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Attention deficit hyper-activity disorder (ADHD) is a mental disorder that is linked to a range of problematic behavior patterns and learning difficulties. People with ADHD often have trouble paying attention and controlling behavior, which can lead to problems with academic performance and relationships. The condition is characterized by an inability to remain focused for periods of time, a lowered ability to control impulses, hyperactivity, and adjustment issues.

It is a chronic condition that, more often than not, begins in early childhood and carries on into adulthood. As people with ADHD pass through childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood, their problems with attention and impulsivity often improve. However, problems with daily living and adjusting to new situations can actually worsen over time.

Drug addiction is a complex medical and psychological problem that affects people in a variety of ways. People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol are often living with secondary conditions, including behavioral addictions, secondary substance use disorders, and co-existing mental health disorders. This simultaneous existence of a mental health problem and a substance abuse problem is referred to as a dual diagnosis.

Examples of other mental disorders associated with substance abuse include:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety disorder

Any of these dual diagnosis combinations require professional evaluation and treatment, including medical intervention, behavioral therapy, and relapse prevention.

Additional research suggests that ADHD may co-occur with addiction because individuals with this diagnosis are more likely to partake in early drug and alcohol experimentation. For these individuals, the progression from substance use to abuse is also more severe. A contributing factor to this may be the fact that ADHD patients are often medicated at an early age.

A report published in the Alcohol and Alcoholism journal cites that there is a strong incidence rate of alcohol abuse among patients with a dual diagnosis for ADHD, sometimes at nearly double the rate of the general population. Nicotine dependence is likewise higher in patients with this condition, particularly in those who also have a co-occurring addiction to alcohol.

The same report says that cocaine abuse is oftentimes associated with this mental disorder, and is estimated to occur in about 35% of patients. Furthermore, cocaine dependence has been shown to commence earlier in cocaine users with ADHD versus cocaine users without it. People struggling with the illness have reported that cocaine use is able to reduce their symptoms, suggesting that this is one of the main driving forces behind its abuse.

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How can you Treat a Dual Diagnosis?adhd-counseling

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is a common disorder that co-occurs with addiction and often worsens its symptoms and severity. ADHD and substance use can be challenging for medical professionals to deal with, as the symptoms can overlap or mask one another. Treatment for ADHD and addiction must address both issues simultaneously. First off, the goal is to motivate a patient to change by helping them understand how their mental disorder and addiction have both impacted their life, and that long term recovery is possible.

Once a patient commits to change, substance abuse will often be addressed using a cognitive behavioral approach. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches many of the necessary skills for addiction recovery. This is done by equipping addicts with tools required to cope with cravings and intrusive thoughts about drug or alcohol use.

A patient’s ADHD symptoms must also be addressed. While it is a chronic condition that cannot be “cured,” its symptoms can be managed. The most common therapy for patients is the prescription of stimulant medication like Adderall, for example. Healthcare providers are often reluctant to prescribe stimulants to people with substance use disorder for fear of causing relapse. However, findings suggest that prescribing the correct dose and type of medication does not hinder addiction treatment outcomes.

Addiction Aftercare

After symptoms of both disorders are addressed and a patient achieves sobriety, continued counseling and aftercare is crucial for preventing relapse. Attending 12-Step meetings or transitioning into a sober living community can improve treatment success by building a strong network of positive relationships. ADHD may complicate the addiction treatment process, but it certainly does not make recovery unattainable. Addressing both disorders at an accredited rehabilitation facility is the key to a successful and continued recovery.


  1. Adult ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder). (n.d.). Retrieved August 30, 2016, from
  2. Kelly, T. M., & Daley, D. C. (2013). Integrated Treatment of Substance Use and Psychiatric Disorders. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from
  3. Ohlmeier, M. D., Peters, K., Wildt, B. T., Zedler, M., Ziegenbein, M., Wiese, B., . . . Schneider, U. (2008, March 07). Comorbidity of alcohol and substance dependence with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Retrieved August 30, 2016, from
  4. Mariani, J. J., & Levin, F. R. (2007). Treatment Strategies for Co-Occurring ADHD and Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from
  5. Cobos, J. P., Siñol, N., Pérez, V., & Trujols, J. (2014, February). Pharmacological and clinical dilemmas of prescribing in co-morbid adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and addiction. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from
  6. Davis, C., Cohen, A., Davids, M., & Rabindranath, A. (2015). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Relation to Addictive Behaviors: A Moderated-Mediation Analysis of Personality-Risk Factors and Sex. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from

Last updated on April 6th, 2017 at 06:44 pm

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