ADHD: Addiction and risk

If you have an ADHD brain, like I do, you may have struggled with addiction, or risky behavuoues and if your diagnosis, like mine, was later in life, and you have had a lifetime of wondering why you are more prone to certain behaviours or why you have or still struggle with certain things, then welcome to the club. Our brains are equally both amazing, complex and vulnerable to addiction.

adhd addiction

While ADHD is primarily associated with difficulties in attention, focus, and impulsivity, it is also linked to a higher risk of addiction. As someone with a diagnosis of inattentive ADHD, I am very aware of some of the risks that my neurodiverse conditions poses to me, and my life. For some strange reason, the luck of the gods, a gut instinct, call it what you will, I have managed to avoid active addition to substances, and gambling. I have, however, dealt with anorexia and bulimia and food addiction, in my lifetime, and my relationship with food is still, a complex one, but not one that makes me unwell, after years of therapy and learning to manage some of my issues around food.

But, I am a work in progress, and just because I haven’t become a victim to certain life destroying addictions, doesn’t mean I am still not vulnerable, and I hold myself in a very tight space around things that could trigger the fall into a place I may not be able to come back from. I have never taken drugs, I am incredibly careful around how much alcohol I cosume, and why I am consuming it, I am very uncomfortable with the concept of gambling, and choose not to. These are just some things that I know, that should I partake of them, in an uncontrolled or even small amount, that will potentually become a lifelong problem for me.

But why? Why is my ADHD brain more prone to addiction and or risky behaviours?

  1. Dopaminergic Dysregulation

One of the key reasons individuals with ADHD are more susceptible to addiction lies in the neurochemical imbalances within their brains. ADHD is characterized by reduced dopamine receptor sensitivity and impaired dopamine neurotransmission. Dopamine, often referred to as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, plays a crucial role in motivation, reward, and pleasure. Individuals with ADHD may seek substances or behaviors that boost dopamine levels, such as drugs, alcohol, or risky behaviors, to alleviate their chronic dopamine deficiency.

  1. Self-Medication

Many people with ADHD struggle with the symptoms of the disorder, including impulsivity, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating. To cope with these challenges and alleviate their discomfort, they may turn to substances like drugs or alcohol, which can temporarily alleviate these symptoms. This self-medication can provide a fleeting sense of relief, leading to a higher risk of addiction as individuals continually seek these substances for symptom relief.

  1. Impulsivity and Risk-Taking

Impulsivity is a hallmark feature of ADHD. Individuals with ADHD often act without thinking through the consequences of their actions, leading to risky behaviors. This impulsivity can make them more likely to experiment with drugs or engage in risky activities that can ultimately lead to addiction. The thrill-seeking behavior associated with impulsivity can be particularly enticing for some individuals, further increasing their vulnerability to addiction.

  1. Peer Influence and Social Isolation

Social factors also contribute to the link between ADHD and addiction. Individuals with ADHD may face challenges in forming and maintaining healthy social relationships due to their symptoms, which can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Seeking acceptance and camaraderie, they may gravitate toward peer groups where substance use is prevalent. This social environment can normalize and reinforce addictive behaviors.

  1. Genetic Predisposition

Research suggests a strong genetic component in both ADHD and addiction. Individuals with a family history of either ADHD or substance abuse disorders may be genetically predisposed to both conditions. Certain genetic variations can make individuals more susceptible to both ADHD and addiction, creating a potent combination that increases their risk.

  1. Emotional Dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation is another common feature of ADHD. Individuals with ADHD may experience intense emotions and have difficulty managing them. Substance use can provide a temporary escape from overwhelming emotions, making it a tempting coping mechanism. Over time, this reliance on substances can lead to addiction as individuals increasingly turn to them to regulate their emotions.

So, for me, and for you, if you have ADHD, addiction and risky behavoiurs, are, well, just more risky. We don’t tend to do things in small measures, so when our brains fail us, we fall spectacularly. What may seem like something harmless to someone else, is more likely to be a huge trap to us.

  • Adults with ADHD have a higher prevalence of substance abuse disorder (15.2%) compared to those without ADHD (5.6%).
  • Between 33% and 44% of young people with ADHD experience alcohol misuse or dependence, research shows.
  • People with ADHD are 5 to 10 times more likely to have alcohol addiction than those without ADHD. About 25% of adults receiving treatment for alcohol and substance abuse also have ADHD.
  • ADHD is also associated with a higher risk of developing a gambling problem.
  • Research indicates that impulsive and reckless behaviour as well as high novelty seeking traits, which are common symptoms of ADHD, are important risk factors for substance abuse disorders.
  • 70% of young adults with both a substance abuse disorder and ADHD report they used substances as a form of “self-medication” rather than to ‘get high’.

(source and futher reading here)

Of course, gambling, drink, drugs, pornography, shopping, food addiction, sex, etc, are risky behavhours for many people, but for us, there is always that edge, that step that we might or might not take, that could put us in a spiral we won’t return from.

So, when I explain to people that I won’t gamble, that I control my alchohol intake tightly (and will often go for months of no alchohol, because I know I am not emotionally able to regulate myself) why I won’t take drugs (I won’t even try CBD or cannabis linked products) it’s not because I am a boring old fart, it’s because I know that these things could destroy me.

I choose not to take that risk.

You can read more about ADHD and addiction here and you can get help here for addiction support and gambing support. Please do reach out, if you think that any of these things are damaging your life and you feel out of control.

Posted in ADHD & Me and tagged addiction, ADHD, risk taking and ADHD.