Undiagnosed ADHD Causes Higher Risk
A recent study found that more than 15 percent of adults with ADHD struggle with drug and alcohol abuse and/or addiction. Trouble usually starts around adolescence. Before age 15, those with ADHD are no more likely to experiment with drugs or alcohol. After age 15 that number skyrockets. An estimated half of all adults with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD struggle with drug or alcohol addiction. That’s nearly triple the rate of adults diagnosed with the disorder. Drugs most commonly abused were alcohol and marijuana.
30 percent said they used drugs to get high. The remaining 70 percent said they used them to improve their mood, help them sleep, and other uses. This sort of “self-medication” is common among those who are undiagnosed or have not sought treatment for ADHD. Some report using alcohol to concentrate or calm a busy and anxious mind. Others start using drugs or alcohol to overcome social awkwardness. Impulsivity, poor decision making, and social awkwardness of ADHD can lend itself to overindulgence and substance abuse.
As those with ADHD age, the hyperactive component usually diminishes. However, inside their mind they are as hyperactive as ever and need something to calm their mind or help them be productive. Biology can play an important role. Genes that predispose a person to ADHD are closely related to those that cause addiction. The genes associated with risk-taking and novelty-seeking behavior predispose one to both ADHD and addiction.
Medications prescribed for ADHD are most commonly amphetamine and methylphenidate. Since these are controlled substances, some think they are dangerous to take. This is not the case for those medically diagnosed with the disorder. Those with ADHD benefit greatly from these medications. They are much less likely to struggle with addiction, unlike their undiagnosed counterparts. Therefore, ADHD medication is strong protection against substance abuse.
What about medication for those already battling substance abuse? Most doctors would start by prescribing a nonstimulant. Some, however, start with a low-dose or time-released stimulant coupled with a treatment program. These types of medications are much less likely to be abused and eventually replace the dependence on drugs or alcohol.
When it comes to preventing substance abuse among those with ADHD, early diagnosis and education are key. Some have found that waiting until 5th or 6th grade to discuss the dangers of drugs and alcohol with their kids is already too late. The good news is that once a person reaches 21, the risk of substance abuse drops drastically. If they haven’t abused drugs or alcohol by then, they are much less likely to start up later. Many success stories of addicted individuals with ADHD involve regular exercise, medication, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Keeping the mind stimulated and active is a key to success.
Many who struggle with ADHD look for ways to function normally. Drugs and alcohol can be a temporary solution, but dependence can quickly turn into addiction. If you or a loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, help is available.