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adhd and alcohol
April 22, 2022

ADHD & Alcohol

While ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is commonly associated with schoolchildren, over 4 percent of U.S. adults have the same problem. Most of them have had it all their lives—whether or not anything unusual was noticed in their childhood. New problems can emerge with age. In adulthood, ADHD and alcohol can prove a problematic combination.

Living with ADHD

At any age, managing ADHD is a challenge. Most people know the basic symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty keeping track of things
  • Difficulty absorbing new information into long-term memory
  • Chronic restlessness
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Poor problem-solving abilities
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Excessive talkativeness, tendencies to interrupt, or other communication problems

People with ADHD may display a combination of poor concentration and physical restlessness symptoms, or tend toward one side or the other.

Learning difficulties are obviously a potential problem, but often the hardest struggle comes when natural behavior for someone with ADHD clashes with societal expectations. It hurts to be told that your feelings and behavior are all wrong—that you’d better settle down and quit disrupting the accepted “normal.”

Where children respond to such demands with tantrums or self-stifling, teens and adults are often tempted to self-medicate—to alleviate their frustration with alcohol or some other drug. Which is among the worst ways to approach problems, and all the more so for anyone with ADHD.

ADHD and Alcohol: Double Trouble

Typical alcohol-influenced behavior—impulsiveness, distractibility, poor concentration, memory impairment—is similar to the effects of ADHD, and the double influence can manifest in getting intoxicated more quickly. But there’s a greater danger: ADHD puts people in a higher-risk category for developing alcohol use disorder (alcoholism), partly because the impulsivity associated with ADHD can increase tendencies to overdrink. The potential consequences of alcohol use disorder are all too well known:

  • Fatal accidents
  • Pregnancy problems, from miscarriage to severe birth defects
  • Weakened immune system
  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer

Not to mention the withdrawal effects associated with physical dependence: possible seizures and heart failure as well as jitteriness, heavy perspiration, headaches, and nausea.

Alcohol and ADHD Meds Don’t Mix

If someone who drinks is taking medication for ADHD, there’s also a risk of dangerous drug interactions. Although alcohol is a depressant and most ADHD medications are stimulants, that doesn’t mean that the two simply cancel each other out: interaction may instead magnify the effects of one drug or the other, triggering rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, or alcohol overdose. (Note: someone who passes out, turns blue, or begins breathing extremely slowly after several drinks may be experiencing overdose. Whether or not ADHD medicine was consumed with the alcohol, call emergency medical help immediately.)

If someone continues to drink alcohol regularly while also taking an ADHD prescription, long-term effects can include heart trouble, stroke, or severe depression.

Coping with ADHD

That’s not to say ADHD medication is bad in itself. Despite legitimate concerns about prescription-medicine dependence, there’s no evidence that people who take medication for ADHD are more likely to develop any form of substance use disorder. Some researchers believe that people with ADHD are less likely to develop addictions if taking medication, though that may be more due to the fact of receiving ADHD treatment than to the specific treatment form.

Regardless, if you have ADHD or alcoholism symptoms—especially symptoms that interfere with your work and relationships, or that have you frequently stressed and depressed—you don’t have to “just live with it.” Consult a doctor for evaluation and recommendations.

Finally, basic good-health habits can do a lot to keep ADHD under control and alcohol temptations at bay. Eat healthy, go to bed on schedule, and set aside time for physical activity (where work requires long-term sitting, it’s not only those with restlessness-related ADHD symptoms who benefit from “exercising it out” every hour). And definitely don’t berate yourself for not always maintaining “perfect” control. To err—and experience individual difficulties—is human, but so is to learn and improve.

Proven Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

With or without ADHD, untreated alcohol use disorder can ruin a person’s life—or end it prematurely. But quitting alcohol cold is also dangerous: withdrawal has been known to trigger seizures and heart attacks.

Fortunately, alcohol detox can be undertaken safely in a licensed treatment center, under medical supervision. Beach House provides effective detox treatment, plus follow-up counseling for long-term sobriety. Every care plan is customized to individual needs. Contact us today to learn more!

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