Adult ADHD Substance Abuse

Several studies have found a link between ADHD and substance abuse. Children with ADHD are more likely to abuse alcohol as teenagers, and ADHD occurs 5 to 10 times more frequently in adult alcoholics. Researchers have also found that adults with ADHD are more likely to use marijuana and other drugs. In many cases, alcohol and drugs are used for self-medication of untreated ADHD symptoms. Substance abuse can also be a side effect of the risk-taking tendency that is associated with the disorder.

Most people think of ADHD as a childhood disorder. While it’s true that the disorder has a high diagnosis rate among children – according to CDC figures from 2010, nearly 10 percent of children under age17 have received an ADHD diagnosis at some time in their life – the disorder frequently continues into adulthood. According to WebMD, between 30 and 70 percent of children with ADHD will experience symptoms into adulthood.


ADHD is a disorder that involves inattention, hyperactivity and poor impulse control. The physical cause of the disorder is thought to be abnormal neurotransmitter activity in parts of the brain that control attention, affecting an individual’s ability to maintain focus. Psychological symptoms associated with ADHD in adults include mood swings, anger management issues and low self-esteem. When adults with ADHD develop substance abuse and addiction problems, they often go without treatment because their underlying disorder has not been detected. In general, adult symptoms of ADHD are hard to diagnose or are misdiagnosed as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder.

Drugs and alcohol are frequently used by adults with undiagnosed ADHD as a form of self-medication. Stimulant drugs like cocaine are among the substances most often abused. Stimulants affect those with the disorder differently than the general population, slowing down the brain rather than speeding it up. Many adults with ADHD also use alcohol or other drugs to help them sleep or improve their mood.

Substance abuse treatment for adults with ADHD is most effective when both disorders are addressed. Recent studies suggest that ADHD treatment should begin after a few weeks or months of sobriety have been achieved. Although there is no cure for ADHD, symptoms can be controlled in most cases with drugs like Concerta (an extended-released form of Ritalin) or with non-stimulant medications such as Norpramin and Wellbutrin. Many adults find it easier to stay sober once their ADHD and associated impulsivity is under control. Therapy is also a key element in substance abuse treatment for people with ADHD.

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