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The Link between ADHD and Addiction

The Link between ADHD and Addiction

Over the past two decades, the prevalence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has become more pronounced, with nearly 11% of those between the ages of 4 to 17 diagnosed, approximately 6.4 million children. Adults with ADHD compromise about 4-5% of the population in the United States, with a growing demographic being diagnosed later in life.

Much of the media coverage surrounding ADHD revolves around the medications used to treat the disorder and the various ways it’s being misused across the country. However, researchers have found a connection between undiagnosed ADHD and substance misuse, and the findings may surprise many.

Undiagnosed ADHD

People struggling with unaddressed ADHD usually have trouble focusing, staying timely and organized, and typically also suffer from depression, anxiety, and relationship troubles. With these issues causing disarray in everyday life, many look to substance misuse as a means of self-medication to alleviate the various symptoms preventing them from feeling like functioning adults. While young children find other ways to cope with untreated ADHD, older teens may begin to self-medicate as they continue to struggle with symptoms, increasing the risk of addiction, especially later in adult life.

ADHD Medications and the Brain

Stimulants such as Ritalin® and Adderall® prescribed to people with ADHD increases neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine and sometimes also block how much of these neurotransmitters are reabsorbed simultaneously. This reaction causes an increase in dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which can attach themselves sufficiently to receptors that the brain has created uniquely for them. This connection works like a plug and socket, helping the electric impulses in the brain function better, increasing attention span.

The powerful stimulants used for ADHD treatment can pose a high risk for misuse, but they seem to work paradoxically in those recovering from addiction. A five-year study showed that adult patients with ADHD attending addiction treatment programs were five times less likely to become non-compliant while receiving stimulant medication than those who weren’t medicated. Another study found that within a span of ten years and data of 146 million people with employer-based insurance, emergency room visits for drug and alcohol use were higher during a period where ADHD medication was not being taken regularly.

Treating ADHD while in Recovery

Due to the nature of stimulant medication, medical providers treating patients for comorbidity such as ADHD along with substance use disorder closely monitor dosage and usage. Not all providers are comfortable prescribing such medications, but if a patient shows promising progress, a trust system is built over time in order to prevent potential misuse. There are also possible interactions with medications such as methadone and Adderall®, which treat opioid use disorder and ADHD, respectively. When taken together, the energetic effects of the stimulant can mask potential overdose symptoms from methadone misuse, which include drowsiness and lack of focus. The risk of fatal interactions between prescription stimulants and opioid addiction medications is moderate, but patients can safely remain in recovery if both medications are taken as directed.

Recovery Services of New Mexico is dedicated to providing practical and evidence-based outpatient opioid addiction treatment for those seeking help. Our specialized and compassionate medical providers and nursing staff believe in a whole-patient approach by implementing medication-assisted treatment and substance use counseling to give everyone who walks through our doors the best chance at long-lasting recovery. Call or message us today to learn more about our treatment programs.


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