ADHD and alcohol abuse are common co-occurring conditions with significant linkage to each other. Impulsivity, poor decision making and lack of consideration for consequences are hallmarks of both conditions. Individuals with ADHD often have behavioral, social academic and occupational difficulties, which can lead to alcohol use. People with ADHD may use alcohol to cope with their symptoms or may experiment with alcohol recreationally, which then escalates. ADHD and alcohol use is a dangerous combination and can lead to addiction and dependence. Treating co-occurring ADHD and alcohol abuse can be challenging, as many stimulant medications used to treat ADHD have a high abuse potential.
Do People Use Alcohol to Cope With ADHD?
People with ADHD may use alcohol as a coping mechanism to help them to calm down, cope and manage their symptoms. Individuals may use alcohol to alleviate distress associated with the disorder or to help them to manage social, academic or occupational difficulties. Impulsivity and poor decision making is common in ADHD and many people do not realize that alcohol use will worsen their symptoms. Alcohol’s effect on thinking, memory and behavior intensifies when a person has ADHD.
Effects of Alcohol on ADHD
There are some significant effects of alcohol on ADHD. The frontal lobe of the brain controls higher-order functions, such as concentration, recall, cognition, organization and analytic function. The prefrontal cortex is a portion of the frontal lobe responsible for controlling movement, behavioral reactions and impulse control.
Individuals with ADHD display impairment in higher-order functions due to a smaller, more inactive prefrontal cortex. People with ADHD have a difficult time sustaining focus, managing impulses and controlling hyperactivity. When a person with ADHD consumes alcohol, it makes it even harder to pay attention, manage emotions and make decisions.
Alcohol is a depressant that affects memory, impairs a person’s ability to think clearly and also acts on the prefrontal cortex in the frontal lobe of the brain. As ADHD and alcohol impact the same part of the brain, their combination causes a compounding effect to occur. The combination of ADHD and alcohol intensifies and worsens a person’s symptoms. As a result, their behaviors and emotions can become unmanageable and out of control.
Self-Medicating ADHD with Alcohol
ADHD symptoms can be managed effectively with psychotherapy and medication. However, some individuals feel that these treatments are ineffective, while other people may not like how medicine makes them feel. As an alternative, people with ADHD may self-medicate with alcohol to help them manage their symptoms. People use alcohol to help them hide their impulses and quiet their minds.
Mixing ADHD Medications and Alcohol
ADHD medications and alcohol are a dangerous combination. Stimulant medications speed up the central nervous system by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. On the other hand, alcohol is a depressant on the central nervous system, which slows the body down. Despite opposing effects, ADHD medication and alcohol do not cancel each other out and instead compound together.
Mixing alcohol and ADHD medications can have a considerable impact on the cardiovascular system. Stimulant ADHD medications and alcohol can both cause significant strain on the heart by elevating blood pressure and heart rate. Some stimulants, such as Vyvanse or Adderall can prompt a person to drink excessively, as ADHD medications can make a person feel impervious to alcohol’s effects. A person who feels resistant to alcohol’s effects might drink more than they usually do.
Mixing ADHD medications and alcohol can intensify side effects and increase the risk of alcohol poisoning. In some long-acting stimulants, such as methylphenidate, alcohol may cause the medication to be released too quickly, leading to dangerous side effects or overdose.
Alcohol poisoning can be fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately. Do NOT be afraid to seek help. If you do not have access to a phone contact Web Poison Control Services for online assistance.
Key Points: ADHD and Alcohol
- Alcohol and ADHD are a dangerous combination with far-reaching effects.
- Alcohol is sometimes used to self-medicate the symptoms of ADHD.
- Alcohol and ADHD have a compounding effect that worsens a person’s symptoms, behaviors and emotions.
- Treating co-occurring alcohol abuse and ADHD can be challenging as many stimulants used to treat ADHD have a high potential for abuse.
If you or a loved one struggles with ADHD and a co-occurring alcohol problem, The Recovery Village can help. The Recovery Village has trained mental health professionals that can assist you in managing ADHD while overcoming substance abuse.
ADHD Boss Editorial Team. (2017, Aug 18). The Controversy of ADHD and Alcohol-Risks, Symptoms, & More. Bhandari, S. (2018, Jul 26). Signs That You Are Self-Medicating Your ADHD. Bhandari, S. (2017, Sep 6). Why Smoking and Drinking Won’t Help Your ADHD. Rodriguez, A. (2017, May 14). The Effects of Mixing Ritalin and Alcohol.
ADHD Boss Editorial Team. (2017, Aug 18). The Controversy of ADHD and Alcohol-Risks, Symptoms, & More.
Bhandari, S. (2018, Jul 26). Signs That You Are Self-Medicating Your ADHD.
Bhandari, S. (2017, Sep 6). Why Smoking and Drinking Won’t Help Your ADHD.
Rodriguez, A. (2017, May 14). The Effects of Mixing Ritalin and Alcohol.