Attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been studied for decades and reports of the condition have seemed to be on the rise during the past few years. As of 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), as many as five percent of children are diagnosed with ADHD. Other studies and estimates are often higher. The most recent numbers are from 2016, in which the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that as much as 6.1 million children have the disorder.
Relatively recent studies have shown a link between addiction and ADHD that may suggest that one disorder leads to the other or that they share similar risk factors. Understanding this link may be the key to preventing addiction in millions of children every year.
What Is ADHD?
ADHD is a brain disorder characterized by the difficulty in maintaining attention and compulsive hyperactivity. ADHD interferes with daily tasks and can make it difficult to focus on work or school responsibilities. The disorder involves three major components:
- Lack of Focus. ADHD makes it difficult to persist with certain tasks for long periods of time. This can cause a person to be disorganized and inattentive despite understanding tasks and wanting to succeed.
- Hyperactivity. This refers to a difficulty sitting or standing still, especially in situations where it would be appropriate. It can mean fidgeting, tapping, leg shaking, or excessive talking.
- Impulsivity. This refers to quick decisions that are put into action without much forethought. Impulsive decisions might have a high likelihood of negative outcomes.
Addiction isn’t the only disorder linked with ADHD. The CDC estimates that as much as 64 percent of people with ADHD also have some other form of mental, emotional, or behavioral issues. They also have high rates of anxiety (33 percent) and depression (17 percent), both of which have a high comorbidity with addiction.
The Link Between SUD and ADHD
Over the past few decades, there have been multiple studies that found an overlap between the people who have a substance use disorder (SUD) and ADHD. The estimates of people in the SUD population that have ADHD can range between 14 percent and 23 percent. The percentages are higher for specific substances like alcohol and tobacco. However, it’s worth noting that a link doesn’t necessarily mean that one disorder causes the other—there could be many reasons the two numbers can overlap.
Still, others believe that there could be a cause and effect relationship between the two disorders. Regardless, if you have a child diagnosed with ADHD, you don’t have to lose sleep over the idea they will one day struggle with addiction. That being said, taking preventative cautions doesn’t hurt. There are a variety of factors that lead to addiction and if you mitigate some of your child’s risk factors, it may help decrease their likelihood of developing a substance use disorder later in life.
There are two major theories as to the cause of the overlap between ADHD and SUDs. The first is that the two are not directly related and the overlap is coincidental. There are many people with substance use issues. It’s often referred to as an epidemic because of how wide-reaching this disease is. Likewise, millions of children are diagnosed with ADHD. It’s possible that these two large numbers have some overlap just by chance. However, significant percentages often catch the attention of researchers.
The two disorders may also be indirectly related. SUDs have significant overlaps with a wide variety of mental health issues and addiction, itself, is a mental health problem. As such, they all share some of the same causes and risk factors. For instance, causes that can result in both SUDs and ADHD, like prenatal alcohol use, can explain the overlap in the two numbers. In this theory, one doesn’t cause the other but they both may be caused by a shared third factor.
The second theory is that one disorder causes the other. More specifically, since ADHD usually starts in childhood, ADHD leads to SUDs. Some have suggested that exposure to certain ADHD medications at a young age can cause a predisposition to drug and alcohol use later in life, eventually leading to addiction.
However, the exact correlation is still unknown and researchers are continuing to explore the relationship between these two extremely common issues.
How Can I Prevent Addiction?
The link between ADHD and addiction might give you an edge in preventing substance use disorders in your family. An ADHD diagnosis can be treated as an early warning sign that can help you develop strategies to stop substance abuse before it occurs in your family. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), children can start abusing drugs as early as 12 years old and the earlier your exposure to drugs and alcohol, the more likely you are to develop a substance use disorder later in life.
Preventing addiction is often geared toward staving off that first drink or hit of a drug. Households that have clear boundaries, discouraging drug and alcohol use for children and teens are more likely to avoid substance use disorders.
Prevention strategies are centered on increasing protective factors and decreasing risk factors. Protective factors reduce a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder, while risk factors increase that likelihood. Protective factors include parental monitoring, doing well in school, anti-drug use policies in schools, and feeling connected to your community. Risk factors include a limited parental supervision, early substance abuse, high drug availability, and low economic status.
ADHD and Addiction Recovery
Effective addiction therapy must address multiple needs alongside the substance use disorder. If you have co-occurring ADHD, this means that your treatment plan should address issues related to the disorder. Since ADHD is also linked to depression and anxiety, it may be a clear underlying issue in a substance use disorder. If you are seeking addiction treatment, tell your therapist that you are concerned about ADHD and that you’d like to explore therapy options to address it.
Starting the Road to Recovery
If you are concerned about addiction or if you believe that you or a loved one might be struggling with a substance use disorder, call the drug treatment specialists at Drug Treatment Center Finder at 855-619-8070 or contact us online to learn more about treatment options. Addiction is a difficult disease to overcome, especially if you have a co-occurring mental health issue like ADHD.