Cocaine Addiction and ADHD: Are They Connected?

How Are Cocaine Addiction and ADHD Connected? 

If you have attention deficit disorder or ADHD, a connection between cocaine addiction and ADHD might not surprise you. Having an adult child with ADHD, you may have even seen addiction become a problem. As a parent of a child with ADHD, this information is relevant to you as well. In this article Recovery by the Sea looks at the possible connections between cocaine addiction and ADHD. We’ll also examine the challenges of ADHD and how they may make someone with it more apt to become addicted to cocaine or other drugs.

What Does the Science Tell Us? 

clinical study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that teenagers with ADHS who took Ritalin but stopped it before they became adults are two times as likely to become addicted to cocaine. While this is only one study, there is plenty of other research and anecdotal evidence that indicates more than a casual connection between ADHD and addiction. The relationship between ADHD and addiction is complicated. It’s not going to be easily unraveled here. What we do know is that science has shown plausible connections.

We also know that ADHD affects impulse control and that people with less impulse control are more likely to become addicted to drugs. Finally, there is the brain chemistry involved. People with ADHD have lower levels of certain neurotransmitters in their brains. Specifically, dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are involved in the transmission of signals in the brain. Certain stimulants help the brain maintain higher levels of these neurotransmitters which helps alleviate ADHD symptoms. That is how drugs like Ritalin and Adderall help. Unfortunately, it’s also part of the reason there may be a connection between cocaine addiction and ADHD.

Doesn’t ADHD Just “Go Away” in Adulthood Though?

ADHD isn’t fully understood yet. Science is still discovering more and more about the inner workings of the brain every year. What we do know is that ADHD manifests as difficulty focusing, trouble prioritizing tasks and organizing. It also involves impulse control. It’s not unusual for adults with ADHD to have financial problems due to disorganization or impulse buying. People with ADHD often struggle in school all the way through college and may have trouble in their careers as adults. In the early days of attention deficit research, it was thought that ADHD was something that happened during childhood and that people would just “grow out of it”. We’ve since come to understand that doesn’t happen.

What Features of ADHD Might Make Addiction More Likely?

What we were witnessing is people with ADHD developing varying degrees of coping mechanisms to get by in a world that is very distracting. Some do this better than others. They may choose a career that lends itself to the qualities of ADHD (or at least isn’t as threatened by them as some). Others may get on medications and stay on them through adulthood. Still others try biofeedback or even meditation to improve focus. But in every case, ADHD is still present in some form. As of now there is no cure for ADHD, only treatment and intervention. In trying to understand cocaine addiction and ADHD, it’s helpful to know what aspects of ADHD might play a role in development of addiction.

Here are some factors of ADHD which could play a role in developing an addiction:

  • Impulsivity: Research has shown that people with poor impulse control are more likely to become addicts.
  • Risk-Taking: Part of the impulsivity is risk taking behaviors. Many people with ADHD are easily bored and crave stimulation, this is also a risk factor for addiction.
  • Self-Medicating: A person with ADHD will actually get some relief from their symptoms when they use cocaine and other stimulants. This could encourage use.
  • Rebound Effect:   As mentioned in the clinical study above, teenagers who used Ritalin but stopped before adulthood are twice as likely to use cocaine to regain the relief.
  • Depression: People with ADHD are more likely to have a co-occurring disorder such as depression. People with depression are more likely to use cocaine or other drugs to change how they feel.


There is some evidence of a connection between cocaine addiction and ADHD. We know that people with ADHD are at a potentially higher risk of addiction and high-risk behaviors in general. However, do not let this discourage you. The important thing here is awareness. Knowing that these risk factor exist empowers you to do something to minimize those risks. That may be making sure to manage ADHD effectively. It could also include avoiding all intoxicants and living a sober life, even if you have not had a problem with addiction yet. The main thing is to be aware that the risk exists so you can be proactive about it.

If you or someone you love is struggling with cocaine addiction, Recovery by the Sea can help. Give us a call at (877) 207-5033 or reach out to us via our contact page here.