ADHD and Substance Abuse

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common disorder among children and young adults, though many adults are also diagnosed with it. It is most commonly treated with a combination of medication (stimulants) and behavior therapy. One of the symptoms of ADHD is impulsiveness, which can lead to excessive use of alcohol and other recreational drugs. Also, ADHD medications have been abused, both by people who hold a prescription and by their peers.

ADHD and Substance Abuse
ADHD stands for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. It most commonly begins during the childhood years, more frequently in boys than in girls. While it is less frequently seen in adults, many are diagnosed with ADHD. There are two basic types of ADHD. One is the inattentive type. It is characterized by difficulty maintaining routines, staying organized, focusing and listening to others. The other is the impulsive or hyperactive type. It is characterized by the inability to sit still, constantly interrupting someone else who is talking, or engaging in impulsive behavior with little to no forethought. People with ADHD may have characteristics of the inattentive type, hyperactive type, or both.
ADHD can be treated with medication or different forms of therapy. Often, a combination of both is recommended and will have the best results. In younger children (under the age of six), medication is usually the last resort after various attempts and behavior therapy have failed. Medication combined with therapy, which aims to build good habits and help patients learn to cope with and control impulses in different settings, has been effective for teenagers and young adults.
Many parents wonder if their child is more likely to develop a substance abuse problem when they are diagnosed with ADHD. Since children and young adults with ADHD tend to be more impulsive, they are at greater risk of abusing alcohol and, to a lesser extent, other drugs. It is also worth noting that there is a tendency for both ADHD and alcoholism to be passed on genetically, from one generation to the next. Children with ADHD who have a parent or relative that suffers from alcoholism may be at a higher risk to develop the disease themselves.
While ADHD medications, such as Ritalin and Adderall, have been known to be abused or used recreationally, they are not as addictive as other stimulants. Stimulants mainly affect brain chemistry by increasing dopamine levels. Drugs like Ritalin and Adderall increase dopamine gradually, over a long period of time, while stimulants like cocaine create a spike in dopamine almost instantly. The quick increase in dopamine, repeated over time, is what leads to stimulant addiction. Even though ADHD medications are less likely to be addictive than more powerful stimulants, they still carry some risks of addiction and physical dependence.
Since many children and teenagers who have ADHD are prescribed drugs like Adderall, many of their peers who don’t have a prescription can more easily acquire these drugs for recreational use. Drugs like Adderall and Ritalin produce similar effects in the body similar to other stimulants such as cocaine -but with far less intensity. Since the experienced high is minor compared to that of other drugs, people might start taking excessive doses that are much greater than the prescribed amount. Taking dangerously large amounts of any prescription stimulant can lead to overdose.
ADHD and Substance Abuse
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