Successful adults have the ability to stay still and focused for long periods of time. They can tackle a complicated project and see it through from start to finish, with no interruptions or outbursts. They can listen to a long lecture without feeling the need to interject with a comment. They can handle long car or airplane trips without the need for running breaks

Adults are expected to handle these tasks, but for some, it’s simply impossible to stay focused, still, and calm. For these people, fidgeting, interrupting, wandering, or interjecting is a necessity. These adults may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and some might have substance abuse problems at the same time.

Adults With ADHD

While ADHD is often considered a childhood disease, many adults take the disorder with them as they age. Some of these people are diagnosed with ADHD when young, but others aren’t diagnosed until they’re adults. Others have the disorder as adults but are totally unaware that they have the disorder.

According to UCLA, adults with ADHD tend to fall into one of three groups. One group has only mild impairment, another has moderate impairment, and the third faces severe and overwhelming difficulties due to ADHD. Each group is roughly the same size, UCLA researchers say, so there’s no straightforward ADHD disease progression. Any level of impairment is a possibility.

Adults with mild ADHD may struggle with some kinds of tasks, and they may find it difficult to succeed in situations that others can handle with relative ease.

Adults with severe ADHD may have significant difficulties with all sorts of everyday tasks, and if they’ve grown up with ADHD, they may not know that there’s another way to live. For them, it’s always been difficult to pay attention and remain still. It’s always been difficult to complete a task. It’s always been difficult to sit through a long meeting. They may know that other people can handle these situations with ease, but they may not know how to make their own minds conform and comply with the demands of these tasks.

Lack of Proper Help

While living with ADHD isn’t easy, and most people with the disorder have at least some indication that life isn’t progressing as it should, people who ask for help from a professional that isn’t well versed in ADHD can walk away without the help they’ll need in order to get better. General medical practitioners often attribute ADHD symptoms to other conditions, including:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Poor diet
  • Lifestyle choices

That means some adults who head to doctors for ADHD assistance may walk away with therapies that really won’t help at all. They might get help with the symptoms of ADHD, such as sleeplessness or restlessness, but until the underlying mental illness is addressed, these people might not get the relief they seek.

For example, research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that about 53.1 percent of women and 36.5 percent of men with adult ADHD receive treatment for a substance abuse or mental health problem, but only about 11 percent of these people get help for actual ADHD.On the one hand, addressing a substance abuse issue makes sense. After all, people with ADHD use substances in order to help manage the destruction the mental illness can cause. By taking sedatives, they can slow down their overactive minds. By using stimulants, they can remain focused in the face of distractions. These substances can boost feelings of joy and connectedness, which might be missing in the lives of people with ADHD.

Providing help for substance abuse doesn’t address the chemical imbalances that lead to ADHD dysfunction. The next time a person feels disconnected or unable to focus due to ADHD, the urge to abuse substances will come right back. The ongoing substance abuse can make ADHD chemical imbalances much more acute.

ADHD Medications and Substance Abuse

People who have ADHD typically have a lack of specific calming chemicals inside the cells of the brain. Medication therapies can be vital, as they can correct these imbalances and allow people to function at a normal rate.

The medications used in an ADHD treatment plan are stimulants. People with ADHD who take these medications find them calming and soothing, but people without ADHD who take these drugs may experience euphoria and a sense of power. That’s why it’s vital for people with an ADHD prescription to monitor their drugs carefully. Friends and family members might be tempted to steal and abuse those drugs, so vigilance is required.

Most ADHD experts stress the importance of medication therapy, but some people are worried about using addictive drugs to treat a mental health disorder. Research should ease those worries. In two studies published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers found that about half of people with ADHD had substance abuse problems, too, but the rate of substance abuse didn’t dip or rise in relation to medication therapy. In other words, taking medications can’t make a person more addicted. Medications are just part of a treatment plan, and there’s a lot more that goes into that plan than one simple prescription.

Comprehensive Care

People with ADHD benefit from therapies that help them learn how to both explain and manage the disorder. In their sessions, they might learn how to:

  • Break complex tasks down into simple steps they can accomplish in one sitting
  • Ask for help from friends and family when feeling overwhelmed
  • Use routine and structure to eliminate the risk of constant distraction
  • Spot the signs of an ADHD crisis, and use support groups or therapy to manage the symptoms
  • Explain ADHD to a boss or a coworker, and ask for workplace adjustments to make job tasks easier to complete

These therapy sessions may also address the issue of substance abuse directly. People who have been using drugs or alcohol to manage ADHD symptoms might have subtle forms of brain damage, and that damage can make them yearn for more drugs and alcohol. Therapy can help affected people to understand what these cravings are all about, and therapists can teach their clients how to use meditation, exercise, visualization, or deep breathing to move through a craving without relapsing.

While the majority of the work done in an ADHD/addiction program is focused on the person with ADHD, other family members may need help, too. As a report in Archives of Disease in Childhood points out, living with someone with ADHD can be intensely stressful, impacting family members’ finances, mental health, professional lives, and more. Family therapy might be a vital tool to help families explore this damage and heal from it, so they won’t blame one another and continue to harm one another once the formal treatment program ends.

Hope and Help for ADHD

While treatment programs can be incredibly helpful, it’s vital for people with ADHD to work with treatment teams that understand what ADHD is and how it’s related to substance abuse. Enrolling in a simple substance abuse program isn’t good enough. People need help on two fronts, and that means they need help from a specialized treatment program.If you’d like to enroll in a program like this, we’d like to help. Call us at the Orlando Recovery Center, and we’ll explain how a program for co-occurring conditions works and what it can do for you. We can help you get started on your own recovery journey right now. Please call to find out more.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.