Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

People with ADHD three times more likely to have a substance abuse disorder

An addiction rehabilitation service is calling for people with ADHD who are struggling with substance abuse to receive specialist treatment faster, after new research revealed that people with ADHD are three times more likely to have a substance abuse disorder.

Indeed, research shows that around 15% of adults with ADHD have a substance abuse disorder compared to 5.6% of the general population, with nearly a quarter (23%) of those being treated for substance use disorders also having an ADHD diagnosis.

Some people with ADHD ‘self-medicate’ with drugs and alcohol

There are various reasons as to why people with ADHD may be more likely to abuse addictive substances such as drugs and alcohol. These include that people with ADHD are more likely to engage in impulsive and reckless behaviour and seek new experiences, according to Rehabs UK.

People with ADHD are also more likely to ‘self-medicate’ with drugs or alcohol, rather than take them to get high, explains Dr James Brown, founder of the charity ADHDadultUK.

“Many adults do report that they ‘self-medicate’ with substances to deal with their ADHD and associated psychiatric issues, with one study reporting more than one-third of adolescents and young adults endorsed using cigarettes and substances for self-medication.

“As the brains of people with ADHD often feel like they cannot ‘switch off’, engaging with substances which either provide dopamine (like nicotine and cocaine) to cause ‘paradoxical calming’, or slowing down of thought processes, or use substances that are intoxicants as these can temporarily relieve much of the internal hyperactivity and repetitive thought patterns which can be distressing,” he said.

Some people with ADHD worry they may become addicted to ADHD medications such as methylphenidate and amphetamines. However, research shows those who are being treated with medication are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol compared to those who are not receiving treatment.

Receiving an ADHD diagnosis may make it easier to stick to treatment plans

Now, Rehabs UK is calling for better policies to ensure that people with ADHD can access assessments (and subsequent access to treatments) quickly and easily, as this is “essential to battling substance abuse”, according to Rehabs UK founder, Lester Morse.

Currently, ADHD services are struggling to keep up with demand, and a recent survey by the House of Commons revealed that 82% of respondents believe that current waiting times for an ADHD diagnosis are not adequate.

Mr Morse explains that without a diagnosis of ADHD, it may be harder for people tackling a substance abuse disorder to adhere to their treatment. He said: “ADHD symptoms can lead to impulsive behaviour, difficulty concentrating, and problems with organisation and planning. These symptoms can make it challenging for patients to engage in substance abuse treatment, adhere to a treatment plan, and cope with triggers.

“Without appropriate diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, patients continue to struggle with these symptoms, making it more difficult to achieve and maintain sobriety.”

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