The Link Between ADHD and Substance Abuse

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Numerous studies conducted have found a link and underlined the importance of that link between ADHD and substance abuse. 

It seems that adolescents and young adults with ADHD are more prone to substance abuse and addictions than the general public. 

This article will dive into ADHD and its symptoms, the possible causes that increase the risks of substance abuse and drugs of choice. It will also give helpful tips for adolescents and parents in the fight against substance abuse or worsening ADHD symptoms. 

ADHD and its symptoms

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a mental health condition most prevalent in children and young adults. In the past, we all thought that adults couldn’t have ADHD. However, adults still have symptoms, but they get better at managing them and organizing their lives, so the condition doesn’t interfere with their everyday lives. 

ADHD symptoms include: 

  • Trouble focusing or multitasking
  • Have a short span of focused attention 
  • Easy to get distracted and forgetful
  • Impulsivity
  • Poor time management 
  • Poor organization and prioritization of tasks
  • Low level of frustration tolerance

ADHD in children can be easily noticed since they will have a hard time sitting at school or home and being focused on one thing. Also, they will be over-active throughout the day, switching back and forth between actions, games, or activities. Furthermore, they might not be able to follow instructions and easily get distracted. They will also be easily frustrated and impulsive while not following social rules about playing, talking, or behaving.

A child needs to get rightfully diagnosed and get timely treatment. With the help of a professional, some pharmacological medicine, and adaptations of the surroundings on the child’s needs, they will get better at managing their condition and having the symptoms not interfering with their academic and social success. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests and promotes early diagnosis and timely treatment of the condition. Professional help at a younger age can lower the chances of attention-deficit hyperactive adolescents developing an addiction or other psychological problems, such as anxiety and low self-esteem. 

Why ADHD Increases Chances of Substance Abuse

Scientists, psychologists, and psychiatrists have long debated and measured all the ways that ADHD can increase the chance of developing an addiction. One of the reasons is that individuals with ADHD have problems with dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in the way we emotionally react, feel pleasure, focus, and organize.


Another reason is the impulsivity symptom. Individuals with ADHD are more likely, especially in adolescence, to indulge in risky behaviors, alcohol or drug intake included. Putting people with ADHD at a greater risk of addiction, since they might be looking for a way to self-medicate, calm their mind, relax and fall asleep, increase their focus, or simply “get away” from everyday hardships. Particularly true and challenging for adults with untreated or completely undiagnosed ADHD. 


Additude, a website specializing in ADHD, reports that 15% of adults with ADHD have stated that they’ve been dependent on some kind of alcohol or drugs. Those percentages are three times higher than the ones of the general public.

What Substances Do People with ADHD Abuse?

Marijuana, even though legalized in some states, continues to be the number one drug of choice for young adults with ADHD. Weed can have a sedative effect, which helps youngsters to relax and feel euphoria.

Alcohol is the next most used substance. Since it’s widely accessible, a lot of ADHD individuals develop a drinking problem.


Cigarettes are the third most spread substance of choice. Some ADHD individuals have reported that nicotine helps them increase their attention and focus short term. 

Somewhere lower on the list are substances such as cocaine, which improves focus and attention; heroin which relaxes the mind; and all kinds of pharmaceutical prescription pills with different effects. 


For young people with ADHD, the most typical reason for using or abusing a substance is to self-medicate and lower the effects of their symptoms. 


A Landing Hand for Adolescents with ADHD Fighting Addiction


A scientific article that C. Zoulaf wrote, issued by the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), gives a detailed structure of the help that individuals with ADHD and SUD (Substance Use Disorder) can benefit from:

  • A thorough assessment of the substance use and the signs of ADHD needs to be done;
  • The substance of choice and addiction need to be controlled and in the so-called “harm reduction” model;
  • Structured psychotherapies can be used once the addiction is under control. Motivational interviewing and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can help the individual to gain structure, support, and a goal-oriented mindset;
  • Doctors can use pharmacological medicine to help both ADHD and SUD;

They also strongly suggest that managing one of these disorders without addressing the other won’t do any good. 


Scientists underline the need for regular ADHD medicine usage since the substance of choice is a way to lower the existing symptoms. Prescription medicine, as well as exercising, and regular health check-ups are the main way to keep both ADHD and SUD in control. 


There have been some concerns that prescription pills for ADHD, such as Adderall, might be themselves causing tolerance and possible addiction. But, numerous studies showed no correlations between prescription meds and substance abuse.

One of the analyses even showed a 7.3% lower risk of having a SUD (substance use disorder) in individuals who take their ADHD medicine than those who don’t take any medication for symptoms management.

So, it’s not only that taking the prescribed medicine for ADHD won’t make someone addicted to them, but it will also lower their chance of developing an addiction as a way to self-medicate their ADHD symptoms.

Tips for Parents

  • Make sure that your child is adequately diagnosed and uses their prescription meds;
  • Pay attention to any possible changes in behavior.
  • Set the example by not misusing any substance. It’s more than proved that young individuals that live in a household with substance abusers are more likely to develop the same pattern of behavior. 
  • Keep an eye out and get to know your child’s friends. The initial contact with drugs for young people is through their social circle.
  • Ensure that your child understands and knows how to take their prescription pills without misusing them.
  • Make sure that your child understands that their pills are for managing their condition, and they should never be given to anyone else.
  • Have constructive talks with your child about the risks their condition brings, addiction included. 
  • Help your child manage their symptoms while growing up to learn positive and productive ways of managing their symptoms.
  • Keep positive communication with your teen. The risk of developing a substance use disorder is highest in the teenage years, and your teenager needs to be able to come to you and openly talk about all their problems.


Getting Addiction Treatment in California


The link between ADHD and Substance abuse has been monitored and examined very closely. Studies have found that individuals with ADHD are more likely to develop a SUD, especially as a way to self-medicate and lower their symptoms. By treating both the primary condition and the resulting addiction, you have the best chance to overcome your disorders. 


If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and seeking treatment in California, call the team of Silver Lining Recovery at 833-847-6984.