ADHD is a tough disease to try and fight. The disorder itself can often go undiagnosed, cause havoc in people’s lives, and increase their chances at being diagnosed with other mental health issues later down the road. ADHD and addiction mixes in a number of different ways. More than a quarter of individuals diagnosed with ADHD also find themselves with a substance use disorder as well. Although this fraction seems absurdly high, we should explore why, before we throw out our ‘malarkey’ card on this statement.
The effect of substances on an individual’s brain is among the major reasons these disorders go hand in hand. It doesn’t take a mental health professional to surmise that Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) often brings about difficulty focusing and a hard time relaxing. It also doesn’t take a rehab counselor to realize that stimulants might help someone focus and opiates or other depressants might help someone relax.
ADHD and Addiction
Stimulants work so well to keep ADHD clients focused that the primary medications for it are Ritalin, Vyvanse and Adderall. As opposed to an individual who doesn’t have ADHD, the client in this situation actually becomes more unhinged without medication, rather than with increased substance use. A ‘typical client’ (one without an ADHD diagnosis) would see their life falling apart in days, weeks, or months of using stimulants like the ADHD counterpart. A dual diagnosis client (ADHD and substance use disorder) however, will only be able to feel focused and/or normal when they use stimulants, making them susceptible to an addiction that looks a little different. These individuals need this drug just to feel okay. Of course they’re going to prefer life while on a stimulant compared to stone-cold-sober.
Another prominent reason that this dual diagnosis is so difficult for mental health professionals is the potentially addictive nature of the medication. Drugs like Adderall and Ritalin have an extremely high potential for abuse. Another article, Quitting Adderall – What You Need to Know, speaks about the overloads of dopamine in the body when taking it. We also know about just how much dopamine is injected into the body when one of these stimulants are taken.
This potential for abuse must surely be higher if the medication finally allows the client to feel normal. Without the addictive chemical, the client could feel intellectually stifled, socially awkward, impulsive, or incapable of being productive. Now imagine if all of those things could be taken away by one pill taken each day. To step into the mind of an addict (or potential future addict) simply ask the question, “If one of these helps that much, why not take two?” Mixed with some dopamine and endorphins, this mindset makes for a deadly cocktail of self-medication that treats ADHD while fueling addiction.
The idea of self-medication is a dangerous one that’s seen with all illicit substances, not just stimulants. The reason that it’s such an issue with ADHD, though, is because they work so well. The differences in chemical makeup between methamphetamine and Adderall are extremely small. Lots of people say that Adderall provides them with a feeling very similar to cocaine. People with ADHD can easily turn to these street drugs to get the relief that prescription stimulants give, plus a little extra dopamine.
ADHD alone brings with it a tremendous amount of unmanageability within one’s life, especially if undiagnosed or mistreated. The most beneficial approaches for substance abuse treatment that are used in treatment today appear to be holistic in nature. Holistic refers to the idea of using more than one approach to treat people. Dual diagnosis clients with SUD (substance use disorder) and ADHD require this multifaceted style of treatment even more than a client without comorbidity (two mental health diagnoses active at one time). The use of medications with cognitive behavioral therapy styled counseling appear to be common treatments. An enlargement of spirituality or an equivalent also seem to be paramount in recovery efforts today.
“Is there anyway that I can prevent my child with ADHD from getting an addiction disorder?”
The short answer to this question is: possibly. These prescription or illicit substances will always affect the ADHD client’s body in the same way. However, what parents/guardians can do is teach them about the dangers of addiction. Today, most people agree that we should be talking about addiction more and more at home and in schools. Talking to your child with ADHD about it would definitely help, too.
Making sure that the medication is taken in a regimented fashion will also help to normalize the feeling. The child won’t think about feeling extra focused one day compared to the next if they’re on a regular schedule. Similarly to a juvenile diabetic with their insulin, the ADHD child will just think of it as their daily medication.