ADHD and Alcohol

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A growing body of research suggests a significant link between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and substance use disorders, including alcohol use disorder (AUD). (1) Causes might be related to similarities between drug or alcohol dependence and ADHD symptoms. Studies show 43% of individuals with ADHD are at risk of developing AUD. (2) While substance use disorder is complicated and chronic, like ADHD, it is treatable.

Those who enter an addiction center benefit most when their ADHD and AUD are addressed simultaneously. This ensures symptoms of one condition are less likely to trigger symptoms of the other. For example, treating alcohol dependence but not ADHD, such as through medication, can lead to relapse, as the desire to self-medicate will persist.

At Guardian Recovery, we offer integrated programs that approach co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders with a focus on the overlapping effects of each condition. Our programs include various therapeutic techniques facilitated by experienced, compassionate health professionals and addiction experts. We aim to provide our clients with the tools and support needed to encourage recovery, prevent relapse, and promote long-lasting sobriety.

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How Alcohol Interacts With ADHD

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting approximately 11% of children and 4% of adults. Typical ADHD symptoms in adults include a lack of attention to detail, hyperactivity, restlessness, an inability to focus, and low stress tolerance. ADHD can upend an individual’s way of life and lead to low self-esteem, relationship problems, and career and academic challenges.

ADHD & Alcohol Use Disorder

Research has established a connection between ADHD and alcohol use disorder. A recent study, for example, found 42% of people with ADHD (5) reported binge drinking (6) each time they consumed alcohol. Also, ADHD in childhood may increase the risk of having an AUD as an adult. (7)

Impulsivity & Genetic Propensity

Alcohol affects the frontal lobe, which is responsible for clear thinking and judgment, and can increase some ADHD symptoms, such as impulsivity and poor decision-making. (8) For this reason, individuals with ADHD are also at a higher risk of engaging in impulsive behavior, leading to risk-taking activities and adverse consequences.

Furthermore, ADHD and alcohol addiction are believed to have similar genetic predispositions. Researchers have discovered specific genes are shared between substance use and ADHD.

How Alcohol Interacts With ADHD Medication

Stimulants such as Adderall, Concerta, and Vyvanse are the most commonly used medications to treat ADHD. These drugs increase brain neurochemicals (dopamine and norepinephrine) that play a role in attention, stress response, and reward. (10) Higher levels of these chemicals can increase alertness, energy, and concentration.

Alcohol can interact with these medications, as alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and stimulants increase CNS activity. According to GoodRx, drinking alcohol with these medications can compromise their effectiveness, exacerbate ADHD symptoms, and lead to severe side effects. (11)

Potential Side Effects of ADHD Medications & Alcohol Include:

  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Rapid or irregular heart rate.
  • Increased risk of alcohol poisoning.
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Dehydration.
  • Impaired judgment and ability to think rationally.
  • Significantly impaired vision, reaction time, and motor functioning.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Raised body temperature.
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances.
  • Increased risk of seizures.

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Why Would Someone with ADHD Turn to Alcohol?

Several reasons can cause a person with ADHD to misuse alcohol to the extent they become dependent on it.

For Self-Medication

Because ADHD is associated with hyperactivity, alcohol, as a depressant, might be perceived as a reasonable source of self-medication to relieve symptoms. ADHD-affected individuals might use alcohol as a short-term solution to managing their condition without recognizing its damaging effects on their mental and physical health.

Drinking might appeal to some individuals affected by ADHD seeking to reduce symptoms such as anxiety and restlessness. Unfortunately, however, excessive alcohol use can amplify ADHD symptoms in addition to undermining the effectiveness of certain ADHD medications. Long-term alcohol use can also adversely affect cognition, memory, and speech. (12)

Due to Reward-Seeking

Reward-seeking is a natural urge that both humans and animals experience. However, some people have risk factors that can increase their desire for feelings of pleasure and reward, and those affected by ADHD are believed to be among them. Alcohol boosts certain neurochemicals in the brain that promote these feelings, increasing a person’s desire to drink more. (13) Moreover, for these individuals, use and misuse might be more likely to lead to emotional and physical dependence and, ultimately, addiction.

For Stress Relief

Alcohol and other psychoactive substances are common, albeit dysfunctional, ways to reduce stress. Individuals with ADHD may be more inclined to use drugs and alcohol because they frequently experience extra stress when confronted with social, professional, and academic challenges. (14) Impulsivity is another symptom of ADHD, and this can make those affected particularly susceptible to alcohol and drug use.

How to Effectively Treat ADHD & Alcohol Use Disorder

Individuals with dual-diagnosis conditions are more likely to have successful outcomes when mental health issues are treated concurrently with alcohol or drug dependence. Conversely, if left unaddressed, the effects of ADHD and alcohol use tend to worsen over time. Therefore, it is never too soon to begin seeking treatment, and waiting will only prolong the adverse health and social effects you experience due to your condition.

Options for Treating ADHD & Alcohol Dependence Include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)CBT is one of the most common therapeutic methods for treating addiction and co-occurring conditions, such as ADHD. CBT is facilitated by therapists who work with clients one-on-one and in groups to help them identify stressors that trigger alcohol misuse. These individuals are also taught how to replace dysfunctional coping mechanisms with healthier and more productive techniques.
  • Inpatient treatmentResidential treatment facilities provide 24/7 supervision and support in a safe, secure, intimate environment shared with others with similar experiences. Inpatient programs are based on customized, long-term treatment plans tailored to meet each person’s needs.
  • Intensive outpatient treatment: In outpatient treatment, individuals reside off-site, such as in a sober home or private residence, while attending therapy or group counseling. This format is less intensive than inpatient and requires participation only on certain days and times per week.

Pharmacological interventionsWhile attending individual or group therapy, you may be prescribed FDA-approved medication to relieve symptoms of ADHD and curb cravings for alcohol.

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Getting Treatment for ADHD & Alcohol Use Disorder

Struggling with ADHD and alcohol dependence can feel overwhelming and isolating, but both conditions can be effectively addressed simultaneously. If you or a loved one are affected by these conditions, know that you are not alone. At Guardian Recovery, we are committed to providing holistic, evidence-based services to help those with ADHD and AUD. Using personalized treatment programs, we are dedicated to helping those who need it most end active addiction and foster healthy, fulfilling, and sober lives.

If you are motivated to reclaim your life, contact us for a free assessment and no-obligation health insurance benefits check. In addition, you can speak with an experienced Treatment Advisor to learn more about our comprehensive programs and levels of care. We are here to help you begin your recovery journey today.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

(1)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7515748/ (2)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34265320/ (3)https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/facts.html (4)https://chadd.org/about-adhd/overview/ (5)https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01150/full (6)https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm (7)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4146503/ (8)https://oasas.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2019/08/The_Brain.pdf (9)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34265320 (10)https://www.goodrx.com/conditions/adhd/ten-things-adults-should-know-about-their-adhd-medications (11)https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/harmful-interactions-mixing-alcohol-with-medicines (12) https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm (13) https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh21-2/144.pdf (14)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9027028/

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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