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ADHD And Addiction: Co-Occurring Disorders and Dual Diagnosis
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and addiction are common co-occurring conditions. These disorders can share similar signs and symptoms. Since these conditions have such a substantial overlap, treatment for these two disorders usually involves a dual diagnosis program.
ADHD is characterized by problems with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior which may affect school functioning, work patterns, and social and family relationships.
Not every person with ADHD has problems in all ADHD behavioral areas of concern. Some may only have problems with paying attention, while others may combine inattention with hyperactivity and impulsivity and risk-taking behavior.
ADHD is often diagnosed in childhood, but it can continue throughout adulthood and can also be diagnosed for the first time in adulthood. ADHD can be treated through behavioral health interventions and medication.
What Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can affect children as young as age 3, and can last into adulthood. Learn more about the symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment options for ADHD.
ADHD is a neurological disorder that is one of the most common mental disorders affecting young children. ADHD is associated with hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. While it is usually diagnosed and treated early, it can be misdiagnosed, and symptoms can continue to last into adulthood.
People who experienced ADHD symptoms as a child will continue to experience ADHD symptoms as an adult. However, the manifestations of the disorder will shift with age. If a person is not diagnosed or misdiagnosed as a child, they may suffer the consequences of a lifetime of ADHD symptoms.
A misdiagnosed adult may battle depression and anxiety and turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate their ADHD symptoms. Unfortunately, ADHD and substance use are common co-occurring disorders that require treatment to manage and overcome.
How Is ADHD Diagnosed?
There is no single diagnostic test for ADHD. Instead, clinicians rely on a physical exam, information gathering (including medical, educational, social functioning, and family history), and ADHD rating scales. Clinicians may also administer psychological tests.
Whether diagnosed during childhood or adulthood, the diagnosis of ADHD is individualized. Diagnosticians will also seek to rule out neurological conditions or other illnesses that may cause the observed symptoms of ADHD.
Common Symptoms Of ADHD
Many symptoms of ADHD are “normal” parts of behavior, but people who do not have ADHD can control them without needing professional intervention or treatment with medication. With ADHD, these symptoms occur frequently and can last for at least 6 months.
A child with the disorder can be diagnosed at an early age if they present at least six of the below symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Children That Parents May Notice
- Difficulty sitting still
- Always moving
- Running or climbing inappropriately
- Talking excessively
- Having trouble focusing
- Being easily distracted or getting bored with a task before completion
- Appearing not to listen when spoken to
- Having difficulty remembering and following instructions
- Frequently losing or misplacing items
- Constantly fidgeting and squirming
Children with ADHD show a persistent pattern in their behavior that will interfere with their general functioning and development. It is essential to identify these symptoms early, so there is time to treat and manage the disease. The later the diagnosis, the more challenging it is for medical professionals to pinpoint since ADHD can have similar symptoms to a variety of disorders.
The signs and symptoms of ADHD in adults include:
- Forgetting names and dates
- Missing deadlines
- Poor concentration
- Leaving projects unfinished
- Experiencing extreme emotions
- Being easily distracted
- Being unorganized or messy
- Relationship problems
- Suffering from a generalized anxiety disorder
- Suffering from depression
Types Of ADHD in Adults or a Child
There are three types of ADHD. A person can present only one kind of ADHD or have a combination of two.
The following types of ADHD are:
- Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation: This person feels the need for constant movement. They fidget, squirm, struggle to stay seated, and often talk and run around. This person interrupts others, blurts out answers, and struggles with self-control.
- Inattentive Presentation: This person makes mistakes because they cannot focus or follow detailed instructions. They are forgetful, easily distracted, and often lose items.
- Combined Presentation: This person has significant problems with both hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention.
There is no simple test that can diagnose ADHD. Children often display symptoms at an early age, and if properly diagnosed, these symptoms can be treated and managed. Since ADHD shares traits with other disorders, this disorder can often get overlooked. When a person with ADHD grows up, the symptoms will morph and change and be more challenging to identify.
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Information on Causes And Risk Factors
Research is ongoing to discover the exact causes of ADHD, but researchers have identified some risk factors and common elements among people with ADHD.
ADHD may have a genetic component, and several studies have shown that the condition can run in families. However, the precise relationship between genetics and ADHD has yet to be identified.
Environmental risk factors can also play a role in ADHD, including fetal exposure to environmental toxins, such as:
- Cigarette smoking during pregnancy
- Alcohol use during pregnancy
- Lead exposure during pregnancy or childhood
- Low birth weight or premature birth
Some areas of the brain have been identified as influencing ADHD, including parts of the frontal lobe. These parts of the brain are responsible for memory, planning, decision-making, and the ability to pay attention and focus on tasks at hand.
The brains of children and adults with ADHD also have different levels of neurotransmitter chemicals in their brains, including norepinephrine and dopamine.
Dual Diagnosis and Behavior Therapy
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about two-thirds of children with ADHD also have co-occurring conditions.
In both children and adults, these conditions can include:
- Conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder
- Substance use disorders (SUD)
- Learning disabilities
- Anxiety and depression
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Sleep disorders and bedwetting
Other neurological and medical conditions, like Tourette’s Syndrome and seizure disorders, can also co-occur with ADHD.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder And Substance Abuse Disorder
Children and adults who have ADHD can be diagnosed with additional co-occurring conditions. For children, the prevalence of other diseases in conjunction with their ADHD is high. These problems can be learning disabilities, speech issues, anxiety, and depression. For adults, depression, anxiety, bipolar, and substance misuse are common co-occurring conditions.
Many people diagnosed with ADHD use substances to maintain a level of balance and as a way to self-medicate. If someone with ADHD uses drugs or alcohol, he or she may be able to temporarily mask the symptoms of the condition. However, this can result in the person becoming addicted to the substance of use.
Another reason why ADHD and addiction often co-occur is due to the symptoms associated with ADHD. Many people exhibit behavioral difficulties and impulsivity as a result of this condition. These symptoms can make individuals with ADHD more likely to use drugs or alcohol than people without the condition.
Misuse Of Drugs Used To Treat ADHD
Doctors prescribe the following medications for those who have ADHD:
- Stimulants: These medicines help a person focus thoughts and ignore distractions. The most common stimulant medications are Adderall and Ritalin. These drugs work in the same way, by increasing concentrations of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain.
- Non-stimulants: If stimulants don’t work or cause unpleasant side effects, non-stimulants are available to assist with concentration and impulse control.
- Antidepressants: Those who have ADHD often present symptoms of depression or anxiety. An antidepressant can be coupled with a stimulant to help control mental health issues and also manage ADHD symptoms.
Unfortunately, stimulants prescribed for ADHD such as Adderall or Ritalin can have long-term effects, and people taking large unprescribed doses face a higher risk of becoming addicted.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment and Recovery For Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
For the best treatment possible, someone with co-occurring ADHD and addiction must work with a professional to determine the root cause of the disorders. Since ADHD and addiction are so tightly linked, it can be hard to distinguish between the two. If the person has been afflicted for years, they should start with proper therapy and an excellent counselor to determine the next course of action.
It is recommended to get into an inpatient treatment facility that can help diagnose these co-occurring diseases and treat them separately. At an inpatient treatment facility, the person will have the opportunity to get the treatment for both ADHD and addiction in a fully supportive and focused way.
Treatment plans for ADHD can incorporate individual psychotherapy, education and skills training, and prescribed medication.
Adults and children with ADHD can have treatment plans that include:
- Medication for ADHD, including stimulants and non-stimulants
- Behavioral therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Assistance with developing social, school, and work skills
- Family therapy or couples therapy (for adults)
- Stress management techniques
- Peer and family support groups
Adults with ADHD can benefit from professional counseling and therapy, as well as behavior management techniques. ADHD can’t be cured, but it can be treated and managed with success.
To learn more about ADHD and addiction, contact a treatment specialist today. Call us today at (615) 208-2941 to get the care you deserve. Vertava Health, formerly Vertava Health, now offers virtual and on-site treatment for mental health and substance use disorders.