Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder often diagnosed during childhood. People with ADHD may act impulsively, have trouble paying attention, or be overly active. Symptoms, which sometimes last into adulthood, range from mild to severe and cause problems in daily activities.

What are ADHD symptoms?

Children and adults may experience these ADHD symptoms:

1. Daydreaming or inability to focus

2. Forgetting or losing things

3. Squirming, fidgeting, or other overactive behavior

4. Talking too much or at the wrong times

5. Taking needless risks or not thinking before acting

6. Making careless mistakes or being inattentive

7. Having problems getting along with others

Every year, the number of ADHD diagnoses in children between the ages of 2 and 17 is increasing. Although twice as common in boys, the number of cases in girls and women is also rising. In 2016, there were 6.1 million children (9.4%) in the U.S. with the disorder.

There is a link between ADHD and addiction, but researchers say teens and adults who get proper treatment are not as likely to misuse alcohol and drugs as those who go undiagnosed and untreated. One study showed that people with ADHD, however, were three times more likely to experience substance misuse, especially with alcohol and marijuana, than those without the disorder.

Approximately 13% of men will be diagnosed with ADHD at some point during their lives. While the average age of diagnosis is seven years, the disorder goes far beyond childhood for many. Around 4 in 100 adults in the U.S. deal with ADHD daily, and 23 in 100 hundred children who have been diagnosed receive no counseling or medication.

ADHD and Substance Abuse

In ADDitude magazine, an addiction specialist defines “problem” as abuse that affects the quality of health, work, school or relationships. Timothy Wilens, M.D. and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston, says research shows that only 30 percent of young adults diagnosed with ADHD use substances to get high. The rest are “self-medicating” to treat symptoms like moodiness or insomnia, a problem that goes even higher among those who aren’t diagnosed or are diagnosed and not treated.

While hyperactivity often improves with age, the over-activity in the brain continues and often leads to substance abuse. People with ADHD are more likely to use poor judgment, be socially awkward, or act impulsively. They may find it harder to succeed at school or work, making them less likely to graduate high school or college and leading to lower incomes. Genetics also plays a role, and researchers know family members of people with ADHD experience a higher number of substance abuse disorders than those without genetic links.

Regardless of what causes them, the first signs of ADHD usually show up during the teen years. Before the age of 15, young people experiment with drugs at the same rate as their non-ADHD classmates. After they turn 15, rates of abuse and addiction go up. A striking 50% of adults with untreated ADHD have a substance abuse disorder at least once during their lifetimes.

Are ADHD Medications Addictive?

Adderall and Ritalin are brand names for nervous system stimulants used to treat ADHD. Research shows they can be safe and effective when taken as directed, but the risk grows with misuse. While street drugs make the news more often, prescription drugs are also a problem.

College students, especially, turn to ADHD medications for highs, but it’s usually not the students with ADHD who misuse them. Taken by mouth, inhaled, or sometimes injected, stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin are popular as “study drugs” because they help students concentrate. Researchers say users are frequently white college students who belong to sororities or fraternities and have below-A grade point averages.

Students who take the drugs for legitimate reasons become victims of peer pressure when friends ask to borrow or buy pills. They also face a stigma created by misinformation from cultural or media sources around ADHD and prescription drugs. The controversy over whether ADHD is a “real” diagnosis is an old topic that doesn’t go away.

Because of the demand for illicit stimulants, the need to “lockdown” prescriptions for ADHD adds to the feeling that something is wrong with legitimate use. Temptation can be strong for students who dislike taking medication, need a few fast bucks, or are eager to please their friends.

Myths about health dangers and crime associated with prescription stimulants add to the confusion. Are ADHD medications addictive? It depends on who takes them and how they’re used.

What Is Holistic ADHD Treatment?

Individuals who have ADHD and substance abuse disorder have both a tendency to misuse medications and a vulnerability to relapse after substance abuse treatment. Whether you’re in recovery from addiction or hoping to avoid potential dependence, there are some great holistic ways to treat ADHD.

Holistic ADHD treatment incorporates practices such as:

1. Behavioral therapy to target negative thinking and low self-esteem

2. Diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and protein but low in processed foods and sugar

3. Exercise to improve mood and increase endorphins

4. Practices like mindfulness meditation, yoga, or tai chi

5. Brain training or biofeedback

6. Spending time in nature

7. Vitamins and supplements, especially vitamin C, B6, iron, and zinc

Help Is Available

If you or your child is struggling with ADHD and substance abuse, a rehab center that combines the latest individual and group therapy with holistic ADHD treatment may be your best option. Ethos Structured Sober Living in West Los Angeles, a sober living facility for young men in recovery, has trained professionals who know how to encourage and inspire young men and their families.

At Ethos, we provide a 12-step program in an accepting community that allows residents to experience an atmosphere of support and accountability. With one-on-one sharing, ongoing mentoring, and educational resources for the entire family, our goal is to educate, assist, and prepare residents for successful relationships and careers after recovery. Contact us today for more information.