Last updated: May 23, 2022
Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) face many challenges. Their brains are always going—always—and it makes it difficult to focus on the task in front of them. Drugs, such as Adderall and Ritalin, can enable those suffering from ADHD to function—but they’re addictive. Still, those who seek treatment are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than those who go undiagnosed.
Studies show that 36% of the adults with ADHD who aren’t under a physician’s care self-medicate. Adderall and Ritalin are easily obtained on the black market. Still, other drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines, and alcohol, become a part of many of their lives instead.
The numbers are consistent
According to a nationwide study, the percentage of teen substance abusers who suffer with ADHD is nearly the same as the adult statistic. Roughly thirty-five percent of teens suffering from ADHD taking part in the study admitted to using at least one illegal substance. The difference being that the figure was the same in, both, teens who were receiving treatment and those who weren’t.
“This study underscores the significance of the substance abuse risk for both boys and girls with childhood ADHD,” lead author of the study, Brooke Molina, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said. “These findings also are the strongest test to date of the association between medication for ADHD and teenage substance abuse.”
Dr. Molina went on to state that, although findings weren’t concrete, the hypotheses their research supports is that children with ADHD have increased risk of drug abuse is due to impulsive decision making, poor school performance, and difficulty making healthy friendships.
Unfortunately, with the exception of changing “poor school performance” to “poor job performance,” nothing changes when a teen with ADHD grows to adulthood.
However, when you include the adults with ADHD who are under a physician’s care, fifty percent of them struggle with substance abuse.
Changing the outlook
We know that half the people who have ADHD struggle with substance abuse. It’s imperative that we begin to focus on other ways to treat it. Esme Fuller-Thomson, a professor of social work, medicine and nursing at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, and director of the Institute for Life Course and Aging in Toronto, says that cognitive therary “has been shown to have a very positive effect on ADHD symptoms, substance abuse problems, and depression and anxiety.”
She was the author of a study that concluded that treating ADHD was the first step in helping those with ADHD beat drug addiction.
Rather than masking the symptoms using drugs or alcohol, we need to equip people suffering with ADHD with coping skills so they can slow their brains down and focus on the task at hand.
Here are some techniques that have proven to work keeping ADHD sufferers motivated to succeed in whatever they’re doing.
- Give yourself some extra time in the mornings so you don’t start your day rushing—it sets the stage for stress and anxiety to kick in.
- Plan on adjusting your schedule as needed rather than trying to force yourself to stick to a rigid, unbreakable routine. It allows you to reach out for help when you need it.
- Reduce your distractions whenever possible—a good example would be keeping your cell phone out of sight when your at home. That way you don’t tempt yourself to pick it up and check it every time you pass it.
- Hold yourself accountable. Set alerts on your phone to remind you of deadlines, appointments, and other important events schedule throughout your day.
- Create a “no technology zone” one hour after dinner and one hour before bedtime. It helps adults with ADHD prepare for sleep.
Making the commitment to use some or all of the coping skills listed can allow someone with ADHD to succeed at “adulting.” It’s much better to turn to a coping skill than using a coping mechanism—which is the category drugs and alcohol fall under.
Many with ADHD go undiagnosed
Lots of kids are known to be “hyper,” but not all are diagnosed with ADHD. They may not struggle to the degree that puts them on the radar at school. Or, perhaps a parent is in denial and refuses to allow testing to make a determination.
Whatever the reason, if you feel you may have ADHD, here are some symptoms that may help you decide whether or not it’s the case:
- Whether you’re daydreaming, planning, or just going over and over your day when you should be sleeping, you feel like your brain never has any down time.
- Difficulty planning or carrying out and monitoring tasks causes you to jump from one activity to another.
- It’s impossible to get organized.
- You constantly struggle with time management.
- You’re forgetful and easily distracted.
- You get hyper-focused on things that interest you.
- You’re impulsive and don’t think things through. That can manifest in impulsive buying, unhealthy relationships, or even reckless driving.
- You struggle concentrating.
If that sounds like you, it would be a good idea to speak with your physician. They can discuss your options and help you decide what will work best for you.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder makes life a challenge—but millions of people deal with it rather than struggle. We must keep educating people on the dangers of drug addiction. And, we must give those who struggle with what many of us consider “normal” daily activities the tools they need to cope.
We’re going to keep chipping away at the problem of substance abuse.
Nobody wakes up one day and decides they’re going to be a drug addict.
We have to remember that.