ADHD Alcohol

ADHD and Alcohol: Understanding the Brain's Reaction

Alcohol can significantly impact the brain of someone with ADHD, often exacerbating ADHD symptoms and potentially leading to addictive behaviors. The interaction between alcohol and the ADHD brain might result in increased impulsivity and poor decision-making. Additionally, individuals with ADHD may turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication, seeking relief from their symptoms, but this can increase the risk of developing alcohol dependence. Recognizing and addressing this relationship is crucial for effective ADHD management and avoiding the pitfalls of alcohol misuse.

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Written by

Dr. Guia Canonizado - Custorio

Medical Doctor

Reviewed by

Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach
In this Article

Reviewed by

Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach
A word form our expert

The Connection Between ADHD And Alcohol

Reports show an increased risk of alcohol abuse in young adults with ADHD. Despite extensive research, it’s still not clear which causes which.

Some research suggests that alcohol affects how ADHD symptoms can show up. Other research has found that 25% of adults receiving treatment for alcoholism and alcohol impairment already had an ADHD diagnosis.

So, what’s the connection? The answer lies in the symptoms.

ADHD And Alcohol Abuse

How Alcohol Can Make ADHD Symptoms Worse

The most typical symptoms of ADHD are restlessness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. People who have these symptoms may find it difficult to concentrate and focus on particular activities. They tend to have trouble with behavioral self-control and logical thinking.

ADHD can manifest itself physically, emotionally, and mentally. According to the American Psychiatric Association, there is also evidence of an increased risk of mental illness in ADHD. The most common comorbid conditions include depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety.

If a person with ADHD experiences a lack of emotional support and disrupted emotional functioning, they might turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. This is a form of self-medication to ease symptoms associated with ADHD. 

But, long term alcohol use may impose more risk factors that may unintentionally worsen ADHD symptoms.

ADHD And Alcohol Abuse

Substance Abuse and ADHD Medication

For many people with ADHD, intense emotions such as anger, anxiety, or stress can lead to alcohol misuse. It's not uncommon to use alcohol to cope with social awkwardness or binge drink if struggling with restless and hyperactive thoughts.

While some people with ADHD believe drinking, especially while on medication, is safe, the reality can be different. The effects of alcohol and ADHD medication can impact physical health, cognition, and behavior. 

ADHD medication and alcohol interactions can also lead to an increased sensitivity to alcohol and be a risk factor for effects such as alcohol poisoning. 

Substance use, including alcohol and drug abuse problems, poses a heightened risk of worsening ADHD symptoms. Substance abuse is the excessive and uncontrolled use of drugs or alcohol. This often adversely affects health, relationships, finances, and mental wellbeing. It involves a pattern of behavior of continued substance use, despite its negative impact on their lives.

ADHD And Alcohol Abuse
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The Connection Between Childhood ADHD and Earlier Alcohol Use 

There is an association between adolescent ADHD and an increased risk of substance abuse disorders. Many young people with ADHD start drinking earlier, often due to impulsive behaviors. This is particularly true when surrounded by an environment that promotes heavy drinking. 

The association between adolescent alcohol consumption and ADHD can be attributed to hyperactive symptoms, novelty-seeking behavior, and pre-existing mental disorders.

The Negative Consequences of Substance Abuse On Behavior

Alcohol can impact the developmental progression and functioning of an ADHD brain. People often turn to alcohol to feel more at ease in social situations, like parties or meeting new people. But the impulsive nature of both alcoholism and ADHD can lead to poor decision-making and even aggressive behavior.

Some people with ADHD may perceive alcohol as having a short-term positive effect. As alcohol affects our ability to think and move logically, it can induce a calming effect and alleviate racing thoughts. But achieving this state of calmness typically requires excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking.

ADHD And Alcohol Abuse

Excessive Alcohol Use As A Risk Factor For Drug Abuse

If you struggle with issues like binge drinking, assessing whether you may have a dependence is essential. Alcohol consumption can be just the tip of the iceberg. It may open the door to other substance use disorders. 

If left untreated, binge drinking can lead to alcohol dependence and tolerance. This further drives the need for more substances like drugs to satisfy cravings or mask ADHD symptoms. 

Substances like cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy can all contribute to drug dependencies. If left unaddressed, this could impact your lifestyle, health, and relationships. 

The best way to prevent this is to make changes as soon as you notice it is becoming a problem.

ADHD And Alcohol Abuse

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

Although alcohol use may temporarily help you manage ADHD symptoms, the increased risk of alcohol abuse disorder and drug misuse remains.

Coping with ADHD and alcohol dependency can be challenging, but you can change and get better with the proper treatment and support. If you want help with ADHD and alcohol use, plenty of resources and support groups exist online. 

Learning from those also experiencing alcohol use disorders can provide valuable insights and help you develop the effective coping skills needed to reduce or stop drinking.

ADHD And Alcohol Abuse

Here are some tips that you might want to consider to prevent yourself from substance abuse while having ADHD symptoms:

ADHD And Alcohol Abuse

Get a proper ADHD diagnosis.

Learning about how your ADHD symptoms show up day-to-day can help you get ahead on the road to recovery. Knowledge is power, and treating something you know about rather than something you do not is easier.

Join ADHD support groups.

Joining an ADHD support group can help you understand your condition. Remember that everybody's ADHD can appear differently, but knowing you are not alone will help with feelings of isolation.

Prevent subsequent substance abuse. 

If you are a young adult with ADHD, try to limit yourself and break the habit of earlier alcohol use. Taking alcohol in moderation can lessen the chances of an alcohol use disorder later on. This is particularly true if you have a history of childhood ADHD, as this is a risk factor for alcohol misuse or drug addiction in adulthood. 

Try behavioral therapies and treatment programs.

Adults with ADHD symptoms that already abuse alcohol may find behavioral therapy helpful. Behavioral therapy can help patients understand the motivations behind certain compulsions. Research has found it effective in treating addictions in people with ADHD in managing and reducing their alcohol consumption.

Watch out for ADHD medication interactions.

If you're taking ADHD medication, discuss with your healthcare provider whether alcohol consumption is safe to avoid potential complications.

Reconsider your social situations.

Limit situations requiring alcohol, particularly if it usually results in binge drinking. Try to participate in social events not centered around drinking or drug use.

Take preventive measures.

Remember that leaving alcohol use disorder unaddressed can result in subsequent substance abuse. Understand the repercussions of both and take proactive measures to prevent them. Educate yourself about substance abuse and its impact on your well-being, physical health, and those who love you.

Ask for help.

If you feel you can't stop, ask your family and friends for an intervention to show your commitment to change. You should also reach out to a doctor that will not judge you, such as a trusted GP

ADHD And Alcohol Abuse

Get emotional support

Reach out for support from others if you're struggling with ADHD and alcohol use disorder. Remember, you don't have to face the challenges alone.

Stay determined

Managing substance use and ADHD symptoms is challenging. But with self-compassion, impulse control, practice, and determination, you can create a better life for yourself and those around you.


Managing adult ADHD symptoms can be challenging enough on their own. This challenge is amplified further by alcohol impairment and substance misuse disorders. Left unaddressed, this combination can lead to detrimental outcomes, including more substance use disorders in the future and exacerbation of underlying mental health issues. 

Prioritizing ADHD treatment and practicing moderation in alcohol use, the risk of these complications can be minimized or prevented. It is important to remember that while alcohol may temporarily alleviate ADHD symptoms, it can create more significant problems in the long run. 

By gaining relevant information and understanding the connections between ADHD, alcohol use, and substance abuse, adults with ADHD can effectively manage their symptoms and make informed choices for their wellbeing.

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ADHD and Alcohol: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Can I drink alcohol if I am taking ADHD medication?

It is best to consult your mental health professional or doctor to understand how safe this is for you. Knowing the potential complications of combining alcohol and ADHD medication is essential.

What should I do if I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Alcohol Use Disorder?

It is crucial to seek immediate professional help as having both conditions untreated can be dangerous. Treatment options are available for both ADHD and all forms of substance abuse. With the proper care, recovery from addiction is possible.

What is the connection between ADHD and excessive alcohol use?

he relationship between ADHD and excessive alcohol use is not fully understood. Some research suggests that alcohol affects ADHD symptoms, while other studies indicate a higher prevalence of ADHD among individuals receiving alcoholism treatment. Individuals with ADHD may turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication.

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