The Connection Between ADHD and Addiction

Within a substance use disorder (SUD) diagnosis, there are other diagnoses that are also commonly found. One of these diagnoses is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The common coexistence of these two diagnoses is considered a co-occurring disorder. Let’s explore the connection between ADHD and addiction.


What is ADHD? 

The name ADHD can be misleading because hyperactivity is not always present in ADHD. The disorder is characterized by long-term patterns of inattention as well as hyperactivity and/or impulsivity that interfere with normal functioning.

Some of the symptoms of ADHD can include:

  • Forgetfulness or carelessness
  • Inability to maintain attention
  • Hyper-focusing on preferred activities
  • Not hearing when directly spoken to
  • Getting sidetracked or failing to complete tasks
  • Task avoidance
  • Always losing things
  • Being easily distracted
  • Fidgeting or inability to sit still
  • Restlessness or repetitive movements
  • Talking excessively
  • Interrupting conversation
  • Difficulty waiting 

When someone has several of these symptoms and they are interfering with normal function, a psychiatrist or psychologist may diagnose them with ADHD. Traditional treatment includes medication, therapy or a combination of both.


Coping Techniques for ADHD

Some people with ADHD have found that there are techniques that can help them cope with their symptoms. Some of these ideas include:

  • Using reminders or alarms on a phone or computer
  • Using sticky notes as reminders
  • Using pill containers to keep track of medication
  • Keeping a clutter-free environment so as not to be overwhelmed
  • Exercising daily
  • Using mindfulness to help clear the mind
  • Making and keeping daily routines

These techniques are ideal for someone who has ADHD and who is also in recovery from substance abuse. These coping techniques help a person learn how to beat addictions and treat symptoms of ADHD while improving how they function in their daily life.


Why Is Addiction So Common with People with ADHD?

No one is quite sure exactly why both diagnoses are so commonly co-occurring. Those with ADHD are at high risk for substance abuse, while some people with substance abuse may develop ADHD. Addiction is the most commonly occurring diagnosis with ADHD. 

There is one predictor that someone with ADHD may develop a substance use disorder. Those who have ADHD may begin smoking, as the nicotine can actually help them to be calmer and focused. However, those with ADHD who begin smoking are more likely to develop an addiction. The most likely theory about the common co-occurrence of the two disorders is that people with ADHD will begin using substances as a form of self-medication.


Substances as Self-Medication for ADHD

When someone with ADHD is experiencing symptoms but is not receiving treatment or not receiving effective treatment, they may turn to substances to try to feel better. This is commonly referred to as self-medication. Self-medication is a dangerous practice, because there is a high risk to health and even life with many substances, in addition to the risk of addiction.

One substance that is commonly used to self-medicate is methamphetamine. Generally known as meth, this is a very addictive stimulant. Stimulants make a normal brain have a rush and feel energized. But for someone with ADHD, they typically have a calming effect. Meth is different than common stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin, though. These drugs contain methylphenidate and/or amphetamine, so are chemically different than the street drug.

Many have feared that the stimulant medications used to treat ADHD will create a substance abuse problem. However, according to one 2014 study, this is not true. While stimulant medications can be abused, particularly by those for whom they are not prescribed, taking the medications as directed does not create addiction.


How to Treat ADHD and Addiction Together

Treating any co-occurring disorder can be difficult but treating ADHD and simultaneously learning how to beat addictions is particularly tricky. Clinicians sometimes hesitate to give any stimulants to treat the ADHD because of a fear of abusing them due to the addiction. While there are a number of non-stimulant medications now to treat ADHD, they are not always as effective in someone with ongoing substance abuse. When a person is not in active substance use, ADHD medications are more effective. At the end of the day, how to treat a person’s ADHD and SUD must be approached on a case-by-case basis because everyone’s situation and needs are unique. That’s where the treatment team can help assess the patient to determine the best course of action.

When a person’s ADHD is being effectively treated, they are likely to successfully learn how to beat addictions and continue on the path to recovery.


ADHD is a disorder in which symptoms can range from mild to seriously interfering with daily function. Some people with ADHD choose to self-medicate with substances, often leading to a co-occurring condition. Sometimes, people with addictions can also develop ADHD. The connection between both disorders can be complicated, but treatment for both is available. Whichever came first, it is important to treat both disorders at the same time. At DiscoveryMD, our outpatient program to treat addictions can help those with substance abuse and ADHD to heal. We have all of the resources you need under one roof to make it convenient for you. Our rehab treatment center is a great option for those who have commitments to work or family because of the outpatient care. Having both ADHD and drug or alcohol addictions does not have to destroy your life. Let us help you take your life back. Contact us today.

Call for a Confidential Consultation(888) 526-3066
Call Now Button