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ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

If left untreated, ADHD can cause major problems in areas such as work, school, or even in personal relationships. Free By the Sea, a Washington-based rehabilitation center, specializes in treating ADHD. Understanding just how medication and therapy can be used together is the first step for someone who wants to regain control while living with ADHD and addiction. 

It is important to understand that ADHD medication is not a “gateway” drug. The truth is that adolescents and adults who get treatment for their ADHD symptoms are less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs than their untreated, undiagnosed peers. So, it is best to both understand ADHD and learn how to treat it, especially in cases where it co-occurs with addiction.

Understanding ADHD

ADHD, short for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a mental health condition that can make it hard for adults and children to focus for long lengths of time. Millions of small children and adolescents are affected by ADHD, and sadly the disorder will often continue past their childhood and follow them into their adult lives. Specific ADHD symptoms and their severity can vary significantly from person to person. The most common, though, are related to having an inability to focus or concentrate for longer time periods. 

Signs and Symptoms of ADHD

While almost every child will experience hyperactivity or inattentiveness at times, those same problems may be signs of ADHD if they increase in frequency or severity and impact the child’s schoolwork or home life. Hyperactivity and inattention are the primary symptoms of ADHD.

Some common signs of inattention can include the following:

  • Trouble listening, even if directly addressed
  • Trouble paying attention during specific tasks or even during play
  • Getting easily distracted
  • Having organizational problems
  • Forgetfulness and trouble remembering where they’ve placed items

Some common signs of hyperactivity and impulsivity include:

  • Trouble playing or sitting quietly
  • Constant fidgeting
  • A constant feeling of restlessness
  • Excessive talking
  • Trouble waiting their turn

Diagnosing ADHD

Because tests for ADHD do not exist, generally children need to experience severe symptoms persistently over a long period of time and across a number of their different social environments.

Specific diagnoses for ADHD are as follows:

  • Inattentive-type ADHD – This is accompanied by at least six signs of inattention.
    • Having trouble paying attention to detail
    • Forgetting routine chores (i.e. returning phone calls, paying bills)
    • Getting easily distracted
  • Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD – Accompanied by at least six signs of impulsivity and hyperactivity.
    • Needing to constantly move (fidgeting, squirming)
    • Running around excessively
    • Blurting out answers to questions and interrupting others
  • Combined-type ADHD – This is a combination of the previous two types, so it’s accompanied by six symptoms in both categories.

Risk Factors of ADHD

No one knows for sure what causes ADHD to develop in people, but several factors have been proven to significantly influence the condition’s development. Some of these factors include:

  • Exposure to alcohol, drugs, or toxins during pregnancy
  • Low birth weight
  • Having a separate learning disability
  • Anxiety or depression
  • A family history of behavioral or mood disorders

Chemical Messengers and ADHD

Adolescents and adults with ADHD often wind up using harmful substances. Although there is no precise answer to why, experts suggest that people with ADHD have issues regulating neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. These are both chemicals used and produced by your central nervous system and are sometimes called “chemical messengers.” Dopamine helps us strive, focus, and find things interesting. Norepinephrine plays a role in an individual’s mood and ability to concentrate. 

Low levels of these chemicals make it more difficult to focus, causing symptoms of ADHD. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology has determined that ADHD can affect areas of the brain that help you plan ahead, solve problems, understand the actions of others, and control impulses.

Living with the symptoms of ADHD can cause people to have major difficulties with mental or social endeavors. Some of these difficulties include poor academic performance or even trouble with maintaining personal relationships.

ADHD, Adults, and Addiction

People who suffer from ADHD also often have problems with impulsivity, which means they are more prone to pathological behaviors or even substance abuse. The combination of ADHD and addiction is called a dual diagnosis

More than 25% of adolescents with substance use disorder fit the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. Only 20% of adults with ADHD have been properly diagnosed or treated. Adults with ADHD who have gone untreated and undiagnosed can find it especially difficult to concentrate every day. An adult sufferer who was not diagnosed until the age of 26 explained, “It’s like playing with fire you can’t see, and wondering why your hands are burning.”

Drug and alcohol use is very risky if you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. A recent survey revealed that more than 15% of adults with ADHD had abused or were dependent on drugs or alcohol during the previous year — nearly triple the rate for adults without ADHD. The most commonly used substances are alcohol and marijuana.

This type of self-medication appears to be especially common in individuals who have undiagnosed ADHD or who have been diagnosed but haven’t gotten treatment. As people with ADHD get older, the hyperactive element of the disorder often diminishes. On the inside, however, they are just as hyper as ever. They will seek something to calm their brain enough to be productive.

How Do ADHD and Addiction Interact?

For adults with ADHD, diagnosis and proper treatment are crucial. One of the strongest predictors of substance use disorders as an adult is the early use of substances. Children and teens with ADHD have an increased likelihood of using substances at an early age. Clinicians and parents need to work together once the child or adolescent is diagnosed with ADHD to determine the best course of treatment. This could be medication, therapy, interventions, or a combination of the three.

Some parents might be understandably reluctant to medicate their children, but it’s important to discover an effective treatment plan for ADHD as early as possible. Treatment for ADHD varies from person to person, but it may stop kids and teens from exploring drugs and alcohol early in an effort to self-medicate.

Regardless of consequences, the poor judgment, impulsivity, and social awkwardness that come with ADHD can pave the way for addiction. For those who do experiment with drugs, addiction and enhanced difficulty coping usually follow. Many sufferers feel that they need to self-medicate to escape from their problems, but clinically supervised therapy is always a better strategy.

Treatments for ADHD

Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed cure for ADHD, but there are several effective treatments. Consistently treating the problem directly with a combination of behavioral therapy and medication can really help a person with ADHD manage their life better. 

There are medications that raise levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in the body and help with focus. They are:

  • Ritalin or Concerta (methylphenidate)
  • Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine)
  • Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine)
  • Strattera (atomoxetine), which only raises norephedrine

Most children with ADHD who are successfully diagnosed early on will grow into healthy and fully functional adults. Currently, the most utilized ADHD treatment is a combination of both behavioral counseling and medication, but there are other methods available.

Some other treatments include psychotherapy, family therapy, behavioral therapies, utilizing support groups, and also training for the individual’s parents that can lead families to better understand ADHD and manage the symptoms more effectively. Sometimes parents also suffer from an addiction, which means that the treatment will need to address both issues at the same time.

Rehabilitation programs are a great way to treat ADHD, and having such a disorder left untreated can cause destructive problems and addictions which can eventually damage the individual themselves as well as their loved ones. For additional information about specific treatment methods, make sure to contact Free by the Sea today.

Treating ADHD and Addiction

The best method of treating people with both ADHD and a substance use disorder is to treat both at the same time. In the case of substance abuse issues, patients need to be sober prior to beginning treatment for ADHD. Taking the prescribed medication properly helps reduce the risk of substance abuse.

Treating ADHD Early is Key

The timing of ADHD treatment matters. Children who are treated at an earlier age are less likely to develop substance use problems compared to those who start treatment later. Early treatment may delay the start of substance use.

Treating the mental health issues that frequently coincide with ADHD is equally important. Anxiety and depression are co-occurring conditions that increase the risk of substance use disorder. Discuss any sudden change in your child’s ADHD symptoms with his doctor. The big difference between substance use disorders and ADHD is that ADHD generally starts in early elementary school but substance use disorders begin in middle school, not first grade.

What If My Child Has ADHD?

  • Be attentive to any change in behavior, even if you think it may be part of your child’s ADHD.
  • Talk to your teen about acceptable behavior and set a good example by not misusing alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs.
  • Be aware of your child’s friends. If he is hanging out with friends who are into drugs, it’s likely that he is too.
  • Talk to your child about the importance of using medications as prescribed. Discuss side effects with your child’s doctor.
  • Keep an eye on your teen’s medications. Sharing, selling, or distributing prescription stimulants is illegal and dangerous.
  • Make sure medications are locked up and monitored. Don’t leave them in a kitchen or anywhere people can see it. Teach your child to be responsible for her medication and help her learn to manage her ADHD condition.

Don’t Wait; Call Free By the Sea for ADHD Treatment Today

ADHD can seriously impact a person’s quality of life. If you believe you or a loved one is suffering from ADHD, make sure to contact us for additional information on how we can help set people’s lives back on the right track. At Free by the Sea, we are committed to bringing individuals and their families the help required to rebuild their health and lives. We’re a nationally recognized treatment program located in the State of Washington that specializes in alcohol and drug addiction that provides services to men, women, and families affected by ADHD. Contact us today.

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