In recent years, studies have shown that there is a connection between alcohol abuse and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD), similar to the link of alcohol addiction and other co-occurring disorders.
People who have childhood ADHD/ADD are more likely to try alcohol than those who do not. Young adults around 25 are equally disposed to alcohol consumption whether they have or do not have these conditions.
However, among that same population of adults, those with adult ADHD/ADD are much more likely to have alcohol use disorder than those without ADHD/ADD.
Why People With ADHD/ADD Use Alcohol
ADHD and ADD are oftentimes used interchangeably, but they are not the same condition. ADD is not considered a medical diagnosis, but it does describe a subset of symptoms that fall under ADHD.
Symptoms for ADD include inattention, distractibility, and poor working memory. People with ADHD have many or all of the same symptoms of ADD coupled with hyperactivity and talkativeness.
People with an ADHD or ADD diagnosis can engage in alcohol abuse or drug abuse for several different reasons, some of which have to do with dopamine.
ADHD/ADD And Dopamine
The general cause of ADHD/ADD is low dopamine activity in the forebrain. This is why treatment for ADHD/ADD involves using stimulant medications such as Ritalin or Adderall.
When ADHD/ADD goes undiagnosed, people may use alcohol as both self-medication and a coping mechanism.
Need Of Stimulus
Understanding the role of dopamine in ADHD/ADD helps explain why alcohol abuse is higher among people with the disorder.
Alcohol also raises dopamine levels in the nervous system. When dopamine in people with ADHD/ADD reaches normal levels, they are able to concentrate.
Even though alcohol is a non-stimulant, it can provide a stimulus to dopamine for a time.
Poor impulse control is one of the effects of ADHD/ADD because normal dopamine levels are needed to regulate impulsive behaviors.
In a similar way to creating a stimulus, alcohol can appear, at first, to give a person greater impulse control by raising dopamine levels in the brain.
Over time, people using alcohol as a coping mechanism will impulsively turn to the substance to get the hit of dopamine that alcohol use provides.
Finally, people with ADHD/ADD may engage in binge drinking and alcohol abuse as a way of coping with the underlying stresses that come with having the disorder.
These stressors can be related to:
- memory problems
- consequences of poor impulse control
- social problems
- poor academic performance
The euphoric effects of alcohol can appear to provide a temporary escape from these pressures. Unfortunately, it may also contribute to delinquency or further illicit drug use.
The Effect Of Alcohol In People On ADHD/ADD Medications
Alcohol consumption presents several risk factors for people who are taking ADHD/ADD meds. Ritalin and Adderall are stimulants and may mask the harmful effects that alcohol abuse can have on the brain.
Increased Heart Rate
Ritalin and Adderall can cause increases in heart rate and blood pressure because they are stimulant drugs.
Because alcohol is a diuretic, vessels constrict as a result, and heart rate increases in addition to the increase that is already present with ADHD medication.
Increased Risk Of Alcohol Poisoning
The most common ADHD meds are stimulants and may mask the effects of alcohol. A person with ADHD who is not on medication is easily affected by alcohol.
The more alcohol a person drinks, the more at risk they are for alcohol poisoning. This is especially true if you are taking a stimulant that masks the effects of alcohol.
How ADHD/ADD Is Treated As A Co-Occurring Disorder
Providers can treat adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder as a co-occurring disorder with alcohol use disorder. Without proper treatment, people are at high risk of relapse.
Below are some of the most common co-occurring disorder treatments for ADHD/ADD symptoms and alcohol abuse.
Providers often prescribe Ritalin for the treatment of ADHD. In the history of the disorder, it is a newer drug that has been used for treatment. It has fewer side effects than older drugs used to treat the disorder.
Adderall is an older stimulant that providers commonly prescribed to treat the disorder. It can have more side effects than Ritalin, but it is still commonly used.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based on the idea that thoughts, feeling, and physical sensations are connected, and negative thoughts may trap a person in a vicious cycle.
People with ADHD/ADD who have used alcohol to cope with the effects of the disorder may benefit from CBT.
It can help them learn how to deal with their decision-making and how it puts them at a higher risk of alcohol addiction.
Treatment Programs For Alcohol Use Disorders
There are many treatment options for alcohol use disorder, including those that use medication to help with the cravings.
Treatment options may include:
- intervention services
- medication assisted treatment (MAT)
- medically monitored alcohol detoxification
- support groups
- 12-step programs for alcohol addiction
- outpatient programs
- inpatient alcohol treatment
It is possible to take medication for alcohol use disorder that does not aggravate ADHD and ADD symptoms. The reverse scenario is true as well.
Find Effective Dual Diagnosis Treatment At Bedrock Recovery Center
At Bedrock Recovery Center in Massachusetts, we understand the complications that ADHD and ADD can bring to alcohol abuse or other substance abuse problems.
It is important to us that you get the treatment you need for both disorders with a treatment plan utilizing tools from both psychiatry and addiction treatment.
Call our helpline today and we will get you or your loved one on the road to sobriety.
Bedrock Recovery Editorial Team
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This page does not provide medical advice.