ADHD and addiction

Living with ADHD is a daily challenge that affects every aspect of life, from personal relationships to professional pursuits. When addiction enters the mix, these challenges often magnify, creating a complex cycle of destructive mental health and substance abuse issues. While this dual diagnosis can be incredibly tough to live with, it does not have to be an inescapable situation. Through specialised treatment and support, you can overcome addiction and simultaneously learn effective strategies to manage ADHD. This can lead to a more balanced life and a brighter future.

What is ADHD?

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), is a neurological disorder that causes persistent patterns of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity. These patterns can greatly interfere with functioning and development and disrupt every aspect of life.

ADHD affects about 5% of children and 2.5% of adults, which makes it one of the most common neurological disorders globally. While traditionally more diagnosed in boys and men, ADHD is increasingly recognised in girls and women, where it often presents in subtler ways, leading to underdiagnosis or misdiagnosis.

Common ADHD symptoms

Understanding the symptoms of ADHD is critical for proper diagnosis and management. These symptoms are broadly split into two types: inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity.

Inattention ADHD symptoms

Inattention in ADHD manifests as:

  • Difficulty sustaining focus
  • Poor organisational skills
  • Forgetfulness
  • A tendency to be easily distracted
  • Hyperactivity-impulsivity ADHD symptoms

    Hyperactivity is characterised by:

  • Excessive fidgeting
  • Restlessness
  • An inability to stay seated in appropriate situations
  • Impulsivity involves:

  • Hasty actions without forethought
  • An increased risk of accidents
  • Interrupting others
  • Making abrupt decisions
  • These ADHD symptoms can lead to difficulties in maintaining relationships, achieving academic or career goals and managing daily tasks. Meanwhile, the constant struggle with focus, impulsiveness and hyperactivity can lead to chronic stress, low self-esteem and a pervasive sense of underachievement.

    What causes ADHD?

    ADHD’s causes are multifaceted, often involving genetic, neurobiological and environmental factors. While each person has their unique combination, some common ADHD causes and risk factors include:

    Genetic influences

    Research shows a strong genetic component with ADHD running in families. This means that if a parent or sibling has ADHD, the likelihood of another family member having it significantly increases.

    Neurobiological aspects

    Brain imaging studies have revealed differences in the brains of people with ADHD compared to those without. These differences include brain structure, volume and activity, particularly in areas responsible for attention, impulse control and executive functions.

    Environmental factors

    ADHD sufferers are inherently more impulsive than people who don’t have ADHD. These impulsive tendencies can make them more likely to engage in risky behaviours such as experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

    The link between ADHD and addiction

    Navigating the complexities of dual diagnosis, where ADHD and addiction coexist, requires a deep understanding of how these conditions interact and influence each other. This intricate relationship often begins with the inherent challenges of ADHD, which can lead to a path of substance abuse for self-medication or temporary escape. However, there are various dimensions and contributing factors that can lead to the co-development of ADHD and addiction:

    ADHD-related impulsivity

    ADHD sufferers are inherently more impulsive than people who don’t have ADHD. These impulsive tendencies can make them more likely to engage in risky or dangerous behaviours such as experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

    The role of self-medication

    Self-medication is a common pathway to addiction among those with ADHD. Substances like alcohol, drugs, or even engaging in addictive behaviours can provide temporary relief or a way to manage distressing symptoms. For instance, alcohol may be used to calm hyperactivity, while stimulants could be used to enhance attention and focus. However, this short-term relief often leads to dependency and exacerbates the underlying ADHD symptoms, creating a destructive cycle.

    Addictive ADHD medication

    Another significant factor in the development of dual diagnosis is the use of stimulant ADHD medications. While these medications can be effective in managing ADHD symptoms, the stimulating effects can also lead to misuse, overuse and eventually addiction. This risk is particularly heightened in cases where medication is not closely monitored or when there is a history of substance abuse.

    Manifestations of ADHD and addiction

    The intricate relationship between ADHD and addiction manifests in various forms, each presenting unique challenges and consequences.

    ADHD and alcohol addiction

    Individuals with ADHD often use alcohol to calm their minds and reduce hyperactivity. However, this can lead to codependency and exacerbate ADHD symptoms, particularly issues with impulse control and judgement. Around 12% of those with ADHD will develop alcohol addiction at some point in their lives.

    ADHD and drug addiction

    Stimulant drugs like cocaine can initially seem to help with ADHD symptoms, offering a temporary sense of focus and control. However, they quickly lead to a dependency cycle, worsening ADHD symptoms in the long term and creating a reliance on the substance. ADHD and cocaine addiction can be particularly difficult to handle as stimulants like cocaine can greatly increase hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour. Co-occurring ADHD and drug addiction have a lifetime prevalence of 27.7%.

    ADHD and love addiction

    Some individuals with ADHD may seek constant stimulation and validation, which can potentially lead to love addiction. This can stem from a need for emotional connection and acceptance, which can feel lacking due to the interpersonal difficulties caused by ADHD. Love addiction in this context becomes a search for fulfilment and affirmation, yet often leads to unstable and unsatisfying relationships.

    ADHD and porn addiction

    Porn addiction can also arise from unfulfilled emotional connections or as the result of a constant need for stimulation and novelty. Pornography provides a quick, intense stimulus, aligning with the ADHD brain’s craving for instant gratification and sensory stimulation.

    What does treatment for addiction and ADHD involve?

    When ADHD coexists with addiction, treatment becomes more complex as a traditional approach may not fully address the unique challenges posed by ADHD. For instance, the difficulty in maintaining focus and the impulsiveness inherent in ADHD can hinder the effectiveness of certain therapies. Consequently, a specialised strategy that considers both ADHD and addiction is essential for successful treatment and long-term recovery.

    At UKAT, we recognise the intricacies of dual diagnosis of ADHD and addiction. Our rehab centres provide comprehensive addiction treatment, which will also help you to manage co-occurring ADHD better. UKAT London Clinic can go even further and provide specialist treatment programmes for addiction, ADHD and both conditions simultaneously.

    Our rehab treatment programmes are designed to provide holistic care and support with therapy and support including:

    One-to-one therapy
    In one-to-one therapy, you will engage in private sessions with a trained therapist who understands the complexities of your dual diagnosis. This therapy will be a cornerstone of your treatment, providing a safe and confidential space to explore personal issues, challenges and feelings at your own pace. Your therapist will work closely with you to identify individual triggers, understand the root causes of your behaviours, and develop coping strategies tailored to your specific needs.
    CBT and DBT
    Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) are two of the most effective methods for treating both ADHD and addiction. These therapies will help you develop skills to manage impulsive behaviour, regulate emotions that drive substance abuse and cope with the symptoms of ADHD more healthily.
    Group therapy
    You will also participate in group therapy sessions where you can share your experiences and learn from others on a similar path. This environment is designed to build a supportive community around you, helping to alleviate the feelings of isolation often associated with ADHD and addiction.
    Meditation and mindfulness
    Meditation and mindfulness practices will help you improve focus and attention which are crucial skills when living with ADHD. They can also help you manage cravings and impulses associated with addiction, offering a serene and centred pathway to recovery.
    Art therapy
    Art therapy is a creative way to manage stress and anxiety and provides you with a non-verbal outlet to express your emotions and experiences. This can be particularly beneficial for those with ADHD who find it challenging to articulate thoughts and feelings in an organised way.
    Sound therapy
    Sound therapy utilises music and sound waves and promotes relaxation and mental well-being. This can be especially soothing for ADHD sufferers as it helps to reduce hyperactivity and enhance concentration.
    Yoga therapy
    Yoga therapy combines physical postures with breathing exercises and meditation. It can enhance your self-awareness, reduce impulsivity and offer a healthy physical outlet, all crucial elements when managing ADHD and addiction.
    After completing the initial phase of treatment, you will have access to ongoing support through weekly group therapy sessions. This continued care is vital for your long-term recovery, helping you maintain your progress and cope with future challenges.

    Begin the recovery journey today

    If you are struggling with ADHD and addiction, know that you are not alone. At UKAT, we understand the complexities of your situation and are here to help. Our tailored treatment programmes offer a path to recovery, addressing both your mental health and addiction. Contact UKAT today to begin your journey to recovery and a whole new life.

    Call us now for help


    How do you know if you have ADHD?
    Recognising ADHD involves identifying key symptoms such as chronic inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity that persistently disrupt daily functioning and development. These symptoms often manifest in multiple settings, like at home, work or social situations, and have typically been present since childhood. A formal diagnosis of ADHD is made by a healthcare professional who evaluates your symptoms against DSM-V criteria and looks at your personal and family history. If you suspect you have ADHD, it is crucial to consult a mental health professional as soon as possible for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.
    Is ADD the same as ADHD?
    ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is an older term that was used to describe a subtype of ADHD. It was characterised primarily by inattention, distractibility and organisational difficulties, without the hyperactivity and impulsivity associated with ADHD. However, in current medical terminology, ADD has been integrated into ADHD, which is now understood to have three subtypes: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive and combined.



    (Click here to see works cited)

    • Song, Peige, et al. “The Prevalence of Adult Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Global Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Journal of Global Health, vol. 11, 2021, Accessed 18 Dec. 2023.
    • Anker, Espen, et al. “Alcohol and Drug Use Disorders in Adult Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Prevalence and Associations with Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Symptom Severity and Emotional Dysregulation.” World Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 10, no. 9, 2020, pp. 202-211, Accessed 18 Dec. 2023.