Chapter OneCUT TO THE CHASE
HAVE YOU SPENT GOOD portions of your life unsuccessfully trying
to control your eating, drinking, or drug use? Do you struggle
to manage overspending, gambling, excessive Internet use, or
your sexual behavior?
Is it hard for you to focus your attention? Are you easily
bored? Do you have problems organizing your life? Do you have
a body or brain that's always on the go, or on the other hand, is
it difficult for you to get going and keep going? If these questions
strike a chord with you, untreated Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity
Disorder (AD/HD) may be contributing to your overindulging or
The purpose of this book is to help you understand how and
why people with AD/HD overindulge and become addicted, and
how to get out of the vicious cycle of self-medicating your symptoms
with drugs, food, alcohol, and compulsive behaviors. We'll
look at the ways AD/HD intersects and overlaps with substance
misuse, and you'll learn about similarities and shared characteristics
of AD/HD and addiction. For example, you will understand
how a woman with AD/HD, clean and sober for years and with no
alcohol or drugs in her system, flunks a field sobriety test.
Let's start with a brief overview of how some AD/HD symptoms
are similar to those of overindulging and addiction, as well
as how they can contribute to each other.
We are self-medicating when we use substances and behaviors
to help us feel better. There is a big difference between enjoying
a glass of wine after a hectic day and needing a drink to cope
with the day and be able to sleep. Our bodies and minds develop
cravings. We become obsessed with thinking about when we can
smoke pot or binge on junk food. We can't get enough. But there
comes a point when self-medicating stops working. No matter
how much we eat, purge, drink, or drug, we don't feel better.
Instead, we feel worse. We can't eat another bite, drink another
drink, or use another drug. Yet we do, because even too much
LOSS OF CONTROL
AD/HD, overindulging in substances, and compulsive behaviors
all have one thing in common: loss of control. You can't manage
your eating, drinking, drug use, or behavior. Loss of control
over parts of your life, combined with the pain and frustration of
AD/HD symptoms, can lead to self-medicating with substances
and behaviors. If you have AD/HD, you may be living in a vicious
cycle. Here's a brief overview of how AD/HD contributes to loss
AD/HD makes it difficult to focus and keep your attention where
you want it. You may be easily distracted, and/or your attention
may be captured and you can't pull yourself away from the computer,
TV, or project you are working on. It's also hard to be present
and pay attention to the task at hand if you're obsessed with
thoughts of bingeing, getting drunk, smoking pot, or having sex.
AD/HD hinders the control of impulses. It may be hard or impossible
for you to control an impulse to overeat, binge on sweets,
use alcohol or other drugs, spend money, gamble, or engage in
high-risk behavior. Words may fly from your mouth before your
mind has the chance to censor them. Taking drugs and drinking
alcohol can decrease anyone's ability to control their impulses,
but when drugs and alcohol are mixed with AD/HD, just about
anything can happen.
You don't have to be hyperactive to have AD/HD. You may have
an average activity level or you may even have a very low activity
level. It may be difficult for you to get up in the morning and
maintain enough energy to get through the day. You might have
a hyperactive brain that constantly demands novel and stimulating
input or never stops yakking at you. Your body could
be restless and desire constant motion from your head to your
toes. Because AD/HD contributes to problems with energy level,
it is common for people to use substances to either stimulate
or relax themselves. Ironically, people who are hyperactive are
sometimes accused of being on cocaine or "speed," while some
with low-energy AD/HD are accused of smoking pot or taking
"downers," even though they're not.
Self-Activating and Organizing
Self-activating is the process of getting yourself going and moving
in the direction you need to be moving in. It may be difficult
for you to organize yourself so you can get to work or school
and follow through with the demands of your day. You may be a
great fifty-yard dasher but not be able to complete two miles, let
alone a marathon. Life is filled with marathons, such as finishing
school, maintaining your career and relationships, and parenting.
If you have AD/HD or an alcohol, food, or drug problem,
self-activating and organizing may be impossible, and you may
live in chaos.
Memory is frequently a problem for the AD/HD brain. You may
remember specific details from years ago but not remember why
you walked into a room or where you put your keys. It may be
difficult for you to remember what you read or what you learned
in a class or workshop. The same is true for those who misuse
substances. They may have memory retrieval problems, blackouts,
or in more serious cases, permanent brain damage.
You may be irritated by sights or sounds that others barely
notice. The tags in your clothing or seams in your socks can
drive you nuts. You live in a world that feels as though the lighting
and sound have been turned up. You may have a heightened
response to feedback from others, and you may take on the
feelings of others without even knowing it. This enhanced sensitivity
is common for some with AD/HD, and these characteristics
are also reported by some people who misuse substances.
As with other characteristics of AD/HD, you can have enhanced
sensitivity without having AD/HD or abusing substances.
As we learn more about AD/HD, many professionals are agreeing
that sleep disturbances are a key component. You may be a
"night owl" and have difficulty shutting your brain off so you can
get to sleep, or you may wake frequently during the night and
have difficulties falling back to sleep. For some with AD/HD, getting
up in the morning is torture. Many who abuse substances
also report chronic sleeping problems that can persist years into
recovery or until treated.
If you think you have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity
Disorder (AD/HD) and you also struggle to control your
eating, drinking, or problematic behaviors, this book
will help you.
HOW WILL THIS BOOK HELP?
This book was not written to make you feel worse than you
already do. I wrote this book to help you find answers. What I
offer is information, encouragement, and practical suggestions
to help you cope effectively. Take what works for you. Allow yourself
to start reading anywhere you like and skip parts if they're
The stories people have volunteered to share with you are powerful
and enlightening, but if you're not a story person, feel free to
skip them. It's not important that you digest every word and concept
in this book. I rarely read a book from cover to cover.
I wrote this book to help you accept who you are, including
your AD/HD, overindulging, and addiction. It isn't until we
accept that we have problems that we can get help for them. My
number one suggestion is this: Give yourself permission to read
at your own pace, in your own style. You may want to read the
last chapter first. Underline, highlight, fold pages (unless you
borrowed the book from a friend or the library), or use sticky
notes to mark places.
This book is for those of you who are overindulging or
addicted. It's also for those of you who have tried, and continue
to try, to control your behavior and substance use, and
for those of you who are in recovery. Oftentimes people need a
period of recovery to realize that they have co-occurring conditions.
AD/HD is one of many co-occurring conditions that may
keep you from attaining your goals.
Perhaps you don't suffer from untreated AD/HD, overindulging,
or addictions, but you work with or love someone who does.
This book is for you too. With this information, you will be better
able to understand and offer support and encouragement to your
loved one, coworker, or friend.
This book is based on the research and opinions of many
experts in the AD/HD, eating disorder, and addiction fields who
provide new information almost on a daily basis. By the time
you read this book there will be more exciting new information.
This book is also based on my personal and professional experience,
and the experiences of other people who have AD/HD
and addictions. Together we provide you with knowledge, tools,
experience, strength, and hope for a better life. While addictions
and AD/HD may never be cured, you can learn to treat these
problems and find serenity and fulfillment in your life.
In the next chapter, people with AD/HD who also overindulge
or are addicted tell you their stories. You may relate to some of
these stories and find them painfully familiar. By reading them,
I hope you'll better understand how AD/HD contributes to overindulging
in substances and behaviors, and be able to look at
your own life with compassion, acceptance, and a willingness to