Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Addiction

Those who suffer from a mental health condition are at an increased risk of developing an addiction. Often, one or more underlying mental health disorders co-occur with a substance use disorder or addiction. People who live with anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) sometimes use drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with their feelings and emotions.

The Effects of ADHD

An article for WebMD on ADHD and substance abuse states, “People with ADHD tend to be more impulsive and likely to have behavior problems, both of which can contribute to drug and alcohol abuse, researchers say.” Addiction and ADHD tend to run in families. A child with ADHD who has a parent with a substance use disorder is at high risk of addiction.

How Stimulant Medications Work

ADHD is treated with stimulant medications, such as Ritalin or Adderall. These medications can be addictive when not used as prescribed by a medical professional. Ritalin and Adderall raise levels of dopamine in the brain, which is what improves attention and focus. Dopamine affects emotion and creates a high that can lead to a person wanting more.

There is a trend toward use of prescription stimulants, commonly called “smart pills,” by high school and college students for enhancing school or work performance. (Andrew Jacobs, The New York Times, 2005). Students who use the stimulant drugs in this way put themselves at risk of serious health complications. The misuse of stimulants is linked to psychosis, heart attack, cardiomyopathy, or even sudden death.

In large quantities, Ritalin causes similar effects to that of cocaine, but there are differences between the two drugs. One factor that can lead to addiction is how quickly dopamine levels rise. When dopamine levels go up quickly, there is a greater risk for abuse. Ritalin takes about an hour to raise dopamine levels compared to seconds with inhaled cocaine.

Carl Sherman, Ph.D. author of “The Truth About ADHD and Addiction” for ADDitude states, “People with ADHD who take these medications as prescribed are less likely than their untreated counterparts to drink or abuse drugs. Put another way, treating ADHD effectively is powerful protection against substance abuse.” Doses of Ritalin and other stimulants used to treat ADHD are lower and longer acting, which reduces the risk of addiction and substance abuse.

Treatment for Addiction

People who are at risk of developing a substance use disorder or addiction can be prescribed non-stimulant medications. If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder and ADHD, get help now. Both conditions are treated simultaneously as a dual diagnosis for the best results in recovery. While there is no cure for addiction, it is treatable and recovery is possible.


Daylight Recovery Services takes a holistic approach to substance abuse and co-occurring disorder treatment to address the physical, psychological, and spiritual facets of addiction and recovery. We ensure clients emerge from our facility with the proper tools and confidence in their ability to lead a healthy, enjoyable life. If you or someone you love is ready to break free of the bondage of addiction, contact one of our recovery experts today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT.