities are equipped to care for patients who have co-occurring disorders, treating both issues at the same time, so individuals can begin new, fulfilling lives in recovery.