ADD/ADHD and Addiction

Nechama Reis
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Jefferey A. Berman MD, DFASAM
Last Updated
July 26, 2022

Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction

Table of Contents
  1. ADD/ADHD and Alcoholism
  2. Is there a difference between ADHD and ADD?
  3. ADHD Symptoms
  4. What is it like to have ADHD?
  5. The Link between ADHD and Addiction
  6. Common substances of Abuse connected to ADHD
  7. ADHD and Addiction Treatment
  8. Sources

ADD/ADHD and Alcoholism

ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder appeared in the second edition of the DSM, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, in 1968. The condition effects many adults and is often left untreated. Those with ADHD suffer from boredom, impulsivity, and a lack of focus. In an attempt to cope with symptoms and soothe themselves, many choose to self-medicate.

This powerful link between ADD and addiction is the subject of a lot of research and investigation. It is estimated that 25% of adults with an addiction qualify for an ADD diagnosis [1].

People with ADD or ADHD may use drugs as a way to cope with their symptoms. Drug rehab should use a dual diagnosis approach for such clients. Their mental health must be included in their substance abuse treatment plan. It is the only way to achieve sustained addiction recovery.

The criteria and understanding of the causes of ADHD are constantly evolving. Originally, a diagnosis of ADD, or ADHD would be given by a health care professional. However, in the latest edition of the DSM the correct terminology for the disorder was changed to ADHD with subcategories. The three subcategories are predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive and impulsive and a combination of the two [2].

Back to top

Is there a difference between ADHD and ADD?


ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which means a change in brain development. It often begins in childhood and can prolong into adulthood. It is thought to be caused by a mixture of genetic and environmental conditions [3].


Originally ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder, was used to describe an inattentive form of ADHD. It is now considered an outdated diagnosis and is categorized as a subset of the ADHD condition. Doctors will now diagnose a person with ADD as ADHD with inattentive symptoms without the hyperactivity. [4]

Back to top

ADHD symptoms

The primary symptoms of ADHD/ADD are the hyperactivity and inability to focus. However, there are additional symptoms that one can experience.

Some of these symptoms are.

  • lack of focus
  • fidgeting
  • difficulty staying seated
  • overactive personality
  • forgetfulness
  • talking out of turn
  • behavioral problems
  • impulsiveness
How ADD and ADHD Are Diagnosed

ADHD/ADD can be diagnosed by a psychologist, psychiatrist or pediatrician. Healthcare providers use the guidelines set by the American Psychological Association to determine if ADHD/ADD is present. The diagnosis is based on symptoms. [5]

Back to top

What is it like to have ADHD?

Adult ADHD affects approximately 4% of adults. Many people envision ADHD as this hyperactive child who is filled with chaos and terror, but that is not the reality of ADHD. Many adults will report problems with organization, prioritizing, poor planning, mood swings and issues with finishing tasks.

Learn more about what ADD feels like

ADD and ADHD in Children

ADD and ADHD in children, has many symptoms and can be difficult to diagnose. ADHD effects approximately five million children and adolescents. These children struggle with hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and a lack of focus and self-control. They can also suffer from a low self-esteem, due to constantly underachieving and failing. [6]

ADD and ADHD in Adults

Approximately, 65% of children who have ADHD continue to have symptoms in adulthood. They symptoms often play out differently in adulthood than childhood. Adults are less likely to exhibit obvious symptoms of impulsivity or hyperactivity. Instead, symptoms of inattentiveness are often more prevalent.

Common ADHD/ADD Symptoms in Adulthood

These are some of the common symptoms of ADHD/ADD that can be present in adulthood.

  • Careless Mistakes
  • Lack of Focus
  • Poor Listener
  • Trouble Following Directions
  • Disorganization
  • Disinterest
  • Easily Distracted
  • Forgetful
  • Fidgety
  • Restlessness
  • Overly Talkative
  • Lack of Patience

Adults with ADHD/ADD symptoms can receive treatment to help them manage symptoms.

Back to top

Addiction can affect any adult. However, adults with ADHD may be more prone to addiction due to certain characteristics of the condition. A study found that half of adults who suffer from ADHD also suffer from an addiction [7]. ADHD can cause sufferers to constantly feel like they are failing or underperforming. They are also at risk for depression and isolation. These are common causes for addiction.

ADHD and Dopamine

The causes for ADHD are still not fully known however there seems to be altered dopamine response in patients with ADHD. Dopamine is responsible for feeling pleasure. People with ADHD may release less dopamine than normal. This can lead them to seek out pleasure seeking substances or behaviors. These substances and behaviors can provide short term relief, but overtime will make symptoms worse. [8]

Are ADHD and addiction co-occurring disorders?

There is evidence that those with ADD are more prone to addiction [9]. Understanding the link between the two can help with treatment. However, there is no causal relationship between the two. There is no guarantee that those with ADD will have a cooccurring addiction or vice versa. When they do cooccur, the best option for treatment is a combined approach that treats both disorders. Avenues Recovery Drug Rehab creates personalized addiction treatment plans that address both conditions in concert. It is the best path to success in the client regaining control of life.

Back to top

Common substances of abuse connected to ADHD

ADD and Alcohol Abuse

In an attempt to self-medicate, those with ADD might turn to alcohol to increase dopamine levels. Alcohol can provide relief in two ways.

  • In order to ease the distress of life with ADHD.
  • To assist in social and academic problems.

However, sadly alcohol will make symptoms worse and not better. Impulsive behavior can increase with alcohol consumption. If someone is consuming more than 14 drinks a week, they may be self-medicating.

Learn more about alcohol addiction

ADD and sex/porn addiction

ADD can lead to symptoms of hypersexuality or hyposexuality. Hypersexuality is an increased sex drive and can lead to sex or porn addiction. Sextual release can release endorphins and create a feeling of calmness, which can be soothing for those with ADD. The impulsivity linked to ADD can also cause people to engage in risky sexual behavior.

ADD and video game addiction

As discussed, people with ADD/ADHD are more prone to all addictions. However, internet addictions, also categorized as process addictions, seems to play right into the hard wiring of an ADD brain, and make drug or alcohol addiction even more likely. The constant stream of stimulation that comes from video games appeals to the hyperactivity of an ADHD brain. Also, those with ADD are more susceptible to social anxiety. This can cause them to seek out activities that relieve that anxiety. Video games provides users with interactions over the internet which can feel socially stimulating while not being uncomfortable or anxiety provoking. However, this will not help one develop healthy social skills but rather hinder them.

Back to top

ADHD and addiction treatment

There are added complications when treating ADHD combined with substance use disorder. It can be difficult for doctors to diagnose ADHD when there is simultaneously a substance use disorder. Symptoms can appear as a result of substance use disorder and not ADHD. However, if symptoms were there prior to drug use or this a prolonged history f this can be an indication that ADHD is present. Drug treatment centers are experienced in these co-occuring disorders and are the best place to devise a drug or alcohol rehab program that approaches both. Inpatient and outpatient rehab are often appropriate and necessary to give clients the roadmap to addiction recovery while ensuring mental health wellness.

ADHD and Medication In Substance Abuse Patients

Medication is often used as a first line of treatment in patients with ADHD. Psychostimulants are found to be the most effective in treating ADHD. In patients with cooccurring substance use these medications are found to be helpful as well. However, there is an added risk that patients may become addicted to the medications. Especially with patients who misused stimulants previously, it may not be recommended to use stimulants as a treatment for them. However, doctors can provide longer acting stimulants at first to mitigate the risk.

Other Treatment Options for ADHD and Addiction

Aside from medication, ADHD can be treated with behavior therapy, diet and other nonpharmacological  treatments.

Drug rehab for patients with co-occurring ADHD

If a patient wishes to begin treatment, he or she should begin with detox. Once they successfully detox from drinking or their other harmful drugs of choice, inpatient rehab is the next step to addiction recovery. At the drug treatment center, all aspects of their addiction struggles will be addressed and treated. Mental health wellness is key to proper addiction recovery and needs to be a component of the treatment plan for clients struggling with co-occurring disorders. Reach out today to start your journey back from substance abuse and learn how to live with ADHD.

Back to top











Back to top

Contact us or call now!
1- 888-683-0333
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • By submitting this form. I am providing express written consent to contact me by SMS at the phone number provided.

Get help now

Call 24/7 888-683-0333

Enter your information below and one of our outreach coordinators will contact you immediately.

  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • By submitting this form. I am providing express written consent to contact me by SMS at the phone number provided.

I'm standing by
ready to help you

Brooke Abner,

Motivational Coach