Adult AD(H)D often goes Undiagnosed in Addiction Treatment

The National Institute of Mental Health describes AD(H)D as a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity or impulsivity. Although AD(H)D is primarily considered an illness of childhood, it often persists well into adulthood. Unfortunately, adults with AD(H)D are frequently undiagnosed in drug and alcohol treatment and rehab. As a result, an important opportunity for treatment professionals to address a major trigger for many affected individuals is lost.

Untreated AD(H)D and Self-Medication

People with untreated AD(H)D experience a range of difficult symptoms, including restlessness, impulsivity, shame, organizational problems, lack of attention, distractibility, forgetfulness, mood swings and difficulty listening. Adults with AD(H)D tend to procrastinate and are often easily bored or frustrated. They frequently have trouble with self-motivation.

Life with AD(H)D is hard, and It shouldn’t be surprising that people with the disorder are more likely to use drugs and alcohol, or to turn to overeating or other compulsive behaviors in an attempt to self-medicate difficult emotions. One survey suggested that as many as 15 percent of adults with the disorder had abused drugs or alcohol within the past year – approximately triple the number of adults without the disorder. Adults with AD(H)D often began abusing alcohol in their teen years.  Self-medicating usually works at first, providing relief from the shame and frustration. Some people turn to stimulants such as cocaine, which may help with clearer thinking and improved focus. Others use alcohol or marijuana to squelch the terrible restlessness. Many adults with undiagnosed AD(H)D don’t use substances to get high, but to get a good night’s sleep or improve day-to-day mood. Adults with undiagnosed AD(H) D may have suffered for many years, often suspecting that life was more difficult than for other people, or that something simply “wasn’t right.” Studies indicate that up to five percent of adults with AD(H)D are unaware, many living with the disorder for many years. Even those who suspected the problem may have been reluctant or ashamed to seek treatment.  

Treating Addiction and AD(H)D

Diagnosis of untreated AD(H)D by a skilled, experienced professionals should occur during the early stages of drug and alcohol treatment and rehab. However, diagnosis can be difficult, as diagnostic criteria have long been aimed toward AD(H)D in childhood. Additionally, symptoms of the disorder, which are often masked by symptoms of addiction, may take time to sort out. Adults struggling with addiction and untreated AD(H)D have unique needs and require a comprehensive treatment program that addresses both disorders simultaneously. It doesn’t work to treat one disorder but not the other, and the risk of relapse is high. Treatment, which is highly individualized depending on the needs of each person, generally involves a thorough psychological and medical evaluation. Detox is followed by counseling with an experienced clinician. Clients learn how AD(H)D and addiction impact life, and ways to effectively cope with both disorders. Some people may benefit from medications, especially those who suffer with depression from so many years of coping with an undiagnosed disorder. Others may take medications that can be helpful in treatment of AD(H) D. Use of medications must always be closely monitored to prevent further problems with addiction. Specialized Neuro-feedback therapy, administered by skilled and experienced professionals, has proven long-term positive effects on the ability to focus and concentrate. Neuro-feedback takes advantage of the ability of the brain to reorganize itself, called neuroplasticity. Treatments may also include improved diet, nutritional supplements, exercise, relaxation techniques, meditation, mindfulness training among many others.

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