Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that makes it difficult to pay attention, focus, and control impulsive behavior. The disorder often starts during childhood and can last through the teen years and into adulthood. Symptoms range from mild to severe and cause problems throughout various life stages for the person who has it. A person with ADHD can struggle at school, on the job, and in social settings.
Per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children with ADHD may exhibit the following:
- Frequent daydreaming
- Forgetting or losing things
- An inability to sit or stay still (squirming, fidgeting)
- Excessive talking
- Making careless mistakes, taking risks that aren’t necessary
- Problems with relating to others
- Having trouble waiting their turn
- Hard time with passing up temptation
In adults, ADHD can present as:
- Impulsive behavior
- Poor planning
- Poor time management skills
- Failure to do more than one task at a time (multitasking)
- Inability to focus on a task
- Inability to finish a task
- Quickly frustrated
- Mood swings
- Trouble dealing with stress
Per Mayo Clinic, some people with ADHD may exhibit fewer symptoms as they grow older. However, others will continue to struggle with symptoms like the ones listed earlier. While everyone can exhibit ADHD symptoms, what can lead to a diagnosis of the disorder is how frequently disruptive symptoms occur and how much those symptoms affect someone’s ability to function in their daily life.
Getting an Official Medical Diagnosis Is Important
Mayo Clinic also advises that ADHD symptoms are similar to symptoms of other conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. In fact, people with ADHD also have anxiety and depression as well. The only way to know for sure if ADHD is present is to get an official diagnosis from a mental health professional or physician. They can also determine how best to treat the condition since no two people are the same.
There are also no lab tests that can be taken to diagnose ADHD. A professional diagnosis may include observations collected from parents, teachers, and other individuals who have interacted with the child or adult with ADHD. A medical evaluation could also include tests for vision, hearing, and other areas to check for possible problems.
There Are Three Types of ADHD
Not everyone with ADHD has the same type. A diagnosis can confirm if you or a loved one has ADHD, but it can also confirm what kind is present. As Medical News Today explains, there are three types of the disorder:
- ADHD, combined presentation: This type is the most common. Usually, a person with this kind of ADHD will exhibit impulsivity and hyperactivity. They also will find it hard to pay attention because they are easily distracted.
- ADHD, predominantly impulsive/hyperactive: This is not a common type of ADHD, according to Medical News Today. Symptoms include hyperactivity, a need to move around frequently, and some impulsivity. They do not get distracted easily or struggle with inattention.
- ADHD, predominantly inattentive: People with this kind of ADHD do not have the usual markers of the disorder, which are hyperactivity and impulsivity. They do get easily distracted and find it hard to pay attention.
What Causes ADHD?
There is no definitive cause of ADHD. However, researchers continue to study the disorder. It is believed that genetics and environment play a considerable role in who develops the disorder. ADHD can run in families, according to Mayo Clinic, and what a child is exposed to in their home or elsewhere can raise their risks of developing the condition. Exposure includes coming into contact with toxins in one’s surroundings, such as lead in paint and pipes. Problems during one’s development, particularly in the central nervous system, can also be a factor in ADHD, as well.
What Happens If ADHD Is Left Untreated?
People with ADHD can have various kinds of struggles during childhood and beyond. It is important to get the proper help for the disorder as soon as possible. As Mayo Clinic explains, life can be hard for people with ADHD. Problems that could result from ADHD include:
- Trouble finding or keeping a job
- Legal problems or run-ins with the law
- Money problems
- Unstable friendships, romantic relationships
- Poor overall wellness
- Frequent accidents
- Engage in dangerous behavior
- Engage in high-risk behaviors, such as having unprotected sex
- Suicidal thoughts, suicide
- Alcohol or substance misuse, abuse
There is no cure for ADHD, but there is treatment for it. Effective treatment involves an approach that combines therapy and medication.
Stimulants Among Drugs Prescribed to Treat ADHD
ADHD is treated with various medications, including Adderall and Ritalin. Both are prescription stimulants that help people manage ADHD symptoms, such as impulsiveness, inattention, hyperactivity, and others.
Some stimulant drugs used to treat ADHD increase dopamine levels in the brain. Others block the dopamine reuptake process, which happens when excess dopamine is removed from the brain so that there is no buildup. This extra amount of dopamine binds to dopamine receptors in the brain, which allows people with ADHD to complete their tasks and other things they want to accomplish.
It should also be noted that nonstimulant medication is also used to treat ADHD. While they do not work as quickly as stimulant drugs, some people have found them effective within a 24-hour period, according to the CDC.
Some People Turn to Cocaine to Deal with ADHD Symptoms
As noted, these drugs are available through prescription, which means a doctor must prescribe the medications before a patient can use them. What happens when a person with ADHD struggles with debilitating symptoms but does not have prescription drugs to help them? Many turn to street drugs, such as cocaine, to help them get through challenging periods.
How Cocaine Use Affects the Brain
Cocaine, an illegal addictive drug, stimulates the central nervous system. This drug, produced from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America, causes short-lived euphoria and other effects in users. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains, cocaine boosts dopamine in the part of the brain that regulates movement and reward.
When working normally, dopamine returns to the cell that released it. But when a person uses cocaine, this process is interrupted. The drug blocks dopamine from being recycled, and this blockage causes a buildup of the drug between two nerve cells. This buildup disrupts the nerve cells’ ability to talk to each other.
Also, this overflow of dopamine reinforces drug-seeking and drug-taking behaviors. The more someone uses cocaine, the part of their brain responsible for reward becomes less responsive over time. This is why some cocaine users take more and more of the drug so that they can get the same high.
Short-Term Effects of Cocaine Use
Per NIDA, cocaine short-term effects include feeling increased mental alertness, more energy, and a general feeling of happiness. Some ADHD users may find that using cocaine helps them focus on taking care of their physical and mental tasks. Others, however, may not be able to take on any tasks and become irritable or paranoid.
Cocaine use can have the following physical effects, which are common among stimulant drugs:
- Rapid or irregular heart rate
- Increased energy
- Increase in attention or concentration
- Appetite loss
- Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
- Erratic behavior
- Sensitivity to touch, sound, light
- Raised blood pressure, body temperature
- Constricted blood vessels
- Dilated pupils
Short-Lived Highs Make People Use More Cocaine
Cocaine highs can last anywhere from five minutes to an hour, which is why many people binge on the substance. This is to ensure the high continues. How the drug is used also contributes to how long a high lasts. A person who smokes or injects cocaine into their body will get a stronger high that doesn’t last long. If a person snorts the drug through their nose, their high may last up to 30 minutes.
As soon as the effects start to wear off, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms occur. Some of them are psychological, lasting for a few hours during the period known as the “comedown” period. These symptoms include:
- Tiredness, exhaustion
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia
- Vivid dreams, nightmares
- Increased appetite
- Tremors (shakes)
- Muscle aches
- Cravings for cocaine
Long-Term Effects of Cocaine Use
There are also long-term effects from using cocaine, and all depend on how a person uses it. A person who snorts the drug through the nose could lose their sense of smell, experience nosebleeds, and have a constant runny nose. They also could have trouble swallowing.
Smoking cocaine could lead some to develop a cough, asthma, breathing problems, and a higher risk of contracting pneumonia and other infections. Using needles to inject the drug puts users at risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other diseases and infections. Ingesting the drug with the mouth could cause the bowels to decay due to that area receiving less blood flow.
Cocaine Addiction and Overdose Risks Are Real
For people with ADHD, using cocaine to manage the effects of their mental health disorder is dangerous for several reasons. The person who does this is putting themselves at risk of developing a cocaine addiction. There’s no way to prescribe a safe amount of cocaine to use, so they could be using the drug in amounts that could make them overdose.
Death from overdose can happen the first time a person uses cocaine, especially if it is cut with the potent opioid fentanyl. According to NIDA, the following are the most frequent and severe symptoms of a cocaine overdose:
- Irregular heart rhythm
- Heart attack
- Breathing problems
- High blood pressure
- Raised body temperature
- Extreme agitation, anxiety
Still, despite the risks, some people with ADHD turn to cocaine to cope with ADHD symptoms. This is known as self-medicating, and below, we explain why this is not a safe situation or way to handle living with mental illness.
What Is Self-Medicating?
Self-medicating is the practice of using a substance without the guidance of medical or mental health professionals. It involves people self-diagnosing their condition based on the symptoms they are having and seeking their own remedies to treat it using the substances and methods they find suitable. There are so many risks with addressing a mental illness in this manner.
Still, despite the dangers, it is common for people with co-occurring disorders to use drugs and alcohol to manage a mental health disorder. The reasons why people do it vary according to the person.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that about one in five U.S. adults has a mental illness. As of 2019, this was 51.5 million people. Per the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 9.5 million of those adults aged 18 and older had mental illness and a substance use disorder (SUD) at the same time. It is not always clear which came first, the mental illness or the SUD. It is also not clear in some cases if one caused the other. Still, there is a strong link between mental illness and substance use and abuse.
Some people turn to drugs and alcohol because they can’t afford professional medical treatment for ADHD. Some people are not even aware of their condition but know they struggle with certain symptoms every day and just want to find relief. Others, however, may know something is wrong but don’t want to address it either out of denial that they have a problem or a fear of receiving medical treatment.
Social Stigma Contributes to Reasons Why People Skip ADHD Treatment
ADDitude notes that people who feel shame and social stigma around having ADHD may also seek out drugs and alcohol as they deal with their condition privately on their own. This is not recommended. It’s dangerous for many reasons for a person with ADHD to go this route. They could:
- Be making their existing condition worse
- Masking other medical problems that need prompt attention and care
- Risk mixing substances that can cause bad reactions when mixed together
- Creating another health problem while trying to “fix” the one they know about
People with ADHD at Higher Risk of Trying Drugs, Alcohol
As ADDitude explains, because people with ADHD have problems with controlling impulsivity, they are more likely to try addictive substances. The substances do provide some relief to people who struggle with falling asleep, staying calm, or relaxing when out in social situations. However, using substances to manage these challenges is inviting a new set of problems to sort through.
The barrier to using substances to self-medicate with is low for people who are prone to risk-taking and not really considering anything beyond immediate gratification. The long-term consequences of self-medicating are real and life-threatening. As noted earlier, one dose of cocaine could trigger an overdose. For many, the decision to use cocaine proves to be a fatal one. Even non-fatal cocaine use can trigger episodes of unpredictable behavior that could turn dangerous and lead to violent outcomes, such as abuse, self-harm, and harmful and life-threatening acts to others.
Cocaine Not the Only Drug Used to Self-Medicate Against ADHD
In addition to cocaine, people with ADHD self-medicate with alcohol, heroin, marijuana, tobacco, and other substances that they believe make them feel better. Some people even mix drugs for stronger highs or to “crossfade,” which is using the effects of one drug to balance out the effects of another one. Again, this is another dangerous practice that should be avoided.
NIDA reports that some recreational drug users mix cocaine with heroin or drink alcohol while using cocaine. This pairing of stimulants (cocaine) and depressants (alcohol, heroin) could overwhelm the body into shutting down. Other side effects can occur, including dizziness, fainting, vomiting, and overheating, among others.
Dangers of Drinking Alcohol and Using Cocaine
People who use cocaine to enhance alcohol’s effects are not only creating a longer, enhanced high, but they’re also producing a new, deadly substance by mixing the two. The substance is called cocaethylene, or ethylbenzoylecgonine. This is a dangerous chemical that is more toxic than cocaine.
Cocaethylene can increase alcohol’s depressive effects, which means users may experience stronger reactions to cocaine. Some say people may exhibit violent or aggressive behavior with cocaethylene in their system. The toxic substance also doesn’t leave the body quickly, making the heart and liver vulnerable to longer stress periods. Users also are at risk of overdosing when cocaine is mixed with alcohol and/or other drugs.
Dangers of Mixing Heroin and Cocaine
Combining cocaine with heroin is called a speedball. Both drugs are taken for the rush of euphoria they produce, but some take them to reduce the side effects of either drug. These side effects include anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, drowsiness, and other conditions. Like alcohol and cocaine, cocaine and heroin are drugs on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Cocaine’s stimulant effects will wear off faster than the effects from heroin. Too much of an opioid can depress the central nervous system, leaving depressing one’s breathing and oxygen levels. This can lead to brain damage and death.
Dangers of Mixing ADHD Medications with Other Drugs
Some ADHD users may even try to mix prescription ADHD drugs with cocaine, alcohol, or other drugs. This, too, is risky. When it comes to Adderall and alcohol, Adderall is a stimulant medication, and alcohol is its opposite—a depressant. When present in the body concurrently, they compete with each other and do not cancel each other out, as Healthline explains.
People with ADHD who use the drug before drinking alcohol may not realize when they have had too much to drink. Adderall dulls the symptoms of alcohol intoxication. Drinking too much can lead to alcohol poisoning and dangerous behaviors that could harm the drinker and anyone around them.
If a person uses Adderall with cocaine, both stimulant drugs will work together and speed up the central nervous system. They will also speed up a person’s heart rate and affect the cardiovascular system. Both drugs tighten the blood vessels and raise a person’s heart rate and blood pressure. Stimulant abuse can increase one’s risk of suffering a fatal overdose marked with heart attack, stroke, and other complications. This deadly mix can also induce psychological disturbances, including paranoia, anxiety, panic, and psychosis.
Chest pains and blood clots indicate a medical emergency. Get prompt medical attention by calling 911 or visiting your nearest hospital or urgent care center.
Getting Help for Cocaine Addiction and ADHD
It is important that people with ADHD get help for the mental health disorder. It is equally important they get help for their substance abuse issue, too. The sooner they get help, the faster they can start their recovery. What’s more, both disorders need to be treated together at the same time. This is the only way to ensure the person gets effective treatment for their co-occurring disorders, which is also known as dual diagnosis. If they are not treated in a professional program that targets the unique needs of people in this population, relapse can happen, and their ADHD symptoms will only worsen.
A person who enters addiction treatment for a SUD could discover that they have
ADHD. Accredited addiction recovery centers assess patients’ physical, mental, and emotional needs, which can lead to the discovery of ADHD and other mental health issues. People with ADHD and a SUD are treated with either behavioral therapies, medications, or both in an integrative program. Some dually diagnosed people have seen results that help them improve their lives. A person’s treatment program should be adjusted regularly to meet their needs.
Recovery Begins in Medical Detox
A recovery program will likely start with medical detox to help a patient withdraw from cocaine properly. This five-to-10-day process will allow them to regain stability while the body gets used to the drug’s exit from its system. You can read more here about what to expect when you go to detox.
After detox ends, a patient can move on to the next appropriate treatment setting for their needs. In moderate-to-severe cases, patients are likely to stay on-site at a facility for an inpatient/residential program. This program, which can run 30 days or longer, gives them the time and place they need to address both disorders in an environment that promotes a focus on recovery around the clock.
If you or someone you know has ADHD and uses cocaine or other drugs and alcohol to self-medicate in order to deal with it, give Serenity at Summit a call today. We want to help you in any way possible. Your new life can begin today.