What is the Link Between ADHD and Alcohol?

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adhd and alcohol

ADHD is a brain condition that affects about 10% of children and 4.4% of the adult population. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is more common among those who were diagnosed with ADHD as kids. Read on to learn more about the link between ADHD and alcohol abuse and addiction.

What is ADHD?

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a neurological disorder that affects the region of the brain that is responsible for executive functions. These functions include concentration, decision-making, focus, impulse control, memory, and emotion regulation.

The impaired executive functioning seen in children is mostly behavior based and can be disruptive in the classroom. Adult ADHD is more related to a lack of organization, follow through, and memory function. As such, adult ADHD can disrupt careers, relationships, and family life.

ADHD has three subtypes: Children tend to have the hyperactive subtype. Adults usually have the inattentive subtype. The third subtype is combined inattentive and hyperactive.

The cause of ADHD is still not known. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Genetics. ADHD will sometimes run in families. Also, ADHD is a risk if there is a family history of other mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety disorder.
  • Premature birth. A connection has been made between being born prematurely, the mother having had a difficult pregnancy and ADHD.
  • Faulty neural pathways. The central nervous system may be impaired.
  • Toxin exposure. Lead exposure during childhood may be a risk factor for ADHD. Also, exposure to pesticides or PCBs may also play a role. It is believed that these toxins could interfere with normal brain development.
  • Exposure to substances in utero. A pregnant woman that drinks alcohol uses drugs, or smokes during pregnancy could increase the risk of ADHD.’

What are symptoms of ADHD?

  • Difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
  • Easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace
  • Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort
  • Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities (e.g., toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools)
  • Often forgetful in daily activities
  • Fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat
  • Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected
  • Runs about or climbs in situations where it is inappropriate
  • Unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly
  • Often “on the go,” acting as if “driven by a motor”
  • Talks excessively
  • Blurts out answers before questions have been completed
  • Has difficulty waiting for their turn
  • Interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)

Are the Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder?

If you or someone you care about has ADHD and appears to be drinking too much, consider these signs of AUD:

  • Patterns of binge drinking and blackouts.
  • Wants to stop or reduce drinking but cannot.
  • Increased tolerance to alcohol’s effects.
  • Alcohol becomes a top priority in daily life.
  • Hides alcohol around the house or at work.
  • Neglects family and job responsibilities.
  • Keeps drinking even with adverse consequences piling up.
  • Alcohol cravings.
  • Engages in impulsive and high-risk behaviors.
  • Withdrawal symptoms.

When the person displays two or more of these signs, they may have AUD.

Co-Occurring ADHD and Alcohol Use Disorder

There is concerning data from a study looking at the link between ADHD and AUD. It showed by age fourteen about twice as many kids with ADHD had reported alcohol use compared to those without ADHD. Also, 20-50% of adults with ADHD met the criteria for substance use disorder.

When both ADHD and a co-occurring substance use disorder are present it is called a dual diagnosis. In most cases, ADHD comes first, and then alcohol misuse follows. They may use alcohol as a means of reducing the effects of ADHD through its relaxant properties.

However, in most cases, the high rates of alcohol use among people with ADHD are due to the impulsive and risk-taking traits that go with this mental health challenge. This can explain why people with ADHD report high levels of binge heavy drinking behaviors.

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Over time, the person may find their tolerance to alcohol increases. This naturally leads to higher alcohol consumption as they chase the initial calming effects. As the drinking ratchets up, so does the risk of developing an AUD.

Adults with ADHD and alcoholism may find they have increased their suffering. These co-occurring disorders can cause major disruptions in daily functioning. Also, having an AUD and ADHD also raises the risk of developing depression or anxiety.

Risks Involved in ADHD and Alcohol Abuse

When people with ADHD turn to alcoholism abuse or addiction it can cause many problems. Alcohol can increase ADHD inattentive and impulsive symptoms. In the teen years, there is likely to be early sexual activity, which results in unplanned pregnancy or STDs.

For teens and adults with both ADHD and AUD, there is a higher risk of DUI arrest and other legal problems. They may also struggle with work-related problems and relationship issues due to co-occurring disorders.

Another risk concerns the meds that someone with ADHD is taking, which are likely to be stimulants such as Adderall. Abuse of alcohol, while taking these drugs, can prove to be quite dangerous. It can cause high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and insomnia.

Treatment Solutions for ADHD and AUD Dual Diagnosis

One of the biggest risks of someone abusing alcohol over an extended time period is developing AUD. Alcoholism is a serious disease that can have long term effects on someone’s life. For someone with a dual diagnosis of ADHD and AUD, a comprehensive rehab program is an answer.

Treatment elements for this dual diagnosis are selected to address and treat both disorders at the same time:

  • Detox. The first step is supervised detox. Because alcohol detox can be unpredictable, the detox and withdrawal process should be closely managed by a detox team.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT can help modify maladaptive behaviors that are common with ADHD. By making adjustments in the thought process, the negative behaviors are reduced. CBT also teaches the person to respond differently to triggers that had resulted in alcohol misuse in the past.
  • Group therapy. Small group chats led by a therapist can help encourage peers in recovery to share their personal stories.
  • ADHD Medications. There are stimulant and non-stimulant drugs designed just for treating ADHD. A doctor will oversee this aspect of recovery.
  • Education. Learning about the impact of alcohol on the brain can be a deterrent to relapse. Classes will teach the person how to avoid relapse and provide new coping skills.
  • Holistic methods. Learning how to manage stress is helpful in recovery. This might include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and massage.

With rehab and continuing care, someone with both ADHD and AUD will learn how to manage these disorders. Reach out today for the help you deserve.

Capo by the Sea Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center

Capo by the Sea provides dual diagnosis treatment for those struggling with both ADHD and alcohol use disorder. The program uses the most effective treatment strategies coupled with holistic methods to help people break free from AUD. Call us today at (888) 529-2114.