Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common mental health disorder that can increase your risk of alcohol use disorder.
Research shows there is a strong connection between ADHD and alcohol misuse. People with ADHD are more likely to start drinking earlier or drink more heavily than their peers. One study, for instance, found that over 15% of adults with ADHD meet the criteria for substance use disorder, compared with the approximate 5% of adults without ADHD.
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Of course, not everyone with ADHD will have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, but the risk of developing alcohol use disorder is about 2 to 3 times higher in adults with ADHD than those who do not have the condition.
Alcohol use disorder is the most common substance use disorder in adults with an ADHD diagnosis.
One study found that around 42% of adults with ADHD — compared with around 21% of adults without ADHD — reported drinking at least 5 to 6 alcoholic beverages every time they drank, which is known as binge drinking.
Though it is possible to drink in moderation with ADHD, having the condition increases your chance of developing alcohol misuse. Extensive research has been conducted on the connection between alcohol use and ADHD. Findings include:
- Earlier alcohol use. A twin study found that people who had severe childhood ADHD have higher rates of earlier alcohol use (drinking at a young age), as well as heavy and frequent alcohol use.
- Increased risk of binge drinking.
Research showsthat people with ADHD are more likely to binge drink in early adulthood.
- Increased risk of alcohol use disorder. A
2011 reviewfound that having ADHD in childhood significantly increases the chance of a person developing alcohol use disorder in adulthood.
Alcohol — in the short term — may appear to be a solution to the restlessness and anxiety often associated with ADHD. However, heavy alcohol consumption over a prolonged period of time can actually intensify symptoms of ADHD.
Individuals with ADHD may engage in behaviors that are more impulsive and can lead to harmful consequences.
Again, though alcohol may seem like a way to cope with ADHD, this is not the case. Alcohol is not an effective coping strategy because long-term alcohol use is associated with difficulties in:
All of these effects of alcohol use may intensify your symptoms of ADHD.
Yes. This connection may be because ADHD and addiction share similar symptoms, including:
- challenges with managing emotions
These factors increase the chance of people with ADHD developing addictive behaviors.
If you have a diagnosis of both ADHD and alcohol use disorder, this is known as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis.
It’s important to address both your addiction and your symptoms of ADHD through substance use disorder treatment and ADHD treatment, respectively, as the conditions can affect each other. While they can be treated at the same time, the condition that is more harmful and is impacting functioning or quality of life will be addressed first.
If you’re wondering what treatment will be like, many rehabs/treatment facilities offer treatments for dual diagnoses such as alcohol use disorder and ADHD. In most cases, after you’ve stopped drinking, you will receive treatment for alcohol withdrawal and afterward you will begin maintenance medication for alcohol use disorder.
Treatment may include behavioral therapy and support groups. Later, you may be prescribed medications to help reduce your risk of addiction and manage the symptoms of ADHD.
Individuals with ADHD may be prescribed medications to manage their symptoms, including stimulants and nonstimulants. It’s possible for alcohol to interact with your ADHD medication, but it depends on the type of medication you’re taking.
Alcohol decreases central nervous system activity. Rather than canceling out the effects of one another, alcohol changes the way your body processes stimulant medication. This can lead to side effects and unpredictable outcomes, including:
- increased blood pressure
- increased and/or irregular heart rate
- impaired judgement
- trouble sleeping
- raised body temperature
When alcohol and stimulant medications are combined, this increases the risk of alcohol poisoning and overdose. If you use both substances over a long period of time, you may increase your risk of a cardiac event, such as heart attack and stroke.
So it’s important to know how your body will react to these substances.
Nonstimulant ADHD medications and antidepressants
Stimulants are typically the first-choice medication to treat ADHD, but there are several nonstimulant medications that may be prescribed if you:
- do not respond to stimulants
- experienced adverse side effects while on stimulants
- have a history of heart conditions or drug abuse
Nonstimulant medications for ADHD include:
There are many factors that determine how your body reacts to both ADHD medication and alcohol, including pre-existing medical conditions and whether your medication is short-acting or long-acting.
Speak with your doctor about how alcohol may affect your ADHD medication before drinking. They can discuss the safety and possible side effects with you. It may be OK to enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage, but it’s best to avoid drinking alcohol — particularly drinking heavily — when taking ADHD medication.
Alcohol use disorder is a pattern of alcohol use that puts your health or safety at risk, or causes problems in your personal and professional life.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), alcohol use disorder is a problematic pattern of alcohol use leading to significant distress or difficulty functioning. It involves at least two of the following within a 12-month period:
- Drinking more alcohol, or over a longer period, than you intended.
- A persistent desire to control or reduce your alcohol use, or unsuccessful attempts to do so.
- Spending a lot of time doing things that allow you to get, use, or recover from alcohol use.
- Experiencing cravings for alcohol
- Alcohol use repeatedly gets in the way of your ability to fulfil work, school, or home responsibilities.
- Continuing to use alcohol despite its negative consequences.
- Giving up or reducing important social, work activities, or hobbies because of alcohol use.
- Using alcohol repeatedly in situations that could result in physical harm.
- Continuing to use alcohol despite it causing or contributing to recurring physical or psychological issues.
- Developing a tolerance — either needing a greater intake of alcohol to achieve the desired effect or feeling a reduced effect from the same amount of alcohol.
- Withdrawal: taking alcohol, or a closely related substance, to avoid or relieve symptoms of withdrawal.
If you are concerned about your drinking, talk with your doctor. They may recommend a number of treatments to help you stop drinking and manage your symptoms of ADHD. There are many options to treat alcohol use disorder and ADHD, including:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a psychotherapy approach used to treat many mental health conditions, including ADHD and substance use disorders.
- Group therapy. Group therapy provides emotional support and the opportunity to share your story and learn from others in a judgement-free zone.
- Medical detoxification. Medications are used to help you safely and more comfortably withdraw from alcohol while under the care of healthcare professionals.
- Inpatient treatment. Live-in treatment facilities offer 24/7 support and intensive care to help you get and stay sober. Individual and group counseling are also provided.
- Outpatient treatment. Most outpatient programs allow you to live at home while attending therapy, counseling, and group sessions at a clinic or facility.
- Prescription medications. Medications can help manage ADHD symptoms.
Take full advantage of telling your doctor about your concerns, as they can discuss treatment options with you.
There is a strong connection between ADHD and alcohol misuse, but that does not mean that everyone with ADHD will develop an addiction to alcohol.
Talk with your doctor if you are worried about your alcohol use and ADHD. They can help connect you to the right resources and suggest treatments so you can live a healthy, productive, sober life.
If you are having trouble managing your alcohol use and symptoms of ADHD, please know that you are not alone. There are resources available that you can turn to for support and information:
- Opening Up About ADHD and Alcoholism
- The Truth About ADHD and Addiction
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Call their helpline, open 24/7, 365 days a year at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit the website to find information and in-person support.
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD): Not-for-profit organization that aims to improve the lives of people affected by ADHD. The website offers online communities, a resource directory, and information on living with ADHD.
National Institute of Mental Health: Government agency that provides information about ADHD, including symptoms, statistics, written and media resources, and information about clinical trials available. The National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service: Call 1-800-662-HELP or visit the website for information about alcohol use disorder and local treatment services in your community.