When the sun is shining and the air is warm, it’s hard for anyone to concentrate.Eyes seem drawn to the beauty outside, and thoughts seem to drift from the tasks at hand to the fun that could be had in the great outdoors. When spring fever hits, almost every single person out there finds it hard to complete boring, complicated tasks with anything approaching accuracy. There is a subset of people that feels this way every single day, even when it’s dreary and stormy outside. For these people, it’s hard to stay calm and focused, and it’s hard to make good decisions every day, especially decisions concerning drugs and alcohol. These people may have ADHD, and if they do, they may need the help of specialized treatment programs.
What ADHD Looks LikePeople with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) struggle with issues of concentration and focus. That can manifest as a whole host of symptoms, per Mayo Clinic, including:
- Frequent daydreaming
- Difficulties with organization
- Inability to follow directions
- Inability to keep track of needed items
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says there are three ADHD subtypes. In one subtype, people are predominantly hyperactive or impulsive. In another, they’re predominantly inattentive. In a third, there’s some combination of hyperactivity and inattentiveness at play. Often, this is a disease that begins in childhood, and it’s commonly associated with very young children who can’t seem to either pay attention or behave in the classroom. Sometimes, children with ADHD outgrow the condition as they age and their brain cells knit together in a more healthful manner, but sometimes, the disorder doesn’t fade away with advancing age. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says about four percent of adults have ADHD.
ADHD CausesPeople who have ADHD don’t have bad habits they could simply change if they tried hard enough. They have a medical condition that stems, experts say, from unusual brain growth. The research, says NIMH, suggests that very young people with ADHD have brain growth that’s delayed by about three years. All the connections that are typically developed in adolescence that have to do with impulse control and higher thought are working at a slower pace in young people with ADHD.
Those who outgrow ADHD have brain cells that catch up to adult development in time, but those people with persistent ADHD may not have the same kinds of connections and abilities.Their brains are wired a little bit differently, and that’s something they may have developed at birth.
An adult with ADHD may have a significant amount of difficulty in the workplace. Most jobs require workers to pay attention to orders from bosses and to complete tasks in a timely and organized fashion. Adults who just can’t do these things often become adults who don’t have jobs. These adults may struggle to get replacement jobs, as they may not have good references future employers can contact before they make a hiring decision. People with ADHD may also have difficulties with relationship situations, such as marriage and parenting. Again, these are situations that require a great deal of listening and communication, as well as a healthy dose of planning and empathy, and those are tasks that people with ADHD struggle to complete.
ADHD also comes with a very serious risk of physical injury. In one study quoted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that 59 percent of children with ADHD landed in the hospital with major injuries, compared to only 49 percent of those children without ADHD. Impulsivity makes people do things that just aren’t wise. People with ADHD might dart out in front of traffic on a whim while walking, or they might drive too quickly when they’re behind the wheel of a car. They might tackle home improvement projects without taking the proper precautions, or they might choose to take on new hobbies or new sports without investing in the right safety equipment. In time, all of these choices could lead to very serious injuries.
Women with ADHD may have even more serious problems to overcome. In addition to concerns about employment and injury, women with ADHD are more likely to deal with low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, says the American Psychological Association. Women like this might get pregnant early in life, and they might have such low confidence levels that they can’t get jobs or build healthy relationships.
ADHD and DrugsIt’s clear that living with ADHD isn’t an easy process. People with the disorder may feel cut off from everyone around them, and they may feel misunderstood and persecuted due to their illness. Meanwhile, they may be so impulsive that they’re willing to try almost anything that even looks like it might help with the disorder. For many people with ADHD, the answer involves drugs. As an article in the American Academy of Pediatrics points out, ADHD is “inextricably intertwined” with substance abuse. For someone amped up due to ADHD, there are sedative drugs that seem to provide relief and calm. Those drugs include:
Drugs like this attach to brain cells and cause a sensation of sedation. When these drugs are active, people with ADHD might not feel quite so sped up and frantic. As their brain cells calm, they may feel as though they can actually complete tasks at a normal pace. The drugs seem to help.
Unfortunately, drugs like this aren’t a solution for problems caused by ADHD. In fact, they can make living with the disorder even harder.Drugs like this are designed to boost portions of the brain that have to do with reward, but many of these drugs also touch on portions of the brain that have to do with self-control. That makes sense, as a person who feels rewarded and uninhibited is in a good place to take a lot of drugs. The consumption just keeps going and going due to those brain signals. People with ADHD already struggle with issues of self-control and inhibition. They’re already very impulsive on a regular basis. Impacting that part of the brain yet again, making it even more damaged and even less functional, could make ADHD symptoms worse. People may find that it’s even harder not to dart off on an idea, make a bad decision, or ignore a command. Their brain cells have been chemically altered in a way that augments the damage they already have. Also, drugs of abuse tend to become more and more damaging at higher doses, and a lack of self-control could push people with ADHD to take a lot of drugs all at once. They aren’t able to listen to the little voice inside that recommends caution and pause. They’re hardwired to follow up on an activity as soon as it appears. So these people might take bigger doses than others might, and they might develop addictions sooner as a result. When an addiction sets in, a person no longer has anything approaching control over a drug use habit. The brain cells have been amended and adjusted in such a way that they’ll only respond when drugs are present, and they’ll call out for drugs when none are available. People who have ADHD and an addiction are, in essence, pulled in two different directions. Their mental health concerns demand attention, and the need for drugs also consumes them. The things they need to do every day just to feel normal increase, all because they thought drugs might help. It’s easy to see how drugs might not be great tools for people with ADHD, but people with this mental health disorder often do take drugs. They often start when they’re young. Research cited by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids suggests that 35 percent of those with ADHD have used substances by age 15, compared to only 20 percent of those without ADHD. That means adults with ADHD may have very long histories of drug use and addiction, and they may have longstanding habits that seem hard to break. For people with decades of drug use behind them, life is full of drug use triggers. Everything they see may remind them of drugs, and everything they hear may spark a need to use drugs. They may find it hard to remember what it was like not to use drugs, and they may have many failed attempts at sobriety behind them. But that doesn’t mean that addiction is permanent. Anyone can heal, but people with ADHD and addiction may need specialized help in order to get there.
ADHD RecoverySince ADHD begins with changes in brain architecture and chemistry, medications can be effective in a treatment program. Typically, ADHD medications are in the stimulant class. While these drugs tend to make other people feel hyper and reactive, they seem to have a calming and focusing effect in people with ADHD. It’s as though these medications have the ability to reach right into a person’s brain difficulties and flip a switch, so life is a little easier to handle.
Research cited by Nature suggests that these medications can do a great deal to help people who have ADHD, but the benefits are typically limited to two aspects: calming and concentrating. While taking these medications, people with ADHD may feel as though they’re able to sit quietly and focus on a task, but the drug isn’t a cure-all for ADHD. It can’t help people with the other aspects of ADHD, including antisocial behavior or arrest rates, and it can’t do anything to help with the addiction process. That means people with ADHD will need more than simple medications in order to get better. They’ll also need targeted treatment programs.
Treatment programs for those with ADHD often involve Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This form of therapy approaches the issue of ADHD as a puzzle that a person and his/her therapist can solve together. At the beginning of the treatment process, they come together to outline how the disease has impacted the person’s life. They develop a rapport and a sense of trust, and with that in place, they begin to break down the behaviors that support ADHD. People learn to:
- Avoid situations that tend to make ADHD symptoms worse
- Explain the disorder to outsiders, who might toss around words of blame in response to ADHD symptoms
- Self-soothe in difficult situations
- Develop a healthy, supportive life that makes ADHD easier to live with
An article in ADDitude suggests that CBT can be helpful in just 12 to 15 sessions. It’s important to find a practitioner who knows how to tailor the treatment for people who have ADHD. CBT is provided for a whole host of different disorders, including insomnia and drug use, and some of the techniques used to treat other disorders just won’t work for people with ADHD. For example, some people with the disorder find that it’s difficult to pay attention during an hour-long session, and they might do better in sessions that are punctuated by breaks. Others find that it’s hard to do the homework after a session, unless they’re prompted by their doctors. Some ADHD practitioners use alerts or phone calls to make sure the treatment is on track. In addition to CBT, people with addictions may also benefit from specialized therapies that help them to avoid relapse. They may need to know a little more about how drugs work inside the brain, and they may need to examine the behaviors and the situations that tend to spark a need to take drugs. Medications can also be useful here, as they may help to curb impulsive urges to use drugs. Some block cravings altogether, while others make drug use unpleasant. With that medication help, people might be able to stay sober as well as gain control over ADHD.