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Alcohol and ADHD: What You Need to Know

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Do you have ADHD? Read this helpful article on alcohol and ADHD before you drink.

For most people, a glass of wine or a beer is the perfect way to unwind at the end of a long weekend. But for individuals with ADHD, alcohol may not be a wise choice, particularly if you are taking medication for ADHD. Read on to see how alcohol and ADHD mix (or don’t mix) and what you can do to minimize any risks of alcohol and ADHD. What you find out may surprise you!

Is Alcohol Dangerous for ADHD?

As a rule, excessive drinking is bad for everyone. The USDA recommends that adult men drink no more than two alcoholic beverages per day and that women drink no more than one. Excessive drinking is defined as more than 4 drinks in one day or 8 drinks in one week for women, and for men, excessive drinking is defined as 5 drinks in one day or more than 15 drinks per week.

However, drinking suggestions and limits are different for individuals with ADHD. If you are taking ADHD medication, the stimulant medication can intensify the effects of alcohol. Where a person who isn’t taking medication may be mildly affected by two or three alcoholic beverages, a person taking ADHD medication may feel inebriated with the same amount of alcohol.

If you aren’t taking ADHD medication, alcohol can carry its own risks. Individuals with ADHD are more likely to act impulsively, which means that any triggers that alcohol consumption carries could worsen ADHD symptoms. Additionally, individuals with ADHD tend to have lower self-esteem and may self-medicate with excessive alcohol consumption. A person with ADHD may have a harder time saying no to another drink, which could put them at risk for alcohol poisoning and other negative side effects of alcohol.

Effects of Alcohol on ADHD

Individuals with ADHD already have trouble with certain executive functioning skills, which alcohol consumption also depletes. These symptoms can include:

  • Impulsivity
  • Restlessness
  • Easily distracted
  • Impatience
  • Disorganization
  • Forgetfulness
  • Trouble staying on task

Another symptom of ADHD Is chronically low levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. These two chemicals help you feel good and are what your brain rewards you with when you experience something positive. Alcohol can temporarily increase dopamine levels, which is one reason why someone with ADHD might be more likely to drink alcohol or drink alcohol excessively. However, over time, excessive drinking can deplete dopamine, which can make symptoms of ADHD worse, and lead to further problems, like low self-esteem, depression, and even thoughts of suicide.

Studies on Alcohol and ADHD

Few studies have looked specifically at how alcohol affects someone with ADHD directly. However, one study published in “Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology” did just that. The study authors examined how individuals with ADHD reacted to alcohol versus a control group of individuals without ADHD. The individuals without ADHD were able to interpret cues in decision making after drinking any amount of alcohol. However, the individuals with ADHD were not able to interpret the cues, suggesting that a person with ADHD might not be able to recognize the signs that they should stop drinking alcohol or other control measures that would protect someone from making poor decisions based on the level of alcohol consumption. Adults with ADHD were found to have increased sensitivity to the effects of alcohol at every level, mainly due to their already-high propensity for impulsive decisions.

Is Alcoholism More Common in Adults with ADHD?

Numerous studies have suggested that individuals with ADHD are more likely to have trouble with alcohol and drug addiction. In adult alcoholics, the co-morbid condition of ADHD is up to 10 times higher than it is in adults who are not alcoholics. The number of individuals treated for alcohol addiction and other forms of addiction consist of 25 percent with ADHD, which is far higher than the normal average of 4 to 10 percent among non-alcoholic adults.

Studies have also found that children with ADHD are more likely to start drinking as children than children without ADHD. One study found that about 14 percent of children with ADHD have had problems with alcohol abuse by the age of 17. Another study found that about 40 percent of children with ADHD have experimented with alcohol by a mean age of 15. Among children without ADHD, this number is only 22 percent.

Why Does ADHD Trigger Alcohol Abuse?

Not all individuals with ADHD abuse alcohol, but studies show that more often than not, a person with ADHD is more likely to have trouble regulating alcohol intake. There are several factors that suggest this trend.

The number one reason why a person with ADHD would be more likely to abuse alcohol is poor impulse control. A person with ADHD has trouble self-regulating and saying no, and controlling actions in the moment. When it comes to alcohol, a person with ADHD will say yes to drinking more, because in the moment that is what feels right, and won’t consider how it will make them feel down the road.

Can ADHD Medication Lead to Substance Abuse?

Many parents of children with ADHD are concerned that since some forms of ADHD medication act similarly to street drugs in stimulating the reward centers of the brain that their children will experiment with other forms of drugs because of it. In reality, studies have found that in cases where children get ADHD medication to address their symptoms of impulsivity and self-regulation, they may be less likely to experiment with drugs. Children who have ADHD who are not medicated, are more likely to experiment with drugs and other substances than children who are prescribed ADHD medication.

Is it Safe to Drink Alcohol with ADHD?

The choice to consume alcohol is highly personal. Studies have found that in families that have ADHD, they are also more likely to have a history of alcohol abuse. This could be that in the past, someone with undiagnosed ADHD self-medicated with alcohol and became an alcoholic.

If your family has a history of alcohol abuse and you have ADHD, think carefully before you drink. However, just because you have ADHD doesn’t mean that you can’t ever drink, just that you should be more mindful about your limits and go into the experience with clear goals and firm rules for how you will behave. For example, a person with ADHD might be more likely to risk driving drunk in the moment, so before you start drinking, make sure you have a clear plan in mind for when and how you will get home, whether that is driving with a sober friend, spending the night at a friend’s house, or taking a taxi home.

If you find yourself over drinking and regretting how much you drink the next day, have frequent hangovers, or are drinking more than the USDA's recommended allotment for a day or week, consider cutting back. It’s easier to reduce alcohol consumption before addiction is a problem than it is to reduce consumption after you are addicted.

If you keep a constant eye on your drinking and are careful to follow your self-imposed limits, you can drink safely with ADHD.

Natural Ways to Relieve ADHD Symptoms and Reduce Alcohol Abuse

Studies have suggested that mixing alcohol and ADHD medication is not advisable. Additionally, many adults do not want to have to take ADHD medication their entire lives, which can come with a variety of unhealthy and unwanted side effects. Luckily, there are some natural steps you can take to improve focus and reduce impulsivity without prescription medication. Try these natural ADHD remedies and you might just be able to reduce or eliminate prescription ADHD medication.

Lifestyle Changes

Certain lifestyle habits can make a difference in ADHD symptoms. One of the biggest natural symptom reducers for ADHD is exercise. Exercise releases some of the chemicals that are typically low in individuals with ADHD, helping you feel good about yourself and boosting confidence. Regular exercise can help focus the mind, improve the mood, and give you an overall better outlook on life.

Additionally, eating a healthy diet can help ease some common ADHD symptoms. Individuals with ADHD are often low in vitamins like B12, omega-3, and magnesium. Adding these nutrients back in the diet through food can go a long way toward reducing the worst symptoms of ADHD. Diet alone will never “cure” ADHD, but it will help dull some of the strongest symptoms.


Therapy is helpful for individuals with ADHD. Many children with ADHD get behavioral therapy to help focus the mind and create strategies for upsetting or difficult situations. Therapy for adults with ADHD has a similar benefit. Talking through problems, creating strategies, and planning what to do in certain situations along with organization tips can go a long way toward managing the adult symptoms of ADHD.

Focused Hobbies

A person with ADHD often feels restless and antsy. A hobby can fill the void in restless days. One of the best ways to ease the symptoms of ADHD is to have a source of beneficial activity that the person with ADHD can do on a regular basis that they enjoy and want to do. This could be building things out of wood, painting, daily walks in nature, learning a new skill, or any number of activities. If you are interested and engaged, and able to keep moving, the hobby can be a helpful outlet for ADHD symptoms.

Alcohol and ADHD: The Final Verdict

It is a fact that individuals with ADHD are more likely to have problems with substance abuse. That is something to be aware of and acknowledge if you plan to drink alcohol. If you are currently taking ADHD medication, talk to your doctor about whether you should drink alcohol at all when on your medication. Your doctor might suggest skipping a dose while you are drinking, or they may suggest you avoid alcohol altogether until you are no longer taking the medication.

If you are not currently on medication for ADHD, you should still carefully consider your drinking habits. It is easier for a person with ADHD to make poor decisions regarding alcohol, which could end up harming yourself or other people. Some individuals with ADHD are able to drink alcohol without problems, but for others, it is best to abstain. Take careful stock in your ability to regulate your alcohol intake and make the right choices before drinking when you have ADHD.





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