October 31, 2019

ADD and Alcohol Addiction

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Medicially Reviewed By:
Dr. Priya Chaudhri
credentials here

When we hear the term attention deficit disorder (ADD) the first thing that usually comes to mind is a hyperactive 6-year-old boy struggling to focus on his schoolwork. ADD has been on the radar since the 1980s when formal diagnosis and the introduction of using drugs to help manage it. ADD diagnoses continue to rise, increasing by 43% since 2010.

What is not well known is that adult ADD is fairly commonplace. In fact, according to an article published by Cambridge University Press, about 50%-75% of children with ADD will carry the disorder into adulthood. As an adult struggles with the effects of this mental health condition, certain comorbidities can develop. In fact, there is a strong link between adult ADD and alcohol addiction. This dual diagnosis can be found among adults with undiagnosed and untreated ADD, where the individual is using alcohol as a form of self-medication to help them relax.

For those with both ADD and alcohol addiction, a more challenging treatment picture results. Dual diagnosis treatment requires a specialized approach to assisting recovery, where both psychiatric expertise and addiction treatment team up to address both co-occurring disorders at the same time. With this customized protocol, individuals struggling with ADD and alcohol addiction can indeed overcome the challenges posed by the coexisting disorders and enjoy a productive and fulfilling life.

What is ADD

In the U.S. ADD affects about 8 million adults or 4% of the adult population. In adults, the hyperactivity that is so prevalent in childhood ADHD may not be the problem. Instead, the disorder can lead to a series of symptoms that can disrupt daily functioning. Effects of adult ADD can range from declining job performance due to an inability to stay on task until completion, to disruptions in relationships, to impulsive behaviors.

While many adults with ADD may have also had the issue as kids, some have learned to compensate for the traits of ADD and never received treatment. Coping with ADD as an adult can include relying on making daily to-do lists to stay on task and to not forget important commitments, using reminders on the phone so meetings or appointments are not missed, to accessing apps that help with task management. For example, there are dictation apps that can help the adult with ADD to remember important information or to organize tasks.

The cause of ADD is still a mystery, although there are certain factors that may be involved. These include:

  • Genetics. Sometimes ADD will run in families. ADD is a risk if there is a family history of other mental health disorders as well, such as depression or anxiety disorder.
  • Toxin exposure. There is some evidence that points to the possibility that lead exposure, such as in pain or old pipes, during childhood may be a risk factor for ADD. Also, exposure to pesticides or PCBs may play a role. It is thought that these toxins may interfere with brain development.
  • Being born prematurely, or the mother having a difficult pregnancy.
  • If the mother drank alcohol, used drugs, or smoked during pregnancy
  • Developmental impairment in the central nervous system

Symptoms of ADD in Adults

Many of the adults who grapple with the symptoms of ADD in daily life are not even aware that they have this mental health disorder. They may feel overwhelmed in trying to manage the many demands in daily life, and wonder why they seem to be so ill-equipped compared to their peers. These individuals don’t know that they have a brain disorder that is basically scrambling their thoughts and interrupting concentration and cognitive functioning. All adults with ADD also had it as a child, although in many cases it was never clinically diagnosed. For this reason, some adults with ADD may assume it is a newly emerging problem.

Common symptoms of ADHD in adults:

  • Chronically late to work or for appointments. Being late to appointments, events, or meetings is a hallmark symptom of adult ADD.
  • Poor organizational skills. Individuals struggle to keep things in order, leading to increased stress and anxiety.
  • Trouble multitasking. Someone with ADD has difficulty focusing on or managing more than one task at a time. Given more tasks to juggle can lead to confusion and anxiety.
  • Mood swings. Mood swings, irritability, and temperamental behavior are common
  • Poor listening skills. Wandering thoughts and difficulty concentrating make paying attention difficult for adults with ADD.
  • Chronic boredom. Job hopping due to boredom, and jumping from relationship to relationship are typical in the need to seek constant gratification and excitement.
  • Forgetful. Someone with ADD may have a difficult time remembering data or information, which can make it difficult when training on the job, as it may come across as carelessness or lack of intelligence.
  • Difficulty controlling anger. Individuals with ADD can be prone to explosive angry outbursts, usually stemming from frustration.
  • Low tolerance for frustration. Become easily upset when something frustrates or annoys them.
  • Impulsive behaviors. This can manifest in a variety of ways, such as impulsive shopping habits, sexual impulsiveness, reckless driving, or any impulsive acts that have negative consequences. Difficulty delaying gratification.
  • Difficulty managing stress. The chaotic symptoms that accompany ADD can lead to stress overload, and the individual struggles to manage the stress.
  • Anxiety. Many with ADD experience anxiety as chronic worrying is common.
  • Depression. Depression is a common co-occurring mental health disorder with ADD, as the negative consequences
  • Disorganized. The person with ADD often feels overwhelmed with stimuli and then cannot stay focused enough to sort things out. This can cause difficulty completing tasks or projects at work, paying bills on time, or keeping up with family obligations.
  • Low motivation. The individual with ADD struggles between a desire to tackle multiple tasks at once and a complete lack of motivation.
  • Trouble in relationships. Poor listening skills, trouble making or keeping commitments, being bored with the relationship, and not attending to a relationship can lead to marital strife and relationship discord.
  • Substance abuse or addiction. Alcohol or drugs may be accessed as a means to improve sleep or relaxation, or they may be indicative of the impulsive nature of the person with ADD.

Adults with ADD may have trouble staying at a job for very long, resulting in job-hopping and lower income potential and career satisfaction. The inability to control impulsive behaviors can lead to alcohol abuse, accidents, unsafe sexual practices, and multiple marriages.

add and alcoholism

The Relationship Between ADD and Alcohol Addiction

A dual diagnosis exists when there is a mental health disorder, such as ADD, and a co-occurring substance use disorder. In many instances, the individual develops a substance use disorder in response to the mental health issue. They may begin to use alcohol as a means of reducing the effects of ADD through its relaxant properties.

Unfortunately, some individuals may find their tolerance to alcohol increasing, leading to higher consumption of the substance in hopes of experiencing the initial calming effects. As consumption increases, the possibility of developing an alcohol use disorder increases as well.

Adults with ADD and alcohol addiction will find they have increased their suffering, as alcoholism has its own set of highly impairing features. The co-occurring disorders have the potential to cause serious disruption in daily functioning, and mounting consequences can result in the addition of an addition mental health disorder developing, such as depression or anxiety. For these reasons, it is imperative that someone struggling with Add and alcohol addiction seek out the professional help that a dual diagnosis recovery program can provide.

Treatment for ADD and Alcohol Addiction

Recovery will begin with a thorough evaluation of both the alcohol use disorder and the ADD, from which a customized treatment plan will emerge. Comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment involves combining several therapeutic elements that will address both disorders simultaneously. These include:

  • Medical detox. The first step in recovery is a medically supervised detox and withdrawal period. This will allow the individual to rid the body of the ethyl alcohol while under the close supervision of an expert detox team. Alcohol detox can be unpredictable, so for this reason detox and withdrawal should be monitored by a detox professional.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT can help modify irrational thinking which is common among individuals with ADD. These irrational thoughts may include black-or-white thinking, catastrophic thinking, personalization, and an over-emphasis on negative thoughts. By making adjustments in the cognitive thought process, the negative behaviors are reduced. CBT can also help the individual respond differently to triggers that formerly resulted in alcohol misuse.
  • Group therapy. Small group settings led by a therapist can help encourage participants to share their experiences and personal stories, which can engender mutual peer support while in treatment.
  • Medication. Pharmacotherapy is typically part of the treatment plan for managing symptoms of ADD.  The medications for adults with ADD may include Adderall, Vyvanse, Focalin, Dexedrine, Concerta, or Ritalin. Non-stimulant medications include Intuniv, Kapvay, and Strattera.
  • Addiction education. Learning about the impact of alcohol on brain chemistry and structure can be a deterrent to relapse, and includes guiding the individual with relapse prevention strategies and new coping skills.
  • Holistic therapies. Learning effective methods to enhance relaxation can benefit both of these disorders. These activities might include deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, and massage therapy.

Individuals with a dual diagnosis of ADD and alcoholism can learn to manage these conditions and improve their quality of life through targeted treatment at a high quality residential dual diagnosis program.

Elevation Behavioral Health Offers Residential Mental Health Treatment in Los Angeles

Elevation Behavioral Health provides comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment for individuals struggling with ADD and a co-occurring substance use disorder. Our luxury accommodations and stunning setting help to provide comfort and healing while engaging in the comprehensive treatment program. For more information about the program, please contact Elevation Behavioral Health today at (888) 561-0868.


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