ADHD is a psychological illness that some people don’t mind admitting. When you meet someone for the first time, for instance, they might say as a way of introducing themselves, “Please excuse my fidgeting. I have ADHD.” Or they may be answering their phone, jotting notes down, and talking to you all at the same time saying, “I’m not sure if I’m a superior multi-tasker or if I have ADHD.”  The point is ADHD is not an illness that people need to hide, like depression or addiction might be.

Yet, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is an illness that may actually contribute to substance abuse. Symptoms of ADHD include difficulty with paying attention, difficulty with organization, excessive talking, fidgeting, along with hyperactivity and impulsivity. These symptoms can impair a person’s functioning at work and in relationships, and for this reason, those with ADHD often easily recognize that there is a problem. Those with ADHD might feel the need to use substances to calm down, to feel focused, or to stay present in interactions with others. In fact, for adults with ADHD the lure of some drugs like alcohol and marijuana might be greater compared to those who do not have the illness. Furthermore, the impulsivity can also encourage substance use. When a person with ADHD experiences uncomfortable feelings or circumstances that are challenging to be with, they may impulsively turn to substances as a way to cope.

In fact, research indicates that more than 15% of adults with ADHD had abused or were dependent upon alcohol or drugs during the previous year. Alcohol and marijuana were the substances most commonly abused among those with ADHD. And there are many reasons behind the use of drugs and alcohol among those with ADHD. These include:

  • –ADHD may have a hard time fitting in. They may feel that their inattentiveness makes them less productive or less intelligent.
  • –ADHD may make a person less successful academically and therefore unable to earn higher paying jobs. And research shows that among adults with ADHD, fewer graduate from college and as a result, they may earn less money.
  • –ADHD may make it difficult for someone to function effectively at work.
  • –ADHD may make relationships challenging.


Because of these reasons and more, ADHD may be a contributing factor to substance use. And biologically speaking, research shows that there is an increased presence of addiction in the close relatives of those with ADHD. Apparently, the genes that predisposes someone to ADHD are also genes that can produce risk-taking and novelty-seeking behavior, which can lead to an increased risk of substance use and addiction.

If you have ADHD, it might be useful to know of the dangers of substance use. You may in fact want to get mental health support for ADHD if you are in recovery from addiction. And if you’re not in recovery but you’re using substances as a means to cope, it’s important to seek substance abuse treatment. In either case, contact a mental health provider for assistance.

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