ADHD, Dopamine & Addiction: Making Sense of the Connection

ADHD, Dopamine and Addiction: Making Sense of the Connection

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that usually begins in childhood. Children and adults with ADHD typically have a harder time focusing than people without the condition, and a tendency to be impulsive. This can make it difficult to perform well in work and school. 

Researchers don’t know exactly what causes a person to have ADHD, but it’s believed there are underlying issues with the brain. One specific area researchers are looking into is dopamine and how it can contribute to ADHD. 

The dopamine theory of ADHD claims inadequate dopamine decreases motivation, as well as focus. It also affects learning and memory, and reduces the reward that people with ADHD experience from completing tasks.

What is Dopamine? 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that allows us to regulate our emotions. It’s also responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. Research shows that people with ADHD have different levels of dopamine than people without it. This is believed to be the case because neurons in the brain have lower concentrations of proteins called dopamine transporter density or DTD. Low DTD levels do not necessarily mean a person will have ADHD, but it is a risk factor. 

The good news is THIS disorder is treatable. Medications are formulated to increase dopamine levels. By targeting dopamine transporters and raising dopamine levels, it’s possible for people with ADHD to concentrate and focus better. However, too much dopamine can have the opposite effect, which is why these medications must be properly prescribed and monitored. 

ADHD and the Risk for Substance Abuse 

Knowing that low levels of dopamine may be responsible for this disorder, it’s important to consider the connection between low dopamine and substance abuse. Studies show a modest connection between childhood ADHD and risk for later substance abuse. An additional finding is that ADHD contributes to a faster progression from initial abuse to more aggressive abuse. 

Here are some reasons for the link between ADHD disorder and addiction: 

  • Low levels of dopamine. When a person has low levels of dopamine, they are more likely to experience aches and pains, a lack of motivation, difficulty remembering things and more. This can make a person want to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.
  • Reduced impulse control. People with ADHD have a harder time controlling their impulses. This makes it more challenging to stay away from drugs and alcohol, especially when they are accessible. 
  • Behavioral problems. Behavioral problems like lying and stealing are common in some people with ADHD. These patterns of behavior can influence a person to make the wrong friends, get into more trouble, and abuse drugs and alcohol. 
  • Poor performance in school. Because this disorder makes it difficult to concentrate, some people with the condition perform poorly in school. This can lead to a lack of self-esteem and a desire to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. 
  • Prescription drug abuse. Some medications used to treat ADHD can also be addictive when used outside of doctor recommendations. A dependency on these drugs can start the cycle of addiction. 

Treating ADHD and Addiction Together

It is possible to treat this disorder and substance abuse. The key is to choose a dual diagnosis drug rehab that is comfortable addressing it. Awakenings Treatment Center offers holistic healing for people struggling with a dual diagnosis. We have many treatment solutions that include cognitive-behavioral counseling, therapeutic treatments, and biofeedback. Contact us today to learn more about our approach to treating dual diagnosis.