Is There a Relationship Between Tourette’s Syndrome and Addiction?

Tourettes syndrome and addiction

According to the CDC, 1 out of every 162 children (0.6%) has Tourette’s syndrome (TS).[1] If you don’t have personal experience with this condition, you have probably heard about Tourette’s syndrome in the media. 

While the media portrays TS as uncontrollably yelling obscenities in public, this is not an accurate representation. There are many different ways Tourette’s can look, as this condition is complex with a variety of possible symptoms. Additionally, this condition commonly co-occurs with other mental health disorders like anxiety conditions, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even addiction. 

If you struggle with Tourette’s, understanding how this syndrome and addiction are connected can help you prevent yourself from developing a substance use disorder.

What is Tourette’s Syndrome?

Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder that influences the nerves and vocal activities. This is what causes people to display involuntary movements or vocalizations that are referred to as tics. 

Tics are sudden movements or sounds that someone does repeatedly. However, this is not done on purpose. For example, someone may begin blinking over and over again uncontrollably. 

Typically, Tourette’s syndrome begins in early childhood. The worst symptoms usually begin during a person’s early teen years, but become controlled by the early 20s. Thankfully, many people become symptom-free or no longer need medication to manage their tics. 

However, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Tourette syndrome can be a chronic condition with symptoms lasting a lifetime; in some cases, tics may worsen in adulthood.”[2]

Symptoms of Tourette’s Syndrome

There are two types of tics, simple and complex. Simple tics tend to only involve one part of the body, such as squinting or blinking. On the other hand, complex tics occur more slowly and tend to appear intentional, even though they are not.

Examples of simple tics include:

  • Eye blinking
  • Jerking of the arm 
  • Facial grimacing 
  • Neck stretching 
  • Bobbing or jerking of the head
  • Shrugging the shoulders 

Examples of complex tics include:

  • Touching, rubbing, and tapping objects or people
  • Kissing or silly expressions 
  • Bending or gyrating 
  • Imitating movements
  • Making obscene gestures (rare)
  • Whistling or hissing 
  • Animal or bird noises 
  • Repeating sounds or phrases 
  • Throat clearing 

Some people with Tourette’s syndrome may make obscene gestures or comments unintentionally. This can cause them a significant amount of embarrassment. While this does occur, it is uncommon. 

The Signs of Addiction

Addiction occurs when someone becomes physically and mentally dependent on a substance. Over time, their body builds a tolerance as they continue to use drugs or alcohol. Eventually, their body becomes so accustomed to the presence of the substance that it does not function normally without it. 

Addiction, also known as substance use disorder, is a chronic and progressive disease. This condition affects every aspect of an individual’s life. If you know someone who suffers from substance abuse issues, you have probably witnessed how damaging this disease can be. 

Sometimes, recognizing the signs of addiction is difficult. This is especially true when the person is attempting to conceal their addiction from others around them. 

The signs of addiction include:

  • Needing to use more of a substance to produce the desired effect (tolerance)
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about, obtaining, using, and recovering from the use of substances 
  • Continuing to use despite facing negative consequences
  • Failing to manage responsibilities at home, work, or school 
  • Isolating from friends and family members 
  • Being secretive about the use of the substance 
  • Not enjoying activities without using the drug or alcohol 
  • Changes in mood or rapid mood swings 
  • Changes in appetite or sleep
  • Neglecting hygiene and physical appearance 
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the individual cannot use drugs or alcohol 

If you are attempting to spot the signs of addiction in someone you know, it can be difficult to pinpoint at first. However, as their addiction progresses the signs will become more obvious. Oftentimes, the easiest way to spot an addiction is to pay attention to changes in weight, mood, and physical appearance. 

How are Addiction and Tourette’s Connected?

Research has suggested a link between Tourette’s syndrome and substance use disorder. According to the CDC, 6% of males and 7% of females with the condition also meet the criteria for addiction.[1] 

Many people with Tourette’s begin abusing drugs to cope with their tics. Commonly, alcohol and marijuana are used to soothe tics. While this works in the beginning, the individual is at a high risk of developing a substance use disorder. 

After self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, the individual will become dependent on a substance. The symptoms of addiction can worsen tics over time, as the person begins to develop anxiety in relation to their substance misuse. 

If you struggle with Tourette’s and addiction, it is extremely important that you attend treatment for both conditions simultaneously. Without doing so, the symptoms of one condition will cause a relapse in the other. 

Treating Tourette’s and Addiction 

If you or a loved one suffers from Tourette’s syndrome, you have an increased risk of developing a substance use disorder. Abusing drugs or alcohol to cope with the symptoms of Tourette’s will only worsen the problem in the long run. 

Thankfully, rehab programs like Moving Mountains Recovery Center have dual diagnosis treatment planning that helps individuals overcome addiction and mental health issues simultaneously. Contact us today for more information on our dual diagnosis treatment program. 



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