Attention Deficit Disorder, often referred to as ADD, is a term with which most people are familiar with but do not fully understand. Adults may see a child running around, bouncing off the walls, and remark, “That kid must have ADD!” But it is so much more than an excess of energy. It is a complex mental disorder that affects multiple aspects of an individual’s life. ADD can have profound consequences on a person’s success in school, work, and in personal relationships. Many individuals with this disorder also struggle with substance abuse. This is known as a dual diagnosis: a concurrent diagnosis of two different mental health issues. Successful treatment of one requires successful treatment of both. Fortunately, with a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment, many people are able to successfully handle both ADD and drug addiction.
What Is ADD?
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), also known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is one of the most common mental disorders, affecting as many as 7% of children between the ages of 7 and 17. Many people with this disorder are never properly diagnosed. They may receive no diagnosis at all or they may be misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder or other psychiatric illnesses. While many people think of this as a childhood problem, most people with do not outgrow it. Many adults continue to struggle with it throughout their lives.
There is a common misconception that ADD is characterized by too much energy and physical activity-the hyperactive kid who simply cannot sit still. While that is one presentation, most of the symptoms are mental. People with ADD struggle with maintaining focus, impulse control, forgetfulness, daydreaming, impatience, restlessness, and thrill-seeking behaviors.
ADD does not affect intelligence. Many people with this disorder are smart and creative. However, the characteristics of it may make it difficult for them to succeed in school and at work. They may lack the focus to finish projects, struggle to sit through long meetings or lectures or forget the key aspect of assignments. Teachers often describe students with this disorder as “failing to live up to his potential” or “has great ideas but never follows through.” These traits can limit success in school and performance at work.
People with ADD may also struggle socially because they have trouble forming and maintaining relationships. Their poor attention skills mean that they may not develop social skills that others take for granted. Their difficulty maintaining focus may make it hard for them to pay attention during a conversation. Their impulse control may lead them to interrupt or make inappropriate statements. Their forgetfulness can mean that they forget dates or meetings. Any or all of these traits can come across as rude or uninterested, poor qualities in a friend or romantic partner.
What Is the Link Between ADD and Drug Addiction?
There is a strong link between ADD and drug addiction. Research has shown that among adults with attention deficit disorder, 17% to 45% struggle with alcohol abuse and 9% to 30% struggle with drug abuse. People with ADD are more likely to begin substance abuse at an earlier age, to struggle with substance abuse at any point in life, and to require long-term substance abuse treatment. This increased incidence of substance abuse does not have just one cause but probably arises for a variety of reasons.
- Poor self-esteem/Low self-image: Children with this disorder often struggle in school, leading to years of poor academic performance. This failure to perform in school can lead to low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is correlated with high levels of substance abuse.
- Poor social connections: Many people with attention deficit disorder struggle to form relationships, both social and romantic. Without close friends, many people feel socially isolated. As a result, people with ADD are more likely to struggle with loneliness and depression, both strong risk factors for substance abuse.
- Impulse Control: Poor impulse control is one characteristic. People with ADD may simply try drugs or alcohol because they lack the ability to stop and think about what they are doing.
- Dopamine Response: Some scientists theorize that people with ADD have an altered response to dopamine, a brain chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure. People with this disorder may require more dopamine than usual to feel pleasure. Many illicit drugs work by increasing brain dopamine levels, so people may be drawn to them as a form of self-medication.
Treatment Options for ADD and Drug Addiction
ADD and substance abuse are alike in that they tend to be lifelong diagnoses. People do not outgrow attention deficit disorder and they do not recover from substance abuse. Rather, they must cope with and treat ADD throughout their lives, and people struggling with substance abuse must actively maintain recovery. That being said, there are treatments available for both ADD and drug addiction. Because of the link between ADD and substance abuse, it is critical to treat both problems to avoid recurrence of either one.
Stimulant medications have a long track record as a successful treatment for ADD. Although it may seem counterintuitive, speeding up the brain in people with ADD helps them to maintain focus and reduce impulsivity. Medications such as Adderall and Ritalin or their generic equivalents have been used for decades to control symptoms. These medications do come with a risk of misuse and abuse, so they may not be the ideal choice for people with a dual diagnosis of drug addiction and ADD. In these cases, medications used to treat anxiety and depression may be a good alternative.
Medication is not the only treatment avenue available for drug addiction and ADD. Traditional therapy is another important component of effective treatment. Working closely with a counselor can help people to deal with the low self-esteem, depression, and isolation that led them to substance abuse in the first place. Group therapy and support meetings are critical in maintaining sobriety. In many cases, the social network formed in group meetings can provide the social foundation lacking in so many people’s lives. This foundation can alleviate feelings of isolation and so reduce chances of relapse.
A dual diagnosis of ADD and drug addiction is daunting, but it is not an insurmountable problem. Many individuals struggling with this disorder and substance abuse are able to successfully manage symptoms of both and go on to maintain long-term sobriety. A combination of therapy, group support, and appropriate medical treatment has helped many people. If you or someone you love struggles with substance abuse and ADD, call Blu By The Sea today. Our professional staff is ready to help.