Substance Use & ADD

Addiction, including drug and alcohol addiction, is common among adolescents and adults with ADD.  A 2011 analysis of 29 studies of AD/HD, substance use and addiction found that almost one out of every four individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) also has ADD. A report by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) found that “of the 31,244 emergency department visits involving ADD stimulant medications in 2010…one fifth involved illicit drugs (21 percent), and 14 percent involved marijuana. Nearly one fifth involved alcohol (19 percent).”

A 2014 review of available studies underscored the “high risk for co-morbid ADD in patients with SUD; and conversely, the high risk for SUD developing in ADD across the lifespan.” ADD is therefore seen as a significant risk factor for the development of SUDs in both men and women.

While the underlying cause for the association between ADD and SUD is unknown, researchers propose that one possible cause is that “substance use represents an attempt to ‘self-medicate’ ADD symptoms.”  There may be common neurological factors as well: the development of both ADD and SUD have been linked to the function of dopamine in the brain (See: The ADD Brain).

An ADD diagnosis is especially difficult among adults who also have SUD. First, there aren’t clear criteria to make an ADD diagnosis in this population, and as a 2007 study pointed out, “substances of abuse have many acute and chronic effects that mimic the symptoms of psychiatric disorders, including ADD.”