Helping People with ADD to Stop Self-Medicating

Alcohol and marijuana can create problems for people with untreated ADD

Man in bar with a beer
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Why Adults with Untreated ADD/ADHD "Self Medicate" with Drugs and Alcohol

Denying or failing to treat ADHD can make life very difficult. Some adults in this situation may turn to alcohol, marijuana, or other substances to "self medicate." These substances do sometimes reduce restlessness, and can be calming and relaxing. It makes them feel a little better – if only for the short term.

It does not, however, remove or change ADHD symptoms and executive function issues and ultimately creates trouble in the long run.

Looking and planning for the long term, however, is often quite a challenge for those with ADHD.

Marijuana, right behind alcohol, is commonly used by people who wish to escape or lessen the frustration, disappointment and shame they may feel from a lifetime of unrecognized and untreated ADHD. Through this desire to feel better, people end up creating even more problems for themselves when they abuse substances. Relationships are hurt. Jobs and careers stumble or fail. Finances suffer. Self esteem plummets further. It becomes an endless cycle that is painful for the individual, as well as their loved ones.

How Treatment Can Help

Treating the ADHD, however, can make a world of difference. Once symptoms are better managed and a person regains some control in their life, they are less likely to impulsively reach to marijuana or alcohol to escape their problems. However, in some cases a person will also need specialized treatment for substance abuse.

Either way, encourage your loved one to connect with a doctor for treatment. If he is reluctant, maybe he would be open to just meeting with a doctor to discuss the options available. Perhaps he would be willing to try a “trial period” of treatment. It may be that once he experiences feeling more in control of his symptoms and mood, he will continue.

How Your Support Can Help

Often one of the most heartbreaking things is seeing your loved one struggling, knowing things can be better, and yet feeling helpless to make changes. Sometimes because of denial or misconceptions or even an inability to clearly perceive what is going on, a person who needs help will not seek it out.

What you can do is let your loved one know that you love him and are there for him. Share information with him about ADHD by printing out articles, go to the library or bookstore and find some good books about ADHD, or send him links to helpful websites. Perhaps he would be willing to attend a local adult ADHD support group and hear from others who have been in his situation and found a way out through treatment and positive connections.

Sometimes, finding the right balance between encouraging and “pushing” can be difficult, however, providing information and education about ADHD is vital. The more your loved one knows about and understands his diagnosis the better he will feel about himself and his prospects for success.

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