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Adolescents and young adults with ADHD can face many challenges when they first leave home, but once living independently, what can parents do if they suspect substance abuse or addiction?

Individuals with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), especially if not effectively treated, can experience a range of difficulties. Parents can be glad when they find their way in life, especially when they find an occupation that matches their passion and skills. People with ADHD can have very successful lives in their own way and be able to earn a reasonable living, even if they were not successful in school.

Here's some information on helping your adult child find success by avoiding the substance abuse that too commonly accompanies under-treated ADHD.

Self Medicating

Some people with ADHD or ADHD-type symptoms will use substances (including cocaine) as a way of self-medicating because of the way that these substances can make them feel that they are being more focused. Thus, there is reason for concern if you learn that your teenage child has used cocaine (or another illegal substance).

If you're worried about possible drug use and not sure what to do, start off by evaluating the effectiveness of any current ADHD treatment and then by trying to assess the current level of substance use or abuse.

Assessing the Effectiveness of ADHD Treatments

Where is your child at with respects to the treatment of their ADHD?

If you think about it, you know your child has ADHD but are there any indications as to whether your child got and/or is still getting effective treatment for it?

  • If they never really succeeded in school this may indicate that your child did not have treatment that was as effective as was needed.
  • If your child’s current occupation/school choice is of the kind that is less likely to be affected by ADHD symptoms, then this could cause you to wonder about why such work was chosen, and about the current state of ADHD symptoms management.

If your child is not effectively managing ADHD symptoms, then this would be a clear red flag and possible contributor to having or developing a problem with addictions.

Assessing the Level of Substance Use or Abuse

The other aspect is that it may be hard for you to determine the degree to which your child has a problem with cocaine and/or other substances. 

Warning signs of a problem include:

  • Having someone come to you with concerns about your child
  • Signs that your adult child's peer group accepts substance abuse as normal
  • Your child admits to occasional use but minimizes the importance

Greater concern would exist if someone like a sibling was concerned enough to raise the issue to you, violating the confidence of your child with ADHD, especially if this is out of character for the sibling. 

How Serious Is the Situation?

The question is what effects are being experienced as a result of the use? This information (which you probably will not know right away) will indicate where your child is at on the spectrum of substance use and its associated problems. 

Willingness to Accept Help

If use isn't perceived to be a problem, they may not be ready for assistance - both in terms of being honest enough with a professional to get a real picture of where they are at and in terms of receptiveness to being impacted by the intervention.

Helping Your Newly Adult Child

While recognizing that the problem is not your problem, you can make gentle inquiries and encouragement to your child. But remember that this is their problem and not your problem at this stage.

  • It may well be that the best initial course of action is to address the treatment of the ADHD. If this can be done in a setting or with a clinician who can also assess then address the substance use, this would be preferable.

At least basic screening would be helpful at this stage, especially if you are still closely involved with your child, financially and emotionally. It is possible to begin a journey that will help your child and you discover wholeness and peace.

About the author Christopher Smith:
Details of my broad experience is available on my website. I combine together being an ordained minister (trained at Yale and serving a church part-time in Harlem/Washington Heights currently) with background and credentials in mental health (licensed mental health counselor in New York and Indiana; licensed clinical addiction counselor in Indiana) to work with a client to find the best ways forward as they address their issues and move back to abundant life. throughout, the focus is on where the client is coming from.
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Page last updated May 06, 2013

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