Most substance abuse is accompanied by behavioral disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is important that there is an early diagnosis of this condition in order to incorporate a separate therapy to treat it.

What is Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

People diagnosed with ADHD have trouble maintaining focus and impulses which drives them to be hyperactive. This condition is predominant in young ones and teens and may continue to adulthood if not treated.

What Is the Relationship Between ADHD and Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse and alcoholism are common to people diagnosed with ADHD particularly those unaware that they have this condition. The main reason for the strong connection is self-medication. In addition, several studies have shown that 15 percent of people with this behavioral condition suffer from substance abuse and alcoholism.

An individual with ADHD often has low self-esteem and an inability to control impulses. Low self-esteem is developed because people with this condition still experience discrimination from society. In order to counter that negative emotion, the individual takes substances that give a euphoric feeling.

Meanwhile, the inability to control impulses drives the person to seek relaxation by taking in “downers” or substances which depress mental activity. The two most abused relaxing substances used by these people are alcohol and marijuana. The chance of abusing these substances is three times more likely to people with ADHD.

How Common is Substance Abuse and Alcoholism Among People with ADHD?

The presence of this behavioral disorder increases the risk of substance abuse and alcoholism. People diagnosed with ADHD are five to ten times more prone to developing alcohol use disorder. Likewise, 25 percent of the general population suffering from alcoholism and substance abuse are diagnosed with ADHD.

Most ADHD patients are twice as much more prone to developing smoking habits and three times more likely of developing a dependence. Some studies also showed 1.5 times increased risk of getting into marijuana use and dependence. This is due to the relaxing feeling experienced by nicotine and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Aside from seeking relaxation, people with this condition also crave for euphoric feelings because of the depression induced by ADHD. Consequently, patients with ADHD are twice more likely to abuse cocaine and other illicit substances. Overall, the presence of ADHD increases the risk of substance abuse by fifty percent (50%) compared to those without it.

ADHD, Substance Abuse, and Alcoholism Statistics in the United States

  • Around 26.7 percent of students with ADHD from the Mid-Atlantic region are suffering from substance abuse
  • 14 percent of children ages 15 to 17 with ADHD are having alcohol abuse and substance abuse
  • 40 percent of children 15 years of age with ADHD start drinking alcohol
  • 25 percent of adults havings issues of alcoholism and substance abuse are diagnosed with ADHD
  • 40 percent of adults with ADHD have smoking problems

Can Smoking Help Treat ADHD?

There has been no solid proof yet of the perceived benefits of treating ADHD with smoking. However, it is a fact that there are more negative effects than the expected benefits from nicotine.

A few studies have stated that nicotine can help improve focus particularly for those with ADHD. It is because nicotine has certain effects on a person’s attention, inhibition, and mental activity.

However, advising ADHD patients to smoke was never encouraged because of the higher risk of getting dependent on nicotine. People with this behavioral disorder experience difficulty from quitting. Approximately, 29 percent of ADHD smokers quit but 48.5 percent remained under nicotine dependence. Likewise, ADHD patients with nicotine addiction were mainly caused by self-medication.

Here are the common health risks for nicotine addiction:

  • Aggravates depression and anxiety
  • Withdrawal symptoms from quitting
  • The ability to think fast and clear becomes slower without the presence of nicotine
  • Permanent brain damage for intense smoking behavior

Can Drinking Help Treat ADHD?

Drinking alcohol only gives a short-term effect in relaxing the mind and reducing the anxiety of ADHD patients. However, the tolerance and dependence from alcohol pose greater health risks than its perceived benefits to treat this behavioral disorder.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) produces several physical and behavioral side effects which can worsen ADHD. These negative changes include the following:

  • Alcohol-induced depression and anxiety
  • Lethargy
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Increased chance of a relapse
  • Increased risk of being physically and verbally violent

People with this behavioral condition are never advised to drink as alcoholism and ADHD share similar characteristics. Alcohol intoxication can make ADHD patients more impulsive and aggressive. Likewise, children with ADHD and alcoholic parents have a higher risk of acquiring alcohol use disorder if not prevented.

What Are Some Psychosocial Treatments for ADHD?

Treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) associated with substance use disorder can be done through prescription drugs paired with psychosocial therapies.

These psychosocial therapies can further enhance the effect of the medications taken by the patient. Likewise, ADHD alters behavior, thus, increasing the awareness of the patient and actively engaging them in creating solutions will increase motivation to get well.

Here are some of the most effective psychosocial treatments for this mental disorder:

  • Psychoeducation therapy: The main goal of this therapy is to enhance the patient’s self-awareness about the mental disorder. The therapist educates the patient of having the condition and how it affects one’s social communication skills. The patient and his family are referred to educational literature and community education such as Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (CHADD) and Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA).
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This method has been useful in minimizing the symptoms of this mental disorder. In particular, a modified CBT which is cognitive remediation therapy (CRT), has been proven as a better way in alleviating the patient’s condition.

The basic premise of cognitive remediation therapy is the incorporation of mental exercises which re-establishes the concentration, language, and memory skills of the patient. The improvement of these skills are important in regaining the social functionality of the patient.