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Is Recovery From ADHD and Substance Use Disorder Double the Trouble?

It’s true that ADHD combined with a substance use disorder can be twice as difficult to diagnose and treat. But both disorders can be managed with proper treatment.

People suffering from certain psychiatric disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), are more likely than others to turn to drugs and alcohol to ease their symptoms.

This behavior has the potential to turn into addiction, and before they know it, they’re now suffering from two problems that negatively impact one another. Dual diagnosis, sometimes referred to as co-occurring disorder, is the presence of two disorders, such as substance use disorder and ADHD. These combined disorders create more difficulties than one single disorder in the lives of those suffering from them, as well as in the lives of their friends and families.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health (DSM-5) is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and is widely used for diagnosing mental disorders. According to the most recent edition released in May 2013, ADHD is categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder.

What are the DSM-5 Symptoms for ADHD?


  • Difficulty sustaining attention in tasks
  • Trouble organizing tasks or activities and a failure to meet deadlines
  • A reluctance to engage in activities that require focus, such as preparing reports
  • Easily distracted by external stimuli, which include unrelated thoughts
  • Forgetful of daily activities or overlooking social commitments
  • Excessive talking
  • An inability to stay seated, or being constantly “on the go”
  • Interrupting conversations or using other people’s belongings without permission
  • “Zoning out” or the appearance that one is daydreaming

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 30 to 50 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD will carry the disorder into their adult lives. Furthermore, adults with ADHD are far more likely to find themselves victims of drug and alcohol misuse, with some studies suggesting 50% of ADHD patients will eventually exhibit some form of a substance use disorder.

Why do Adults with ADHD also have a Substance Use Disorder?

  • Drugs and alcohol might have a calming or a “slowing down” effect, making them feel more relaxed and focused
  • Many feel that using alcohol or drugs helps them adjust in social situations
  • Some are frustrated with the problematic symptoms of their mental illness
  • Drugs and alcohol can temporarily ease anxiety and depression
  • Others are troubled by a low self-image as a result of their disorder

It can be complicated to treat a dual diagnosis if symptoms from either ADHD or substance abuse disorder aren’t front and center. In other words, a person suffering from alcoholism or drug abuse issues seeking treatment might not be aware that they are also living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is genetic, so the chances are high that if a person has ADHD, one or both of their parents will also have it, and many times it has gone undiagnosed so they won’t even be aware of it.

Once a dual diagnosis is verified, effective treatment options are available. It is very important that anyone living with both conditions seek treatment at a facility equipped to handle both disorders. Many drug or alcohol recovery centers don’t offer dual-diagnosis treatment because they don’t have staff trained in psychiatry to work with mental disorders. Treating only the addiction won’t offer lasting success and the patient will ultimately relapse because the underlying condition wasn’t properly treated.

Medications prescribed by a doctor can help ease the symptoms of ADHD, and when combined with therapies such as one on one counseling, studies have shown patients are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and in the long run function better in life.

We have assembled an entire staff at Inspire Malibu that is dedicated to uncovering the root causes of multiple disorders and returning people to a happy and healthy lifestyle and we are skilled at successfully treating the nuances of two conditions at the same time.

Parents and friends of people suffering from ADHD, as well as those living with this disorder, should watch for the signs of substance abuse and understand that help is available for treating both conditions.

For More Information About ADHD and Substance Abuse, Call Us at 800-444-1838.