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More than 5 million children and countless adults currently have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a condition that can easily make life seem difficult and defeating. The severe symptoms of this disease can make it difficult for anyone to cope with life. Eventually, many turn to using alcohol to make life more manageable, but most of them are unaware of the negative association that exists between ADHD and alcohol.
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A rising number of people with ADHD reportedly suffer from alcohol abuse. While the combination seems to improve them, the effects are short-lived and likely exacerbate the current issues.
An Overview of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD, is a psychiatric illness characterized by periods of chronic inattention coupled with hyperactivity. These alternating periods of irregular brain activity make it difficult for victims to focus on the tasks by regularly distracting them. So far, research believes this disorder is a result of reduced activity in the brain’s frontal lobe. Further scans reveal that most ADHD patients have a reduced prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain responsible for executive functions like attention, memory, problem-solving, thinking, and organization. Most people with ADHD can pinpoint some, if not all, of these executive functions as their biggest obstacles.
Perhaps the most notorious ADHD symptoms are hyperactivity leading to little or no control over impulses. This symptom is the hallmark of ADHD and has become a significant concern for all patients. Alcohol consumption in such patients produces further impairments in the prefrontal cortex, triggering bursts of wild emotions and uncontrollable behaviors.
ADHD and Alcohol Abuse: What’s the Link?
Alcohol use disorder is the most typical substance use disorder in people with ADHD. Studies suggest that up to 42% of people with this diagnosis reportedly drink at least 5 to 6 alcoholic drinks in each session, a behavior known as binge drinking. Though drinking in moderation is very much possible for people with ADHD, having this diagnosis automatically increases a person’s chances of developing alcohol misuse. Further research into the connection has revealed the following factors directly affecting it.
Early Alcohol Use
Research confirms that people with severe childhood anxiety are more likely to start drinking alcohol at a young age. Such people are also more likely to indulge in more frequent and heavier drinking sessions.
Increased Risk of Binge Drinking
Research reveals that people with ADHD are at a higher risk of binge drinking in childhood.
Increased Risk of Alcohol Use Disorder
ADHD diagnosis in early childhood also increases the chance of an individual developing alcohol addiction in adult life.
Alcohol may easily seem to solve the anxiety and restlessness associated with ADHD. However, prolonged duration of alcohol consumption only leads to the intensification of the symptoms.
ADHD Alcoholism: Short-Term Effects of Self-Medicating with Alcohol
Many may use alcohol as a short-term solution to manage their ADHD diagnosis without considering the detrimental effects alcohol can exert on their physical and mental health. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that may initially lead to stimulating effects, like increased energy levels. However, as a person continues drinking, they become drowsy and start losing control over their actions.
The short-term effects of alcohol and its intensity also depend on how much alcohol a person consumes. These symptoms, in general, may include:
- Decreased perception and coordination
- Slurred speech
- Impaired judgment
- Distorted vision and hearing
- Breathing difficulties
- Memory lapses
Excessive drinking also affects muscle coordination and impairs many other functions by affecting the vital centers in the brain. Binge sessions involving alcohol may even lead to a life-threatening coma or death, particularly in people already on other types of central nervous system depressants.
Alcohol can also increase specific symptoms of ADHD, such as impulsivity, inattentiveness, and a lack of proper decision-making. Additionally, insomnia is also an essential outcome of simultaneous ADHD and alcohol consumption, as the latter can cause further disruptions in sleep patterns. With time, a person with ADHD may start experiencing problems in speech, decision-making, cognition, and memory.
How Does Alcohol Affect ADHD in the Long Run? Chronic Side Effects
The long-term impacts of using alcohol despite having an ADHD diagnosis include the following:
Alcohol Use Disorder
More than 40 percent of people with ADHD are at risk of developing alcohol addiction. Also known as alcohol use disorder, the problem involves a pattern of using alcohol that makes it challenging to control the habit. Those who experience this disorder may keep drinking alcohol despite acknowledging the damage it is causing them. In the long run, the problem may become so severe that it leads to issues like:
- Loss of job
- End of important relationships
- Social withdrawal
- Financial issues
- Risk of homelessness
Long-term use of alcohol by a person with ADHD can severely impact their judgment while lowering their inhibitions. Due to these effects, a person may make poor decisions and become involved in the following damaging situations:
- Automobile accidents
- Other accidental injuries, such as drowning
- Poor work or academic performance
- Increased likelihood of becoming the victim of a crime
- Legal troubles
- Problems with other substance use
- Increased risk of suicide
The combination of long-term alcohol use with ADHD diagnosis may lead to significant health problems such as:
- Liver disease
- Diabetes-associated complications
- Digestive problems
- Neurological complications
- Eye problems
- Sexual dysfunction
- Heart conditions
- Congenital disabilities
- Weakened immune system
- Increased risk of cancer
- Bone damage
What Happens When You Mix ADHD Pills and Alcohol?
Most individuals with ADHD are on medications to manage their symptoms, which include stimulants and non-stimulants. Taking alcohol in such circumstances can interact with these medications; however, the exact type of interaction that takes place varies depending on the type of medication a person takes.
Stimulant medications work by increasing the activity levels in the central nervous system. Some common examples of these medicines include Adderall and Ritalin. Because alcohol works to depress the central nervous system, many people falsely believe that using them together will cancel out each other’s effect. However, what happens in real life is alcohol changes the way the body processes stimulants, leading to side effects:
- increased or irregular heart rate
- increased blood pressure
- impaired judgment
- vomiting and nausea
- raised body temperature
- trouble sleeping
Combining stimulants and alcohol abuse can also increase the risk of alcohol overdose and poisoning. Moreover, in the long run, the combination can trigger a cardiac event, such as a stroke or heart attack.
Non-stimulant ADHD medications
The combination of non-stimulant ADD medication and alcohol can also be potentially dangerous. These drugs are not usually the first choice, but a doctor may prescribe them to an individual who:
- Is not responding to stimulant medications
- Has a history of drug abuse or heart conditions
- Is experiencing side effects due to stimulants
Some common examples of non-stimulant medications include venlafaxine, atomoxetine, and bupropion.
Remember that how an individual’s body reacts to ADHD medication can vary depending on factors like the drug category, history of any pre-existing medical conditions, etc. Therefore, always speak to a doctor about how alcohol may interfere with these medicines before you start drinking. A qualified doctor can discuss the safety of these medicines along with any possible side effects.
ADHD and Alcohol Abuse Treatment
If you have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and are a regular drinker, you must talk to a doctor soon. Combining ADHD medicines and alcohol can be extremely dangerous for physical and mental health. Moreover, the combination can also exacerbate the symptoms of ADHD even more. You may get a referral to a mental health professional who can help you overcome your alcohol abuse through the following interventions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a psychotherapy approach that treats various mental health conditions, such as substance abuse disorders and ADHD. The therapy helps individuals recognize and replace negative thoughts and behaviors with positive ones.
Group therapy allows individuals with ADHD and alcoholism to share their stories with others and learn from them in a judgment-free zone. It provides a good source of emotional support and help.
Experts may suggest a detoxification process to help people with alcoholism quit drinking safely and comfortably under the care of trained professionals.
This treatment takes place in specialized live-in facilities with round-the-clock support and intensive care to help clients achieve and manage sobriety. As a part of inpatient treatment, people can also participate in individual and group counseling sessions.
Outpatient treatment allows clients to continue seeking sobriety support while living at home.
As a part of medication management, clients continue attending follow-ups with a doctor who monitors their response to their ADHD medications and makes adjustments as necessary.
Can I consume alcohol if I am on ADHD medication?
It is always a good idea to ask a mental health professional before consuming alcohol while you are already on ADHD medications. These experts can guide you better about the possible side effects that may arise if you combine both and let you know about the best times to drink safely.
What should I do if I have ADHD and drinking problems simultaneously?
The best way forward is to seek professional help simultaneously as it can be hazardous to suffer from both conditions simultaneously. Fortunately, treatment programs focus on treating both disorders simultaneously for better recovery outcomes.
What is the connection between ADHD and alcohol use disorder?
Experts are not sure what triggers alcohol abuse in people with ADHD. One possible explanation is using alcohol as a self-medication to keep ADHD symptoms under control.
Does ADHD alcoholism have any consequences?
Suffering from alcohol use disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can be devastating and lead to severe consequences for most people. These consequences may include financial issues, loss of employment, substance abuse, health problems, and relationship difficulty.
Can I prevent myself from developing alcoholism while I seek treatment for ADHD?
There is no sure way to prevent developing alcohol addiction while managing ADHD. However, there are certain things you can do to lower the risk, such as identifying triggers, avoiding situations where you are more likely to drink heavily, and actively participating in ADHD management.
I may have ADHD and alcohol addiction. What should I do?
If you believe you are suffering from ADHD and alcohol addiction at the same time, the best thing to do is seek help from a professional. These professionals can guide you best about how to get a professional diagnosis and plan a treatment plan for both issues.