Graduation Date


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Department or Program


Department or Program Chair

Elizabeth Truesdell PhD

First Reader

Madalienne F. Peters, EdD


People who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are often at high risk of acquiring Substance Use Disorder (SUD). When a diagnosis is determined for a school age child, the special education team mainly focuses on the most obvious problems that occur with ADHD: executive function issues, reading and writing impairments, and disruptive behavior. They may not realize how common it is for those identified with ADHD to also acquire SUD.

The literature revealed that there may be a shared genetic basis between ADHD and SUD, that there is commonly an early onset of SUD for those who have ADHD, and that this population has high impairments across several domains of daily life which complicate treatment response. The purpose of this study was twofold: To generate an increased awareness of the specific connection between SUD and ADHD, and to construct a plan of action for special education teachers who need to provide more support for risk prone adolescents.

This was a mixed methods study using both qualitative and quantitative information. Subjects included adults with ADHD who are recovering drug addicts. They were asked to complete a questionnaire about their perceptions and the trajectory of their personal experience.

Results of the current study indicated that adults who had been diagnosed with ADHD as children, or found out later in life about their ADHD diagnosis, had similar experiences to one another. Themes included: a concern that teachers did not know how to communicate with them, an early onset of SUD, the use of different substances to feel calm, manage their feelings of anxiety and cope with low self-esteem, an identified genetic factor, and dysfunctional life skills across environments.