ADHD and Addiction

People with Adult ADHD have almost triple the rate of addiction than that of adults without ADHD. Alcohol and marijuana are the most common substances used. Other types of addictions include nicotine, caffeine, sugar and street drugs.

For some adults with ADHD, addiction comes in the form of stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine “pick me ups” to help them concentrate and give them mental energy for their daily actions. Others use marijuana or alcohol to calm themselves and relax their busy mind. One of my clients said she smoked marijuana to feel and behave like a “normal” person.

This type of substance use is “self medicating.” A Harvard study found of the young adult participants, 70% did not use substances to get high, rather as a sleep aid, a mood enhancer, or another comparable reason. This type of “self medication” is particularly prevalent in people who do not know they have ADHD or have the diagnosis but aren’t treating ADHD. This is backed up by another study that found people with ADHD who were taking prescribed ADHD medication were far less likely to drink or abuse drugs.

Stopping addictions is never easy… BUT it is possible. If you feel that you are addicted to a substance, don’t be ashamed or embarrassed. Those feelings will stop you from getting the help you need. There is nothing to be ashamed about. All you need to do now is treat the problem in a different and healthy way.

  1. First acknowledge that you might have a problem. Tell a very supportive friend, your doctor or visit your local AA meeting. By telling someone, it brings your “secret” to the surface and helps you to know that people will still love you… regardless.
  2. Get help for your ADHD. If you haven’t already gotten an official diagnosis, its important that you find a professional in your area who is experienced in diagnosing ADD. Talk to your doctor about ADHD medication. Join an ADHD support group in your area, work with an ADHD Coach and start to implement the non-pharmaceutical ways to reduce the negative effects of ADHD on your life.
  3. Get to the root of the problem. The type of substance will help guide you on what you need in your life. For example, were you taking a stimulant or something the help you relax? If it was the latter, think of other ways you could relax, such as your favourite exercise, meditation, time with your pet, etc.
  4. Look at your life. In a fascinating study on rats, Canadian psychologist Bruce Alexander found the environment influenced whether lab rats would choose to consume morphine. When they were in a cramped cage (rat hell), they wanted the morphine. However, even rats who had been given morphine for nearly 60 consecutive days and were then placed in a rat park (rat paradise), they chose plain water, NOT water laced with morphine.

If we transfer the findings to your life, we can see that if you set your life up to be fun and enjoyable for you, you will have less need to use your substance of choice. You may need to do some soul searching to discover what changes you need to make, or you might know the second you read this what you need to do.

Remember, don’t be judgemental with yourself and take action.

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