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ADHD and Risky Behavior in Adults

Why risky behavior sometimes accompanies ADHD

Reckless Behavior Worsened continued...

She continued to live at home. But to her parents’ chagrin, the reckless behavior, which had started with drugs in high school, began to escalate. After a romantic breakup in her mid-twenties, Amanda turned to binge drinking to cope with her distress.

“I was really destroying myself,” she says. “For a long time, I lived by this motto, ‘If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly’ -- all or nothing. I didn’t start anything slowly. I started binge drinking right from the get-go.”

Drinking became a gateway to multiple encounters, some involving unprotected sex. “I’d just go to any random bar by myself. One drink would turn into two, two would turn into four, four would turn into seven,” she says. “The next thing I know, I’m so intoxicated I can barely drive, and I was hooking up with strangers and not remembering what I had done the night before.”

All the while, her finances suffered, too. “I was making really bad decisions and I couldn’t save any money. Any dime that I got, I would spend it on something -- didn’t matter what. I would go on these random shopping sprees even if I didn’t have money. I acquired all this debt and couldn’t figure out how to pay it off.”

Did she ever consider the future? “I never once really thought about the consequences,” she says. “It was like, ‘This is just what I want to do... and I don’t care who it affects.’”

Need for Intense Stimulation

Why do some people with ADHD have a “hunger for intense stimulation,” as psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, MD, describes in his book Driven to Distraction?

Thrill or danger may focus the distracted or inattentive mind in a way similar to that of ADHD stimulant medications: by enhancing the release of adrenaline, Hallowell writes. “Hence, such behavior may constitute a form of self-medication.”

The idea makes sense to Amanda. “Especially when I was a mortgage processor, I was so bored. It was the same thing over and over again every day. Going out at night and binge-drinking -- that was my excitement. I got to have honeymoon scenes with a different guy every night,” she says.

“At the time, it feels great. Then you always wake up the next day and you regret it. You don’t feel so good and you’re hung over and it’s awful,” she says. “I guess with my ADHD, I just would forget that... and it starts all over again.”

She never came down with a sexually transmitted disease, she says. “It’s almost mind-boggling that I haven’t.”

But she got a huge wake-up call: an unplanned pregnancy that ended in an emotionally wrenching abortion.

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