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ADHD and Substance Abuse in Adolescents

Teens who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are prone to substance use disorder (SUD). With substance abuse rates at 13% and 21% in girls and boys respectively, being aware of the dangers of SUD is important. The occurrence of co-morbid disorders, such as ADHD and SUD, can make treatment challenging. Treating adolescents with co-occurring disorders is best achieved with teen-focused programs, due to the expertise and experience the clinicians offer along with a family-centered treatment approach.

Understanding attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

While ADHD is a brain disorder, brain scans show that the development of the normal brain structures is merely slowed by 3 years, on average, leading to behavior such as impulsiveness, hyperactivity and difficulty maintaining focus. The most notable areas of the brain affected involve planning, paying attention and critical thinking. Studies have shown that the brain patterns creating proper communication between the two halves of the brain have abnormal growth and the cortex exhibits slowed maturation. Additionally, evidence supports the theory that dopamine neurotransmitter dysfunction is also part of the problem. It is believed that these delays and abnormalities are the source causes of ADHD symptoms.

ADHD and Substance Abuse: The Link

While the exact cause of the high rates of substance use disorder in adolescents with ADHD is unknown, there are several factors that are believed to be part of the underlying causes. The progression of SUD has been linked to dopamine dysfunction among other factors, as is the case with ADHD symptoms. In this case, the link between ADHD and substance abuse are multiple factors in the brain. The hyperactivity disorder is present from an early age and SUD most often develops during adolescence; therefore, it is believed that the symptoms experienced (e.g. impulsive and irregular behavior) create a greater chance for the development of SUD. The chance of trying substances is related more to the severity of the symptoms instead of just being diagnosed with ADHD. This makes the co-occurrence of SUD and ADHD a multi-dimensional issue. As studies continue on the significance of ADHD in relation to SUD, so too does the understanding of co-morbid disorders and ultimately treatment.

Treatment for teens with co-occurring disorders: SUD and ADHD

A treatment facility that is adept in dealing with adolescents is more equipped to handle the implications of co-occurring disorders such as SUD and hyperactivity disorders. They employ treatments that involve the family in the recovery process because there is an understanding that family is an important support structure. Emerging research suggests that a simultaneous treatment approach, often called dual diagnosis, is an effective way to deal with co-occurring disorders. It incorporates behavioral therapy for the SUD treatment with a pharmacological approach to ADHD treatment, often opting for non-addictive medication to avoid the potential for further abuse. There is certainly a danger of SUD in adolescents with diagnosed ADHD but with teen-focused treatment programs, a positive outcome can be achieved. While the behavior that is the hallmark of ADHD can increase the likelihood of substance abuse, management of the disorder and the impulsive behavior that often leads to substance abuse is possible. With the help of experienced clinicians, your loved one can be helped along the road to a healthy, sober life. Contact us at 877-466-0620 to learn more about how we can help with substance abuse.