October 7, 2008

ADD as an Addiction

Posted in Addiction, ADHD, External Links, Posts by Renee at 2:11 pm by bloggingawayadhd

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what ADD is at the core. Is it a medical disorder? Well, there are brain scans showing differences in brains between ADDers and non-ADDers, and there are a lot of studies on treating ADD with medication. Is it a behavioral psychological issue and/or a personality problem? There certainly are a lot of studies showing the effects of treatment from a behavioral point of view. At some level, ADD affects people on a personal-relationship basis, and I think it’s possible for people to develop ADD-like symptoms as a coping mechanism in a relationship.

Anyway, there’s something silly and something serious that led me to this train of thought: The silly thing is that the other day, I’d had 2 tiny glasses of cognac (I rarely drink), and decided to try out my Wii Fit game to see how a little alcohol affected my balance. I got on the balance board, and it was a little easier than usual to get off-balance during a few of the body test exercises. However, when I tried 2 of the “Balance Games” – actually what I consider to be 2 of the more difficult ones – I got the high score on both! I actually did better with a little alcohol in my system than I did in a month of sober exercising! My analysis is that my brain is going so fast all the time, that it’s hard to focus on the activities, and if I slow it down a little, I can concentrate better. Of course, I’m not going to go drink a beer every time I need to concentrate better – though some people “self-medicate” their ADD with alcohol/illegal drugs.

I wanted to find a study supporting my personal findings, but I actually found the exact opposite, a study that says alcohol may worsen the effects of ADD. Maybe it depends on how often and how much you drink.

The serious thing that got me to thinking is that I’ve been having a lot of arguments lately. Actually, throughout my whole life, people have been telling me that I’m argumentative (my mom always thought I’d become a lawyer) and sometimes rude, and often react in a much more extreme way than expected by people talking to me, therefore inflaming a situation. Enough people have told me this that I have to admit it’s me.

My boyfriend and I have been working on arguing less lately, and it’s proving to be very difficult for me. I feel like every time I argue, I’m back to square one with him. I told him I felt like a person addicted to cigarettes, that tries to quit every day, and as soon as I light one up, my friends and family all jump on me and treat me like a failure, and it only makes it harder to quit. He said I’m like a crack addict that tells my friends and familiy every day that I’m going to quit, and that they try to accommodate me, and every day I just hurt them again and make people lose faith in me. I do feel that way sometimes.

So, I’ve been thinking more and more about ADD and Addiction. I looked up the “Twelve Steps” that Alcoholics Anonymous uses, to see if that could help me overcome my “addiction to overreacting and arguing”. While on the Wikipedia article, I read this:

For addicts and alcoholics the physical dimension is best described by the “allergy-like bodily reaction” resulting in the inability to stop using substances after the initial use. For groups not related to substance abuse the physical manifestation could be much more varied including, but not limited too: compulsive hoarding, distractibility, eating disorders, dysfunctional enabling, hyperactivity, hypomania, insomnia, irritability, lack of motivation, laziness, mania, panic attacks, psychosomatic illnesses, poor impulse control, procrastination, self-injury and suicide attempts. The mental obsession is described as the cognitive processes that cause the addict or alcoholic to continuing using following the initial use, either knowing the result will be an inability to stop or operating under the delusion that the result will be different.

(I added the bold for emphasis) Don’t those “physical manifestations” sound like ADD? Compulsive, distractable, hyperactive, impulsive, irritable, procrastinating…. that describes me, at least!

So I hope to do more research on addiction in the near future, and I may possibly write more about my findings soon. Please comment if you have any relevant experiences on the topic!



  1. Lydia said,

    Addiction, depression & ADHD are “cousins” with the same 3 neurotransmitters affected: dopamine, norepinephrine & serotonin. Most 12 Steppers I know, myself included, are ADHD.

    My elementary teachers consistently commented “daydreams in class” & “Doesn’t work up to her potential” on report cards, yet, with the hyper-focus of interest in favorite creative subjects, I muddled through The Most Demanding prep school in the southeast…. then further challenged by becoming one of the few women on the Ga Tech campus in 1977 (Okay, I was just a 17yo girl, very overwhelmed)….without any label of ‘minimal brain dysfunction’ as it was termed in the 1960s.

    I did not actually get an ADD diagnosis until I was almost 30. Since then, for 18 years, I’ve been on a first name basis with pharmacists . Now I want to be drug-free. I tried once before– but did not know about the magic of exercise at that time. I have been nutritionally careful for the past several years, so I think there’s a plan in Exercise-Diet-Supplements-Perseverance to get me clean.

  2. bloggingawayadhd said,

    Wow, thanks for the additional info.

    I have a lot of friends that went to Georgia Tech :) It is a tough school!

    I think it’s great that you want to manage your ADD without medication (that’s the whole aim of my blog) and I would be really interested to hear your experiences of trying to do it after you have been on medication for a long time, as opposed to my perspective when I’ve never gone on ADD medication.

    When you say you’ve been “nutritionally careful”, what do you mean?

    I haven’t been able to stick with any of my “non-medication-self-treatments” long enough or regularly enough to be able to honestly report any benefits, but I still hope to.

    I also think it’s interesting that you’ve found a lot of 12-Steppers are ADHD. I’ve only ever known one closely, so I don’t have that perspective.

    I see I am on to something with the neurotransmitters you mentioned… I know I keep reading about them in various books and articles, so I’ll have to go look up more to post more info about the “link” there.

    Look forward to hearing more from you! I’m always looking for “guest posters” so if you’re interested in sharing your ADD experiences, or your diet/exercise plans, or your reasons for wanting to be off meds, let me know!

  3. Kelly said,

    Wow. Thank you for that information!

    I too struggle with being “argumentative” and have made many situations worse. For example I have made several of my neighbors angry over things like parking in front of my mailbox (and I don’t get my mail) or when it snows my driveway does not get plowed properly because the plow cannot access my driveway. When I say something they get really angry with me. I have also let them know that I do not like it when their dogs “do their business” in my yard. They call me crazy and tell me to find something better to do. I seriously feel like I am being violated and I am not allowed to say anything about it??? That makes me even more angry and frustrated!!! Granted… my technique could certainly use some work…

    I also struggle with alcohol addiction. I am not proud to admit this but I honestly do feel better when I don’t drink… I have seen the 12 step programs and believe that is not something that I would do.

    My diagnosis of ADD came about 6 months ago and all of this is relatively new to me but I am glad that people like you are willing to share what you are learning because it really is helpful.

    Thank you!

  4. bloggingawayadhd said,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences! :)

    Your neighbors do sound very inconsiderate… I hope you’re able to get that worked out! I too have found that “technique” is important when approaching people when you’re upset.

  5. Jesse said,

    Both alcohol and most stimulants prescribed for ADD work on dopamine levels. In low amounts, alcohol does help calm the overactive brain making it easier to focus. Personally, I’ve found that drinking helps me relax enough in social situations to better relate to people. I would rather this was not the case, but I’ve only just found out I may have ADD (in my mid-30s), so I have yet to develop better social skills without alcohol. I used to have to smoke a lot of pot all the time and gave that up, so I’m making some progress.

    Anyway, all of these issues – impulsivity, depression, anxiety, etc. – are related to what’s known as “executive functioning.” It has to do the brain’s ability to plan, monitor or exercise restraint when necessary (or inability to do so, as in the above examples..) This is the “disorder” side of ADD…

    On the other hand, it can have its benefit as well. Look into books by Thom Hartmann and his “hunter” theory of ADD. It’s a very different and interesting way of looking at what I prefer not to think of as a disorder anymore. He also offers some great advice on living with ADD (or with someone with ADD) – that don’t rely on medication.

  6. bloggingawayadhd said,

    Thanks for the great info and personal story, Jesse. I will check out the author you recommended!

  7. Gina Pera said,


    I just discovered your blog. Nice job.

    To pipe in on this point — “self-medicating by argument” — it’s pretty darn common with ADHD. That’s why, if you don’t know about it and you try to solve the problem with couples therapy (or individual therapy, if it’s not a couples issue), you can go down all kinds of wormholes — often making things worse.

    I understand that you’re taking the no-medication route, and I respect that. I just wonder if you’re finding that behaviors like this are harder to manage, compared to keeping track of your keys, etc.

    From talking to hundreds of people with ADHD and the partner over the years, this fight-provoking behavior is one of the first to go when medication starts.


  8. Tom said,

    I have just discovered your blog!! What a revelation. We all need to learn top share more about our battles with AD/HD. I have AD/HD and I discovered this some 7 years ago, after a diagnosis of Aspergers for my son. One of my two daughters also have AD/HD. Interestingly, I am also 12-stepping my life for the past 8 years. It has been a struggle for the past 55 years!! I have always been a square peg in a round hole. Frankly, in the 12-step rooms I have (finally) found a place where I can feel free with being myself and receive unconditional love…I say love, because the type of support I get from my peers in those rooms are undemanding, non-judgemental (so important) and supportive….these are NOT the typical supports we get in the outside world. Over the years I have sponsored a number of other addicts and have found a direct correlation in the self-treatment component of AD/HD sufferers.
    I am now working with a Psychologist who is encouraging me to extend my sponsorship roles into a full-time AD/HD support role. Perhaps I have finally found a job that I will feel ideally suited for. In the meantime I continue my work spreading the “gospel” to the uninformed masses.

    I need to mention that my recovery has worked on three supports…much like a three-legged stool. If any one of my “supports” weakens or fails, I seem destined to fall back inot old habits and maladaptive behaviours.
    The first principle that supports my sobriety is that of Spiritual Healing. I used capitol letters as this is very important to me. I have worked on creating and maintaining a spiritual link to the God of my understanding. This link is critical to my not taking on all reponsibility for my world..I understand that, like the “nasty neighbours” mentioned above, THEIR actions are part of THEIR choices and decisions; I am NOT REPSONSIBLE FOR THEIR BEHAVIOURS…and that I have a responsibility to manage MY LIFE and not take on others’ challenges. I cannot dictate their actions, I cannot legislate their common sense, and I can only affect MY choices and behaviours. I use the serenity prayer
    “God, grant me the serenety to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the courage to know the difference”

    The second principle that sustains me is that of physical healing. Often, as we have learned to accept that we are “different” or “defective” and destined to fail continually, we have sloly lost our own respect for iurselves. “I am just not worth the effort”, we have told ourselves and others. Well, SURPRISE!!…we are worth it! In order to heal physically I went back to skiing. I renewed my early love of this winter sport…that was abandoned 30 years before as I “graduated” into adult life…well, I have regined a little contro and self-respect through my reshaping my life. I lost weight, gained strength and endurance and built a new caste of friends who again share my love of the sport. This is critical to our mind-set and PROVES that we are not broken individuals. We also branch out into a new arena of experience, where we can prove our success. I will never be an olympian, but I now share a new and healthy passion with like-minded friends who accept me. This has continued to the point where I am now instructing skiing part-time. This, again, reinfoces self-value as someone actually pays ME to play!!

    The thrid, and just as important, principle that sustains me is emotional healing. Not easily achieved, this is often the longest and most complicated part of the healing journey. I would recommend that you find a sponsor. Be that a trusted friend, a spouse (that’s my source), and doctor (I also have a GREAT trusted MD) or a support group ( like-minded people) that share similar needs or experiences. You do NOT have to be an addict to need or find a support group. There may be an AD/HD support group in your area; look for one. The shared stories of suffering, disappointment and success will sound so familiar to you; I know….I am there too. My emotional healing has taken many years and contines each and every day. Part of it is being absolutely and ruthlessly honest with myself. If I make a mistake, I promptly admit it and MAKE AMENDS to the one who was subject to my error. I do it as quickly as possible. I have actually made friends by apologizing…often when peolpe realize I struggle with AD/HD but am trying, they abandon the “guys an idiot” position and see me for what I am; just another person trying to do his best each day.

    Don’t they say another symptom of AD/HD is continual rambling?

    Well, let me then apologize for this note. I wanted to state my absolute support for this blog, for its posters, and all of you who may read this note. I want to tell you, from one who has made many mistakes, that there is a better way and a better life for you! AD/HD is for life, but it does not have to be a life sentece of failure! YOU CAN DO IT!!

    Best, Tom

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