Alcohol and ADHD
Addiction to alcohol and ADHD are very commonly found together in the same individual. Unfortunately, alcoholism tends to make ADHD symptoms worse, and vice versa.
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The Relationship Between Alcohol and ADHD
Alcohol and ADHD are a dangerous combination that all too often lead to dependence and addiction. ADHD is an increasingly commonly diagnosed disorder. Not everyone diagnosed, however, may truly suffer from ADHD, and vice versa. What’s more dangerous, however, are people with ADHD are more likely to develop alcoholism.
What Is ADHD?
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, more commonly known as ADHD, is a disorder characterized by chronic inattention and/or hyperactivity. This makes it difficult to focus on the tasks at hand and makes the afflicted easily distracted. It’s believed that this disorder is resultant of a less-active frontal-lobe of the brain. Scans have even shown a smaller Prefrontal Cortex in patients with ADHD. This part of the brain is responsible for our executive functions, such as:
- Problem solving
Many diagnosed with ADHD will recognize some, if not all, of these functions being their largest obstacles.
The most notorious effect of ADHD is “hyperactivity,” or little control over impulses. This symptom is what characterizes ADHD and has lead it to become such a concern for children in school.
Alcohol affects the frontal lobe, the same part of the brain as ADHD. When the prefrontal cortex of an ADHD sufferer is further impaired by alcohol, it can lead to uncontrollable behaviors and wild emotions.
The Effects of Alcohol and ADHD
Alcohol is a depressant. That is why many people use it to relax. In the case of people afflicted with ADHD, many will use alcohol to calm down the hyperactivity. Alcohol, however, can often have the opposite effect.
The effects of alcohol are inherently similar to the effects of ADHD. In both, the frontal lobe of the brain is chiefly effected and dampens an inebriated person’s ability to think clearly. When the effects of alcohol are partnered with the effects of ADHD, this can cause the afflicted to go into a more dangerous state and binge drink.
How People with ADHD Turn to Alcoholism
Despite its notoriety in recent years, understanding of ADHD hasn’t increased. In 2010, there were nearly 1 million children who were misdiagnosed with ADHD. Sensationalized by media, ADHD was the quick answer to any child who had difficulties in the classroom. True ADHD, however, is more complex.
People afflicted with ADHD are in consistent need of stimuli. The part of their disorder that makes them “hyperactive” makes it hard to focus on tasks that aren’t stimulating, leading many to create their own stimuli. In children, this often presents itself as an inability to focus on anything but play. This is especially noticeable in a classroom setting where they are expected to sit silently for hours. In adults, there is inherently less supervision, so they can act upon their need of excitement without the same consequences. This is one of the reasons to turn to alcohol. However, because of how the effects between alcohol and ADHD stack, a dangerous door of limited control and lapses in memory opens. There is also an increased risk of substance abuse as they age.
25% of adults being treated for alcohol and substance use disorders are diagnosed with ADHD. Children with ADHD are more likely to abuse alcohol in their teenage years and go into adulthood with a dependence. Because of the similar effects of alcohol and ADHD, people with ADHD who begin drinking may find it harder to stop. While alcohol may seem to help with people’s ADHD, especially when they suffer from confidence issues, the dark side of regular consumption will build over time. Whenever anyone attempts to self-medicate with alcohol, they are always more likely to develop a dependence and eventual addiction over someone else.
ADHD as a Co-Occurring Disorder
People afflicted with ADHD are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder. However, the symptoms of ADHD may also manifest after someone has developed alcoholism as well. In order to find the best treatment possible, an individual must work with a professional and determine which disorder came first. It can be hard to distinguish the two, especially if the afflicted has suffered from both for years, but with proper therapy and an open counselor, the individual should be able to get down to the root of their problem. Only then can they truly pursue long-term recovery.
Treatment for Addiction to Alcohol and ADHD
Getting to the root of the issue is often easier said than done. If you suffer from ADHD and alcoholism but don’t know where to go, reach out to a dedicated treatment specialist today. They can help you plot out the next steps on your journey towards recovery.
Author — Last Edited: December 10, 2018
US National Library of Medicine. (2009). Treatment Strategies for Co-Occurring ADHD and Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved on May 15, 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2676785/
MSU Today. (2010). Nearly 1 Million Children Potentially Misdiagnosed with ADHD. Retrieved on May 15, 2018 at https://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2010/nearly-1-million-children-potentially-misdiagnosed-with-adhd/
National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Retrieved on May 15, 2018 at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/index.shtml
South, Frank. (2017). Opening Up About ADHD and Alcoholism. Retrieved on November 2nd, 2018, from https://www.additudemag.com/opening-up-about-adhd-and-alcoholism/
WebMD. (2018). ADHD and Substance Abuse. Retrieved on May 15, 2018 at https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/adhd-and-substance-abuse-is-there-a-link#1