People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be at higher risk of consuming alcohol and developing alcohol addiction. Alcohol may affect the symptoms of ADHD, but more research is necessary.

ADHD can cause symptoms such as impulsivity, risk-taking behavior, and a maladaptive reward system.

These characteristics may increase the risk of heavy alcohol use and alcohol use disorders. A 2021 review suggests that alcohol use disorders have a lifetime prevalence of up to 43% in adults with ADHD.

There is currently little evidence to suggest that ADHD medications interact with alcohol or that alcohol worsens ADHD symptoms.

In this article, we look at the research on the link between ADHD and alcohol use, the impact alcohol can have on ADHD symptoms and medication, and when to seek help.

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There is little research on whether alcohol worsens ADHD symptoms.

A 2020 article found that the severity of alcohol consumption, the number of alcohol units consumed, and the presence of insomnia correlated with the severity of ADHD symptoms.

However, researchers were also comparing the effects of insomnia with alcohol use and ADHD symptoms, so this may also play a role in worsening symptoms.

More research is necessary to determine whether increased alcohol consumption affects the severity of ADHD symptoms.

Alcohol, ADHD, and depression

A 2019 study suggests that people with ADHD may have an increased risk of developing heavy or problematic alcohol use as well as symptoms of depression.

The research suggests the following potential reasons for the suggested link between ADHD, alcohol use, and depression:

  • Depression may occur as a result of the adverse effects ADHD may have on education, occupation, and relationships.
  • People with ADHD may have poorer coping skills and increased impulsivity in response to negative emotions, which may make people more likely to drink excessively to cope with depression.
  • People with ADHD may be more likely to experience negative life events, such as educational, financial, or relationship difficulties.
  • Heavy drinking may increase the level of negative life events a person experiences, and people with ADHD may perceive these events as more negative than a person without ADHD, which may increase the risk of depression.
  • ADHD may increase shared risk factors of both depression and heavy alcohol consumption, such as increased life stressors, negative urgency, or low conscientiousness.

A 2018 study also found that college students with ADHD were more likely to frequently use alcohol, drink excessively, and report higher depression symptoms than students without ADHD.

Learn more about the link between ADHD and depression.

According to an older 2015 review, research suggests that the combination of the ADHD medications methylphenidate, dexamphetamine, or atomoxetine with alcohol is not likely to cause severe side effects. However, it may cause a minimal increase in side effects.

The use of stimulants with alcohol may lead to more high risk behavior, though, which may increase the risk of the harmful effects of heavy drinking.

Research suggests that atomoxetine may be safe and effective for treating ADHD in people with alcohol dependence.

According to a 2017 article, people with ADHD have high levels of impulsive and sensation-seeking behavior, which may increase the risk of alcohol misuse.

A 2019 study suggests that various mechanisms may link ADHD and heavy alcohol use. “Behavioral disinhibition” is a broader term that includes the impulsivity and hyperactivity of ADHD, and it may be a risk factor for alcohol use disorder.

Having ADHD and high levels of behavioral disinhibition may lead to a higher risk of problematic alcohol use due to the following factors:

  • experiencing comorbid conduct disorder
  • spending time with peers who take substances
  • having increased susceptibility to social processes that encourage drinking

A 2017 review also suggests that ADHD in childhood increases the risk of developing substance-related disorders.

If people have ADHD and feel like they are experiencing difficulties with alcohol use, they can speak with a doctor. Symptoms of alcohol use disorder may include:

  • wanting to limit or stop drinking but feeling unable to
  • drinking in a way that affects everyday life, such as school, work, family, or relationships
  • prioritizing drinking over other activities that are important or people usually enjoy
  • drinking in a way that results in situations that may be dangerous
  • experiencing withdrawal symptoms as the alcohol wears off, such as shakiness, nausea, racing heart, or sweating

If people are drinking heavily, it is important to work alongside a healthcare professional to treat alcohol use disorder safely.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening if a person with a history of heavy drinking stops drinking suddenly.

Treatment for alcohol use disorder may include behavioral therapies, medications, or support groups.

People can also call the SAMHSA helpline for free at 800-662-HELP (4357), which is available 24-7 throughout the year.

People with ADHD may have an increased risk of alcohol use and developing alcohol addiction. This may be due to increased impulsivity and behaviors linked to ADHD, as well as certain negative life events that people with ADHD may be more likely to experience.

People can speak with a healthcare professional if they have any concerns about alcohol use and ADHD or any symptoms of an alcohol use disorder.