Dual Diagnosis:

Drug & Alcohol Addiction and ADHD

Dual Diagnosis: ADHD and Addiction logo accent


ADHD creates a number of problems for patients who suffer from the disorder. Among other symptoms, it can lead to impulsivity, overall lack of attention, and poor connection between cause and effect. ADHD sufferers may also suffer from low-self esteem or have a higher risk of suffering from anxiety and/or depression

In some cases, this combination of factors can create the perfect storm for addiction.

Dual Diagnosis: ADHD and Addiction productive group therapy 2

ADHD and Addiction

While only around 4.4% of adults have symptoms of ADHD, and around 11% of children were diagnosed with ADHD in 2011, around 38% of cannabis users report having ADHD. Around 23% of young adults seeking treatment for a substance use disorder have ADHD. 

Among children with ADHD, the risk of developing a substance use disorder is at least twice as high as it is among people who do not have ADHD. Not only that, children who have a comorbid conduct disorder, like oppositional defiant disorder, may have a four times greater risk of developing a substance abuse problem than those who do not have those disorders. That risk includes a higher risk of:

The symptoms of ADHD, including hyperactivity and impulsivity, may also lead to earlier substance use and abuse in many individuals. 

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The Link Between ADHD and Substance Abuse

ADHD does not directly cause substance abuse, nor does substance abuse directly cause ADHD. However in some cases, long-term substance abuse can increase symptoms associated with ADHD. These symptoms include distraction, lack of engagement, or poor executive function. However, there is a clear link between ADHD and addiction, likely because of some of the symptoms associated with both conditions.

In order to pursue effective treatment for substance abuse, patients with ADHD may need to work with a facility that understands the connection between ADHD and addiction. These treatment centers will work with the patient to manage those symptoms. 

Dual Diagnosis: ADHD and Addiction adhd and addiction

Risky Behaviors

Many people with ADHD are more likely to engage in a variety of risky behaviors. Often, they may have a hard time evaluating the perceived risk associated with a behavior and comparing it to the possible benefits.

In the case of substance abuse, a patient with ADHD may have a hard time weighing the potential consequences or negative impact of taking an addictive substance. They may not properly assess the risk of long-term addiction against the possible consequences. injections daily to survive. There is presently no known prevention of type 1 diabetes. (2)

Dangerous Situations

Patients with ADHD may also be more likely to end up in situations that could cause them to be exposed to potentially addictive behaviors. For example, a student skipping school might be more likely to end up in a dangerous area of town or hanging out with people who are more likely to engage in those behaviors. Another example would be, someone who regularly spends evenings in a bar would be more likely to be exposed to alcohol on a regular basis. 

Addiction Evaluation

In addition, patients with ADHD may have a harder time determining whether they have an addiction to a substance, which may cause them to engage in more risky behaviors related to that substance. For example, they may not realize that they have taken prescription pain medications for too long, or that they have started to show signs of addiction.


ADHD remains undiagnosed in a large percentage of the population, particularly in women. Often, the symptoms of ADHD, particularly inattentive-type ADHD, are written off to something else entirely: distraction, for example, or an overall enjoyment of socialization instead of focus on academics in the classroom. Unfortunately, many people grow up without ever recognizing the symptoms of ADHD for what they are.

Even among those who are diagnosed, there remains a stigma against ADHD medication. Only around 62% of children diagnosed with ADHD receive medication. Even more adults may choose not to pursue prescription ADHD medication.

Some patients, however, will attempt to self-medicate with other substances. Cannabis, for example, is often seen as providing help with agitation and irritability, while alcohol use can help temporarily decrease anxiety for many users. Many patients with ADHD may end up suffering from addiction due to overuse.


One of the best-known hallmarks of ADHD is impulsivity. People with ADHD are often gregarious, ready to try anything. Unfortunately, that may also translate to substance abuse. That impulsivity may make it difficult for people with ADHD to turn down substances when they are presented to them the first time.

 It may also make it even more difficult for them to turn those substances down over time. Even as symptoms of addiction begin to develop, a patient with ADHD may have a hard time turning down that substance. 

Impulsivity can also interfere with the plans made when a patient was in a better state of mind. A patient with ADHD may realize that he has started to show signs of addiction and choose, when away from that substance, not to use it anymore. In the moment, however, he may be quick to justify “just one more use” in a cycle that never seems to break.

Dopamine-Seeking Behaviors

Patients with ADHD often have lower levels of dopamine, or may have overall low dopamine function. As a result, they may prove more likely to seek out substances that will give them that pleasure. Many illegal substances help activate the pleasure centers in the brain, which makes them particularly addictive for patients with ADHD, who may have trouble activating those pleasure centers normally. Unfortunately, dopamine-seeking behaviors may also make it more difficult to break the cycle of addiction. 

Social Challenges

Many patients with ADHD may struggle more with social challenges, including a deeper need to be appreciated or liked by their peers. As a result, they may be more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors because they feel those behaviors will make them more likable. People with ADHD may be more likely to give in to peer pressure.

The Sober Partners Approach

Dealing with addiction alongside ADHD can be incredibly challenging. Following a treatment program specifically designed for your needs can make that process more effective. Contact Sober Partners today to learn more about how we can help you through effective addiction treatment with ADHD.

Our focus at Orange County’s Sober Partners Network is the treatment of drug and alcohol abuse, but we can never exclude the fact the many of our clients come to us diagnosed with co-occurring disorders. Dual diagnosis of co-occurring disorders with substance use disorders refers to other mental disorders that pair with drug and alcohol addictions.

Fortunately, when a client begins a life of sobriety, many symptoms of these disorders can disappear. All new clients at Sober Partners’ dual diagnosis rehab in Orange County, CA receive an initial evaluation from our licensed therapists upon arrival. In addition, medical staff performs a physical exam in order to help design a treatment strategy that best suits individual client needs.

With plans tailored to each patients’ mental health condition, our treatment centers in Newport Beach and Huntington Beach rehab centers see significant success rates.