ADHD and Substance Abuse

a person in the showdows at a bar with his head down and a bottle infront of him
a teen turns up a bottle of beer while his friend looks concerned in the background

Children

A Study Found that at around 14 years old 40% of children with ADHD began using alcohol,

The Numbers are scary but it's more common for children with ADHD to start abusing alcohol during their teenage years.

Its almost double the 22% of children without an ADHD diagnosis -- a strong predictor of alcohol and substance abuse in adulthood.

14% of children ages 15-17 with ADHD had problems with alcohol abuse or dependence as adults.

a person desperatly hitting a joint

Marijuana

People with ADHD typically start having problems with drugs at an earlier age.

Researchers have also found links between ADHD and the use of marijuana and other recreational drugs, particularly in people who also have other psychological disorders (such as obsessive-compulsive disorder).

Young adults (around 25) with ADHD are also likelier to use them excessively.

a little girl with heavy emotions flowing from her eyes

Why?

People with ADHD tend to have intense emotions and impulses along with behaviors that make them feel like outcast

More impulsive and likely to have behavior problems, both of which can contribute to drug and alcohol abuse.

With any stimulant it can be hard to stop, so now you are adding a in a disorder which makes it hard to control your impulses.

a genome sequence spiralling up into a person

Another Why?

Reasearchers have pointed to common genes shared between ADHD and alcoholism

Both ADHD and alcoholism tend to run in families. A child with ADHD who has a parent with alcoholism is more likely to also develop an alcohol abuse problem.

a child doing his homework silently in the background with a bowl of adhd medicine infront of him

ADHD Drugs Are Addictive

Affects emotion and the feeling of pleasure, creating a "high" that makes people want more.

Stimulant medications work by raising levels of a chemical messenger called dopamine in the brain, which helps improve focus and attention -- skills that people with ADHD often find difficult to master.

But Dopamine creates a high by affecting emotion and the feeling of pleasure

two lines of white powder sitting next to a razor blade

Dopamine

Some people to refer to Ritalin as the "poor man's cocaine."

Ritalin's ability to increase energy and focus has even led some people to refer to it as the "poor man's cocaine."

Because cocaine and other street drugs also raise dopamine levels, there has been concern that ADHD stimulants might be similarly addictive.

a front beside a back white ritalin tablets

Ritalin

People have crushed and snorted Ritalin tablets or dissolved the drug in water and taken it intravenously.

In large doeses Ritalin does have effects similar to those of cocain

Studies show that abusing Ritalin can lead to dependence on the drug. When carefully taken as prescribed, though, Ritalin is less likely to be addictive in children or adults.

Any Schedueled Drug should be handled with the utmost care

a girl out of focus with a niddle at the end of a table before her

Factor of Addiction

The faster dopamine levels go up, the greater the potential for abuse.

One of the factors that leads to addiction and drug abuse is how quickly a drug raises dopamine levels.

Ritalin takes about an hour to raise dopamine levels in the brain, compared to only seconds with inhaled cocaine.

Stimulants used to treat ADHD tend to be lower and longer-acting, which reduces the risk of addiction.

Tolerance

When higher doses are needed to achieve the same effect of a controlled substance.

Long-term use of all stimulants can lead to this phenomenon. If and when this happens, a doctor may then be more likely to consider using nonstimulant medicines to treat ADHD.

silouetted by a setting sun a father holds his little girls hand

Final Consideration

The earlier the stimulants are started, the lower the potential for substance abuse down the road.

Some studies suggest that suggested that stimulant use might protect against later drug abuse and alcoholism in children with ADHD by relieving the ADHD symptoms that often lead to substance abuse problems.

How to treat substance abuse in people with ADHD

Whether Ritalin and other stimulants are effective treatments for ADHD patients with substance abuse problems is less clear. These drugs may be useful when prescribed in a long-acting form and in a controlled way to minimize the risk for becoming physically dependent on or misusing them. Individual or group therapy, as well as 12-step support groups, can also be an important part of the substance abuse program for people with ADHD.

It's important to remember that not everyone with ADHD will develop an alcohol or substance abuse problem. In adults who do develop a problem, doctors suggest treatment with nonstimulant medications.