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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is a psychiatric disorder with symptoms like impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and difficulty paying attention. According to estimates, the illness affects up to 4 percent of adults and 11 percent of children worldwide.

While it is common for adults with ADHD to enjoy an alcoholic drink occasionally, extreme caution should be observed as such individuals are at an increased risk for alcohol use disorder, even at an early age. Worse, consuming alcohol is also likely to worsen their symptoms of impulsiveness and inattentiveness.

This article will discuss the relationships between ADHD and alcohol abuse, the dangers of drinking while on ADHD medications, and when to seek help for an underlying alcohol abuse disorder.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a psychiatric ailment characterised by chronic hyperactivity and inattention. This makes it difficult for the afflicted to quickly get distracted, making it difficult to focus entirely on the task at hand. Modern science believes ADHD to be a cause of a less-active frontal lobe of the brain. Multiple brain scans have revealed that individuals suffering from this disorder have a relatively small prefrontal cortex as compared to those who do not have it. This particular part of the brain is essential for carrying out the executive functions such as memory, attention, problem-solving, thinking, and organisation. As a result, patients with ADHD often find these functions as their most significant obstacles.

A diagnosis of ADHD can easily disrupt an individual’s way of life, leading to problems with careers, relationships, and self-esteem. Some common symptoms of this disorder include:

Inattention

Inattention can make it difficult for people to focus on the responsibilities related to school, work, relationships, and daily life. Such people are more likely to make mistakes and find it challenging to follow through on tasks requiring sustained mental effort.

Hyperactivity

This symptom can force patients with ADHD to indulge in repetitive behaviours, such as tapping their hands or feet, fidgeting, or squirming in their seats. Children with this disorder may run around in places where it is not appropriate.

Impulsivity

Remaining patient is challenging for people with ADHD. They often make hasty decisions without putting much thought into their consequences.

While researchers are not entirely sure about the causes of ADHD, certain risk factors are recognised. These include exposure to extreme stress or alcohol during pregnancy. Previous research also considered ADHD a childhood disorder; however, the latest evidence has expanded into newer areas, such as the association between AHDH and alcohol use in early adulthood.

The typical behaviour associated with alcohol use – such as memory impairment, impulsiveness, and poor concentration – is similar to the ADHD symptoms. Hence, this double influence often manifests in easier and quicker intoxication. However, the danger does not end here; a diagnosis of ADHD can put patients in a high-risk category for developing alcohol addiction. This increased chance of addiction is because the impulsivity usually associated with this psychiatric disorder often increases one’s tendency to overdrink. As a result, the following consequences may occur:

  • Fatal accidents
  • Weakened immune system
  • Cancer
  • Diseases of the liver and heart
  • Problems with pregnancy, including severe congenital disabilities and even miscarriages

These consequences can occur in addition to withdrawal effects linked with physical dependence on alcohol, including jitteriness, nausea, and headaches. Research suggests that alcohol affects the frontal lobe, the same part of the brain that ADHD influences. As a result, the wild emotions and uncontrolled behaviours associated with ADHD are often exaggerated.

Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in adults with underlying ADHD. Studies estimate that up to 42 percent of people with ADHD reportedly drink at least 5 to 6 alcoholic drinks, compared to only 21 percent of those without ADHD.  Though it is possible to keep your alcohol intake within limits for such people, the chances of abusing it increase for them.

Extensive research has been performed investigating the connection between ADHD and alcohol. So far, the findings suggest the following:

Earlier Use of Alcohol

Evidence suggests that people who develop severe forms of ADHD in early childhood are at a higher risk of starting drinking at a young age. Moreover, they are also likely to indulge in heavier and more frequent alcohol use.

Increased Risk of Binge Drinking

Research reveals that individuals with ADHD are more likely to binge drink in adulthood.

Increased Risk of Alcohol Abuse

Experts believe that ADHD in childhood has been associated with an increased risk of developing alcohol use disorder in adulthood.

In the short term, alcohol may seem like a solution to anxiety and restlessness linked with ADHD. However, prolonged use can intensify the symptoms, especially in higher amounts.

People with ADHD have often been prescribed medications, including stimulants and non-stimulants, to manage their symptoms. Irrespective of the type of medication you use, alcohol can interact with it differently.

Stimulant ADHD Medications

Stimulant medications work by enhancing the activity of the central nervous system. Some common examples of these medicines include Adderall and Ritalin.

Alcohol, on the other hand, decreases the activity in the central nervous system. Instead of cancelling out the effects of each other, alcohol alters the way the body processes stimulants. This, in turn, leads to side effects leading to:

  • Dehydration
  • Impaired judgment
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Seizures
  • Increased body temperature
  • Sleep difficulties

In addition to the side effects mentioned above, combining alcohol with stimulant medications increases the risk of alcohol poisoning and overdose. In the long run, this combination can potentially prove deadly, leading to cardiac events such as stroke and heart attack.

So it’s important to know how your body will react to these substances.

Non-stimulant ADHD Medications

While stimulants are generally the first choice of medication to manage ADHD, experts sometimes prescribe non-stimulant drugs if an individual:

  • Does not respond to stimulant medications
  • Has a history of drug abuse or heart conditions
  • Develops adverse side effects with stimulants

Some common examples of non-stimulant medications include venlafaxine, bupropion, and atomoxetine. While studies have indicated a minimal increase in the side effects of combining non-stimulants with alcohol, taking them together is still not advised.

How non-stimulants for ADHD and alcohol may differ depends on various factors. These factors include previous history of medical conditions, the medication used, and whether it is long-acting or short-acting.

The best way to know about these side effects is by speaking with a doctor. They will discuss the possible side effects and safety of the ADHD medications and decide whether or not it is safe to enjoy an alcoholic beverage every now or then. However, the best advice is to avoid alcohol altogether, especially binge episodes, while taking ADHD medications.

Alcohol use disorder is characterised by a pattern of alcohol use that can put the health or safety of the user at risk or cause problems in their professional and personal lives. Per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), help must be sought for alcohol use, especially if it involves at least two of the following symptoms within 12 months.

  • Drinking more alcohol than you intend to
  • Spending a lot of time drinking alcohol or recovering from its effects
  • Experiencing a frequent desire to control or limit the use of alcohol but failing to do so
  • Experiencing cravings for alcohol
  • Giving up important work-related or personal tasks and hobbies to drink
  • Continuing to consume alcohol despite acknowledging its adverse effects on life
  • Inability to fulfil daily responsibilities due to overuse of alcohol
  • A need to keep increasing the quantity of alcohol to achieve the same effects
  • Taking alcohol or an alcoholic product to relieve or avoid symptoms of withdrawal

If you have been diagnosed with ADHD and experience two or more of the symptoms mentioned above, seeking help from an alcohol rehab is essential before any negative consequences may occur. The professionals at a recovery centre may offer you multiple options to quit drinking, including:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of psychotherapy used to recognise and address problematic behaviours.  It can equally benefit ADHD as well as alcohol abuse.

Group Therapy

Group therapy is offered to many alcohol addicts as a medium for emotional support. It provides a judgment-free platform to share your story and learn from others about recovery.

Medical Detoxification

This process removes all traces of alcohol from the body to achieve sobriety. It is usually carried out under medical supervision in a safe environment. Sometimes, medications are prescribed to ease the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Inpatient Treatment

For patients who require additional support, live-in treatment facilities are available where experts are available 24/7 for medical assistance and emotional support.

Outpatient Treatment

These outpatient programmes allow patients with ADHD and alcohol dependency to get therapy while living comfortably at home.

Prescription Medications

Sometimes, experts may prescribe or readjust the medications for ADHD management.

A strong connection has been established between ADHD and alcohol misuse. While this does not mean everyone with this psychiatric disorder will develop alcohol addiction, a risk is always there. Speak with an expert if you are worried about your ADHD and alcohol use. They can guide you better and connect you with the right resources and treatment centres to live a sober life with well-managed ADHD.

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