ADHD and addiction

ADHD is a greatly misunderstood condition with sufferers often stigmatised for being attention seekers or the products of bad parenting. While these are completely false, what is very much true is that when ADHD and addiction coexist, the road to recovery can be fraught with unique challenges. Untangling the web of symptoms and triggers requires a comprehensive approach to treatment that addresses both conditions simultaneously.

Fortunately, Recovery Lighthouse can provide the most effective therapies and coping strategies for those with ADHD that are grappling with addiction, offering guidance and ongoing support for a successful recovery journey, free from drugs and alcohol.

ADHD and addiction

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), previously known as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects around 2.6% of adults and 6% of children. The exact causes of ADHD are unknown but environmental and genetic factors are thought to play a part. These may include:

  • Premature birth
  • Brain injuries
  • Prenatal exposure to alcohol, drugs or tobacco

ADHD is classified into three different types, each with its own set of symptoms. These types are:

1. Predominantly Inattentive Presentation (ADHD-PI)…

This type of ADHD is characterised by significant difficulties with attention and focus.

2. Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation (ADHD-PH)…

ADHD-PH causes significant difficulties with impulse control and hyperactivity.

3. Combined Presentation (ADHD-C)…

This type of ADHD includes symptoms from the other two types and is the most common.

What is dual diagnosis ADHD and addiction?

Dual diagnosis refers to the coexistence of a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. In the case of dual diagnosis ADHD and addiction, it is when you have both ADHD and a substance or behavioural addiction.

Common forms include:

ADHD and alcohol addiction…

People with ADHD may be more likely to develop alcohol addiction due to using alcohol as a way to self-medicate or cope with their symptoms.

ADHD and drug addiction…

Drug addiction can be more prevalent among those with ADHD, as they may turn to drugs to help manage their symptoms or as a result of impulsive behaviour symptomatic with ADHD.

ADHD and behavioural addiction…

People with ADHD may be prone to developing behavioural addictions, such as gambling or compulsive shopping, due to impulsivity and the need for stimulation.

Why is addiction so common in people with ADHD?

ADHD is significantly more common in addiction sufferers. In fact, it is thought up to 25% of people addicted to alcohol also suffer from ADHD. There are various potential reasons for this prevalence:

  • Family history: A family history of substance abuse is often a major factor in the development of addiction. Prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol is also thought to be a contributing cause of ADHD and so both addiction and ADHD may have roots in maternal substance use.
  • Self-medication: People with ADHD may turn to substances like alcohol or drugs to cope with their symptoms. While this may provide some short-term relief, these substances usually make symptoms worse over time. This can lead to a cycle of dependence and abuse which ultimately leads to addiction.
  • Impulsive behaviour: ADHD can cause impulsive decision-making, which may result in substance use and addiction.
  • Addictive ADHD medication: Some ADHD medications have the potential for misuse which can potentially lead to addiction.
  • Social challenges: People with ADHD may experience social difficulties, which can contribute to feelings of isolation and substance use.
  • Co-occurring mental health issues: ADHD often co-occurs with other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression which can increase the risk of addiction.

Unique rehab challenges for ADHD sufferers

Rehab treatment can present unique challenges for people with ADHD which can make recovery more difficult. These include:

  • Difficulty focusing: Staying engaged and attentive during therapy sessions can be more challenging for those with ADHD.
  • Impulsivity: Managing impulsive behaviours can be difficult, especially during the early stages of recovery.
  • Time management and organisation: ADHD can make it challenging to stick to schedules which are important for success in a highly-structured rehab programme.
  • Emotional regulation: People with ADHD may have difficulty managing their emotions which can be intensified during the recovery process.

ADHD and addiction - man struggling with emotions

How is addiction treated when ADHD is present?

Treating addiction when ADHD is present can be more difficult due to the way the two conditions feed off each other and the unique challenges they present. However, Recovery Lighthouse has years of experience successfully treating people suffering from simultaneous mental health and addiction disorders and we know how to tailor treatment for the best results.

Before beginning treatment at Recovery Lighthouse, it is essential that you first speak with your GP about stabilising your ADHD symptoms as proper management of ADHD is crucial for the success of addiction treatment.

Once your ADHD symptoms are managed, you can then begin the detoxification process which involves removing the addictive substance from your body. This is followed by rehab, where you’ll work on addressing the root causes of your addiction and developing coping strategies.

Some of the most effective therapies for addiction that also benefit ADHD include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): During CBT, your therapists will help you develop targeted strategies for managing both ADHD symptoms and addiction triggers. This can include learning to follow structured routines and developing new problem-solving skills. Your therapists will also help you address impulsive decision-making that is symptomatic of ADHD and to develop healthy coping mechanisms to prevent relapse.
  • Mindfulness and meditation: Mindfulness practices can also be adapted to address the unique challenges faced by individuals with ADHD and addiction. Techniques such as mindful breathing, body scans and guided meditation can be particularly helpful in training the mind to focus and reduce impulsivity. Mindfulness can also increase self-awareness and emotional regulation which are essential skills in managing addiction triggers and maintaining long-term recovery.
  • Group therapy: In group therapy, everyone can discuss their unique challenges, share coping strategies and offer support to one another. Group therapy can provide a safe space for you to explore the relationship between ADHD symptoms and addictive behaviours, giving you a better understanding of the co-occurring conditions.
  • Aftercare: To ensure ongoing support for long-term success, Recovery Lighthouse offers one year’s free weekly group therapy after you leave rehab to help you during difficult moments when the symptoms of ADHD or addiction may arise.

ADHD and addiction - meditation therapy

ADHD: True or false?

There are many misconceptions about ADHD and it is important to understand the reality of the condition to manage and treat it effectively. Here are some common myths about ADHD and the truth behind them:

Myth: ADHD is not a real disorder…

Fact: ADHD is a well-researched and recognised medical condition listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), with numerous studies supporting its legitimacy and providing insights into effective treatment options.

Myth: Only children have ADHD…

Fact: While ADHD is often diagnosed during childhood, it can persist into adulthood, affecting individuals throughout their lives. Adult ADHD can have significant consequences on work performance, relationships and overall quality of life.

Myth: ADHD only affects boys…

Fact: While ADHD is more commonly diagnosed in boys, girls can also be affected by the disorder. The symptoms may present differently in girls, which can sometimes lead to misdiagnosis or underdiagnosis.

Myth: ADHD is the result of bad parenting…

Fact: ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder with genetic and environmental factors contributing to its development. While parenting styles can impact the severity of symptoms and coping strategies, they are not the cause of ADHD.

Myth: People with ADHD are just lazy…

Fact: ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the way the brain processes information, leading to challenges with attention, focus, impulse control and organisation. People with ADHD are not lazy; their brains are wired differently, making it difficult for them to perform certain tasks that may come easily to others.

The next step

The journey to recovery from ADHD and addiction may seem daunting but with the right support and treatment, it is possible. Don’t let ADHD and addiction control your life any longer. Reach out to Recovery Lighthouse today and take the first step towards a healthier, happier future.

Frequently asked questions

Is rehab a cure for ADHD?
While rehab cannot cure ADHD, it can significantly improve the quality of life for those who face the dual challenges of ADHD and addiction. Rehab can help you manage your ADHD symptoms whilst at the same time addressing the underlying factors contributing to your addiction. A comprehensive rehab programme will include evidence-based therapies to help you develop healthy coping strategies for both conditions and improve your daily functioning.
Which ADHD medications are potentially addictive?
Stimulant medications such as Ritalin and amphetamines like Adderall are considered to have a higher risk of abuse and addiction due to their effects on the brain’s dopamine system. When used as prescribed and under the supervision of a healthcare professional, these medications are generally considered safe and effective for treating ADHD. However, when taken inappropriately or without a prescription, they can lead to dependency and addiction.