Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that causes a person to have difficulty focusing and following instructions. ADHD and alcohol use are closely connected, as ADHD increases the likelihood of alcohol use and alcohol use increases the risk that ADHD will develop.

The Effects of Alcohol on ADHD

Alcohol can negatively affect those with ADHD. Alcohol decreases inhibition in most people who use it, but this effect has been found to be much more severe in people who have ADHD. This can cause problems in controlling how much alcohol is used, and it can also create an increase in risky behaviors that could lead to injury.

In addition, using alcohol while pregnant can cause a set of developmental problems called fetal alcohol syndrome. Fetal alcohol syndrome significantly increases the risk that ADHD will develop. 

The Relationship Between ADHD and Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol can cause ADHD to develop and can lead to decreased inhibition in people with ADHD. However, ADHD also plays a role in how someone uses alcohol. The condition has been shown to increase the amount and frequency of a person’s alcohol use. It also increases the likelihood of binge drinking earlier in life. While ADHD does not directly cause alcoholism, it does increase the risk that alcohol abuse will occur.

ADHD Medications and Alcohol

One important consideration for people who use alcohol and have ADHD is the potential interactions between alcohol and ADHD medications. Alcohol can affect the potency of medications and vice versa, leading to potentially unexpected effects.

Stimulant ADHD Meds

Stimulant ADHD medications are a common treatment for ADHD. Of these medications, the most common are Adderall and Vyvanse. These medications stimulate the brain, helping people with ADHD have improved concentration and focus.

While stimulants can help with ADHD, they have the opposite effect of alcohol, which is a depressant. This can cause stimulants to cancel out the effects of alcohol, making someone feel less intoxicated. This can be dangerous, as a person may end up using an unsafe amount of alcohol without feeling the effects that such a large amount of alcohol would normally cause. Additionally, the depressant effects of alcohol can suppress the stimulating effects of ADHD medicines.

Nonstimulant ADHD Meds

In addition to stimulant ADHD medications, there are medicines that can enhance brain activity but are not considered stimulants. The most commonly used nonstimulant ADHD medicines include:

  • Atomoxetine
  • Guanfacine
  • Clonidine

While these medications do not typically carry the same risks as stimulants, alcohol can blunt their enhancing effects. Additionally, alcohol can worsen the medicine’s side effects, especially those that cause dizziness and tiredness.

ADHD and Addiction

ADHD increases the risk of addiction to alcohol and other substances. When a mental health condition and addiction occur together, it is known as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. This combination makes treating both conditions more difficult, as each tends to make the other worse. Treating a mental health disorder or addiction alone is unlikely to be successful if the other condition is still causing problems. 

ADHD increases the likelihood that someone will use alcohol earlier in life and drink more heavily and frequently. Meanwhile, alcohol use decreases inhibition in people with ADHD, leading them to have less control over their behaviors. All of these factors combine to make the dual diagnosis of ADHD and alcohol addiction harder to treat.

Treatment for Co-Occurring ADHD and Alcohol Use Disorder

People with ADHD are at risk of developing alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder can only be diagnosed by a doctor, but using a professional alcohol assessment can be the first step in deciding to get medical help. 

Someone who has an alcohol use disorder and ADHD will often need professional treatment for their alcohol addiction. Orlando Recovery Center offers a wide variety of treatments to help people who have both conditions. Treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, medical detox, inpatient treatment and medications can be combined to improve the outcomes of people with co-occurring disorders.

If you or your loved one has ADHD and is struggling with alcohol use, Orlando Recovery Center is here to help. Contact us today to learn how we can help you start on your journey to lasting recovery.

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “What is ADHD?” September 23, 2021. Accessed July 10, 2022.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Alcohol.” MedlinePlus, March 22, 2022. Accessed July 10, 2022.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Basics about FASDs.” January 11, 2022. Accessed July 10, 2022.

Fillmore, Mark T. “Increased Sensitivity to the Disinhibiti[…] in Adults with ADHD.” Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. December 2009. Accessed July 10, 2022.

Howard, Andrea L.; Molina, Brooke S.G.; et al. “Developmental progression to early adult[…]ADHD and delinquency.” Addiction, March 24, 2015. Accessed July 10, 2022.

American Academy of Pediatrics. “Non-Stimulant Medications Available for ADHD Treatment.” September 23, 2021. Accessed July 10, 2022.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, October 29, 2019. Accessed July 10, 2022.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.