Individuals with Tourette syndrome have a higher risk of developing substance use disorders than members of the general public.

Tourette syndrome can increase the risk of developing a substance use disorder. Some genetic research indicates that certain genes associated with Tourette’s are linked to drug and alcohol abuse. More specifically, a genetic makeup that negatively affects serotonin metabolism can contribute to both Tourette syndrome and substance use.

Effects of Drug Use on Tourette’s

Individuals diagnosed with Tourette’s may use drugs to self-medicate. A study found that among patients with Tourette syndrome, 85 percent of those who used marijuana felt that the drug improved symptoms of Tourette’s. While drugs such as marijuana can help individuals with Tourette’s cope with symptoms and feel better, there is a risk of developing a substance use disorder when drugs are used to self-medicate.

Alcohol and Tourette’s

Tourette syndrome and alcohol use can also occur together. Research with individuals who have Tourette’s shows that a majority of those with the condition who use alcohol feel that it improves their symptoms. Unfortunately, as is the case with drugs, using alcohol to treat Tourette’s can become problematic.

Statistics on Tourette’s and Addiction

The statistics on Tourette’s and addiction show that there is a relationship between the two. Research on Tourette Syndrome has produced these findings:

  • 6 percent of males with Tourette syndrome have a substance use disorder
  • 6.9 percent of females with the syndrome experience co-occurring substance use disorders
  • 4.5 percent of individuals with Tourette’s also experience an alcohol use disorder
  • 6.2 percent of those diagnosed with Tourette syndrome develop a substance use disorder

This same study also indicated that substance use is more common among individuals who are diagnosed with both Tourette’s and co-occurring psychiatric conditions. In fact, 8.1 percent of individuals with comorbid Tourette’s and obsessive-compulsive disorder experience alcohol use disorders, and 10.3 percent of people with these comorbid conditions develop a substance use disorder.

Can Tourette’s Lead to Drug Abuse?

When individuals with Tourette’s use drugs to cope with or mask their symptoms, drug abuse can result. Using illicit drugs to treat Tourette’s can produce physical and mental health problems and eventually lead to dependence, abuse and addiction.

Treating Tourette Syndrome and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders

When self-medication with drugs or alcohol occurs among individuals with Tourette syndrome, drug abuse and dependence can result, making treatment necessary. In cases where Tourette’s and substance use disorders co-occur, it’s essential to treat both conditions simultaneously.

Treatment for Tourette’s may involve medication, psychotherapy or a combination of the two. One study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, found that behavioral therapy was just as effective as medication was for treating Tourette’s.

Numerous medications are available to manage Tourette’s symptoms. A review of current research shows that aripiprazole can effectively treat Tourette’s without some of the unpleasant side effects that occur with other drugs, such as haloperidol.

Beyond treatment for Tourette’s, managing co-occurring substance abuse requires interventions that specifically address the substance use disorder. Group and individual therapy in both inpatient and outpatient settings are available as a treatment for substance abuse. Treatment needs will vary based on the nature and severity of the substance use disorder.

If you or a loved one is suffering from co-occurring Tourette syndrome and a substance use disorder, The Recovery Village can provide the comprehensive treatment necessary for recovery. Contact a representative today to begin your treatment journey.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

Comings, D.E. “Genetic factors in substance abuse based[…]s. II. Alcohol abuse.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, March 1994. Accessed March 2, 2019.

Muller-Vahl, K.R. et al. “Gilles de la Tourette syndrome. Effec[…]n clinical symptoms.” PubMed, December 1997. Accessed March 2, 2019.

Riggs, Paula. “When teenagers self-medicate.” Child Mind Institute, 2019. Accessed March 2, 2019.

Hirschtritt, M.E, et al. “Lifetime prevalence, age of risk, and ge[…]in Tourette syndrome”. JAMA Psychiatry, April 2015. Accessed March 2, 2019.

Rizzo, Renata, et al. “A randomized controlled trial comparing […]r Tourette syndrome.” Frontiers in Psychology, March 27, 2018. Accessed March 2, 2019.

Zheng, W., et al. “Aripiprazole for Tourette’s syndrome: a systematic review and meta‐analysis.” Human Psychopharmacology, August 26, 2015. Accessed March 2, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.