Many parents are reluctant to put their child on medication for ADHD because of the potential for addiction that is associated with some stimulant medications. Instead, parents are finding that drug-free treatments for ADHD offer excellent results without the possibility of drug abuse or addiction. However, this should not be the only concern parents have with regard to ADHD and substance abuse. Research shows that children who have ADHD are much more likely to develop chemical dependencies in adulthood than the general population. This holds true even if the child does not abuse or become addicted to his or her ADHD medication.
The impulsivity and poor decision-making that is associated with ADHD can lead children to engage in risky behaviors, such as the abuse of alcohol and other drugs. Additionally, both ADHD and alcoholism have a genetic component, and are therefore passed on from one generation to the next. Children with ADHD who have a parent with alcoholism are far more likely to develop an alcohol problem than are children whose parents are not alcoholics. Some researchers have even found that ADHD and alcoholism share common genes, making a combination of ADHD and substance abuse a potentially common occurrence.
In fact, a person with ADHD is five to ten times more likely to develop alcoholism. Many alcoholics who have ADHD begin drinking in their teenage years. Children with ADHD begin drinking earlier than their peers: approximately 40 percent of children with ADHD begin drinking by age 15, as compared to just 22 percent of children who do not have the disorder. Young adults who have ADHD are no more likely to drink than their non-ADHD peers, however, they are much more likely to drink in excess than their peers. Research shows that 14 percent of children with ADHD develop an alcohol dependency as an adult. Among adult alcoholics, approximately one-fourth have ADHD. Recreational drug use is also more common among people who have ADHD as compared to the general population.
It’s important to note that the link between ADHD and substance abuse generally begins because people attempt to self-medicate. Using alcohol and drugs is perceived to be a way to “calm the mind” or reduce some of ADHD’s symptoms, such as boredom, lack of sleep or to improve mood. Only after a period of such self-medication does an addiction or chemical dependency develop. In order to reduce the likelihood that your child seeks out an unhealthy means of reducing their symptoms, it is important to engage your child in an effective treatment plan and discuss that plan with a medical professional. Many highly effective drug-free treatments are available for ADHD, including the Learning Breakthrough Program, which combines exercise and brain training to help reduce symptoms. For more information about the program, visit https://learningbreakthrough.com/specific-challenges/drug-free-add/adhd-alternative-treatment.