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ADHD and Alcohol: How They Interact

In today’s fast-paced world, coping with life’s challenges can feel challenging and complicated. However, for those living with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), it can sometimes feel like an impossible task.

While it’s important to note that not everyone who has ADHD also has a substance use disorder, research has found they often co-occur. But what is the link between ADHD and alcohol? How does alcohol interact with ADHD medication?

Keep reading to learn more about how these two interact.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder marked by periods of inattention as well as hyperactive/impulsive behaviour. Some adults who have a hard time coping with their symptoms turn to substances such as alcohol as a way to self-medicate.

This disorder is most commonly noticed in male children because its symptoms—such as the inability to focus combined with high energy levels—are typically flagged by teachers as disruptive behaviours in school classrooms.

While the root cause of ADHD is unknown, some factors are thought to play a role in the development of ADHD beyond genetics:

  • Premature birth (born before the 37th week of pregnancy)
  • Low birth weight
  • A mother who smokes or abuses substances during pregnancy

There is prescription medication available to help people with ADHD cope with their symptoms. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. Sometimes, a combination of medicine, therapy, and skills training is often needed to improve their quality of life.

 A student having difficulty concentrating on schoolwork

Are People With ADHD More Prone to Addiction?

The short answer is yes. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as those with ADHD tend to be more impulsive—which can be risky when combined with substances.

One study found children who had been diagnosed with ADHD as being two to three times more likely to meet the criteria of substance abuse as adults, albeit for drugs such as nicotine and cocaine rather than alcohol.

However, another study found that young adults with ADHD are more likely to binge drink as an adolescent. Most notably, they found a correlation between the worsening of symptoms and the likelihood of engaging in this unhealthy behaviour.

Why Do People With ADHD Turn To Alcohol?

Alcohol is a known Central Nervous System Depressant, meaning it slows down parts of the brain and neural activity. Most people have experienced this: first alcohol calms nerves and makes you feel good, then, if you continue drinking, it puts you to sleep. For those with ADHD, drinking can slow down some of the gears they feel turning extremely quickly inside their heads, helping them disassociate and relax.

Another facet to consider is that the ADHD brain compulsively seeks high-dopamine activities and stimulus in order to combat boredom or a sense of restlessness. Addictive behaviours, like alcohol or drug consumption, may trigger that intense happy feeling the ADHD brain is craving.

However, excessive drinking can lead to some truly risky—and potentially dangerous—decisions.

Beyond the effects it produces, there may also be genetic factors driving those with ADHD to use and abuse alcohol. Some researchers have found that ADHD and alcoholism tend to run in families, suggesting a possible predisposition.

ADHD Medication: Debunking Misconceptions

Treating ADHD and alcohol abuse is challenging but not impossible.

While it has been theorized in the past that those taking ADHD medication were at greater risk of developing substance use disorders, longitudinal studies that followed children into adulthood found no significant correlation. According to the findings, the ADHD medication (Ritalin) prescribed to the children had no link to substance abuse.

In a more recent study of 150,000 young people with ADHD, the results found those who received medication were 7.3% less likely to have an unhealthy dependence on substances compared to those who didn’t take any medication to treat their ADHD.

a woman attending cognitive behavioural therapy

Alcohol and ADHD Treatment Options

It’s worth repeating that genetics, your environment, and personal choices—and not medication—are what increase the chances of developing a substance use disorder.

If your drinking patterns are starting to cause distressing problems in your daily life, it’s time to seek help from a healthcare professional. Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction can range anywhere from an inability to limit your alcohol intake to spending most of your time drinking or obtaining alcoholic beverages.

Some treatment options that address both ADHD and alcohol-use disorder include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): This is when therapists work with a patient to help identify stressors that trigger the undesirable behaviour as well as the associated thinking patterns. From there, they’ll work together to create an action plan and develop strategies to reroute these patterns.
  • In-patient Treatment: This is a type of treatment where an individual suffering from a substance abuse disorder lives in a treatment facility, receiving 24/7 supervision and support to help them stay sober.
  • Prescription Medicines: Non-stimulant medication is sometimes prescribed for those suffering from addiction on top of therapy.

That said, speaking to a healthcare professional will give you the appropriate treatment you need to manage symptoms and avoid relapses.

ADHD and Alcohol Treatment: We’re Here to Help

Recovery from substance abuse requires a multidimensional approach that considers the unique needs and challenges faced by patients with ADHD. By seeking professional help at a rehab facility, individuals can embark on a transformative journey towards lasting recovery, improved well-being, and a brighter future.

You’re not alone—Freedom From Addiction offers addiction treatment services that combine evidence-based therapies, such as individual therapy and group therapy to equip patients with the tools needed to manage their ADHD symptoms effectively and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Call us now or leave a message for more information about our treatment options.


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