Last updated: November 27th, 2019
Alcohol is seductive to people with ADHD. There’s something about the “numbing effect” that alcohol has on the ADHD brain which makes having a few drinks extremely attractive. But, as you probably know, ADHD and alcohol consumption is a tricky subject.
People with ADHD are by definition impulsive, inattentive, or a combination of these two traits.
So, having ADHD automatically puts you in one of the “highest risk” groups for alcoholism and substance abuse. Some studies suggest that people with ADHD are two to three times more likely to face substance abuse issues in comparison to the general population.
And, that’s why this article is designed to help you understand the following topics:
- Why people with ADHD should be careful about alcohol consumption (the risks)
- How the ADHD brain responds to alcohol (the symptoms)
- Should people with ADHD drink alcohol socially?
- What about using alcohol in combination with ADHD medication?
- What to do if you need help
- The best alcohol alternatives for people with ADHD
Let’s get started…
Why people with ADHD should be careful about alcohol consumption (the risks)
If you can comfortably handle drinking alcohol, then you should be perfectly OK.
But for many people with ADHD, drinking alcohol is a slippery slope.
This is because people with ADHD already experience “decreased activation” in the frontal lobe of the brain.
Your brain’s frontal lobe is responsible for your executive functioning, which constitutes activities like thinking, problem solving, attention, memory, and organization.
In people with ADHD, these executive functions are impaired to begin with.
Additionally, research also shows that people with ADHD have a smaller prefrontal cortex in comparison to normal populations.
Your prefrontal cortex is the part of your frontal lobe that’s responsible for regulating movement, managing behavioral responses, controlling impulses, and more.
So, most people with ADHD already have a hard enough time avoiding embarrassing behavior, managing emotions, and staying in control while sober.
But here’s where things get pretty interesting:
Alcohol also affects your frontal lobe – specifically the prefrontal cortex (1).
So if you have ADHD and you drink alcohol, you’re probably increasing your odds of experiencing uncontrollable behavior, wild emotions, and “crazy nights”.
Don’t get me wrong…
Drinking a little bit of alcohol with ADHD can be a lot of fun (obviously).
But, if you have ADHD and you find it difficult to control your drinking, then you might put yourself in some pretty risky situations (I’ve been there before, and it’s not fun).
How the ADHD brain responds to alcohol (the symptoms)
By now, you should know that people with ADHD have a dysfunctional prefrontal cortex, and alcohol also affects the prefrontal cortex.
This means that alcohol can have significant effects on people with ADHD.
Alcohol is actually a sedative-hypnotic that also acts like a stimulant in some people (2).
So, this is where things get pretty controversial.
Many people with ADHD love the effects of alcohol, because alcohol seems to “numb” the prefrontal cortex, and provide you with positive effects like:
- Greater confidence
- Less anxiety
- More fun
But at the same time, drinking alcohol is a lot like “tricking” your prefrontal cortex. All of the good that comes from drinking alcohol is usually counterbalanced with negative effects like:
- Poor decision making
- Reduced sleep quality
Small quantities of alcohol can definitely serve as an amazing tool for socializing, relaxing after a workout, or networking for your career.
But, like most things in life, there’s rarely a “free lunch” to be had.
If you have ADHD, and you let your drinking get out of hand, there’s a chance that you’ll eventually have to “pay the price” with your health, relationships, sleep quality, or something else.
Should people with ADHD drink alcohol socially?
If you can comfortably manage the amount of alcohol that you drink, then you should absolutely be able to drink alcohol socially, even with ADHD.
I drink alcohol very occasionally. I’ll usually have three or four drinks during a night out.
The key is to never get drunk.
There’s just no benefit to be had from getting drunk. Getting drunk is more of an escape than anything else. I would know, since I used to binge drink pretty regularly when I was in college.
If you can keep your alcohol consumption to just three or four drinks, then you might even be able to take advantage of the health benefits of alcohol.
Because, there’s some promising evidence that suggests people who drink alcohol in moderation:
- May be less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia
- May enjoy a longer lifespan
- May have a better libido
- May be less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke etc.)
So, there’s still a case to be made in regards to the benefits of drinking alcohol in moderation. The cognitive benefits of moderate alcohol consumption can absolutely be beneficial to people with ADHD.
And, if you have the luxury of choice, I recommend drinking red wine whenever possible.
Red wine has been around for thousands of years. It’s the most natural alcoholic beverage available.
Plus, red wine is also the variety of alcohol with the most health benefits. Red wine contains the antioxidant resveratrol, which can prevent age-related mental decline, and fight against cell damage.
California red wine also tastes delicious (FYI).
What about using alcohol in combination with ADHD medication?
Alcohol and ADHD medication is almost always a bad combination.
This is because both alcohol and stimulant-based ADHD medication strain your cardiovascular system.
When you use alcohol and ADHD medication at the same time, you’re making your cardiovascular system work extra hard.
The other issue is that taking Vyvanse or Adderall before drinking alcohol can cause you to drink in excess.
This happens because ADHD medication can make you feel “immune” to the intoxicating effects of alcohol, and cause you to drink more alcohol than you normally would.
So it’s usually best to skip the alcohol if you have ADHD medication in your system.
However, if your ADHD medication is mostly out of your system, then you probably won’t have an issue with a couple glasses of red wine. This is why some people are able to use ADHD medication during the daytime, and then enjoy a few drinks after work.
By the time work or school is over with, most of your ADHD medication will probably have left your system. This usually makes it OK to enjoy a few alcoholic beverages after a long day of work.
But, I do have one really important point for you to keep in mind:
You should never use alcohol to fall asleep at night.
I’ve heard way too many stories about people with ADHD who convince themselves that they can get away with occasionally using alcohol as a sleep aid.
This usually happens because ADHD medication can make it difficult to fall asleep at night, and people think they can “occasionally” drink alcohol in order to fall asleep.
But, this is a major slippery slope. It’s extremely easy to get in a habit of using alcohol to fall asleep at night. This is a dangerous habit.
It happened to me. And, it’s happened to many other people with ADHD.
If you have trouble sleeping after taking ADHD medication, then you most likely have a problem with your ADHD medication, lifestyle, sleep habits, or something else.
To get better sleep at night without relying on alcohol, you can always change your sleep habits, experiment with different ADHD medications, exercise during the daytime, or talk with your doctor.
What to do if you need help
If you need help with quitting alcohol or any other substance, then you need to be aware of something called post-acute-withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).
The basic idea of PAWS is that you will probably feel bad after quitting alcohol. But, you will eventually feel a lot better.
This happens because your brain needs time to adjust its neurochemicals after you stop using a powerful substance like alcohol.
Your brain will essentially need time to “re-wire itself”. This means that you’ll experience the normal ups, downs, and mixed emotions that everyone who withdraws from alcohol must go through.
This is entirely normal. PAWS can last for a number of months, or even several years, depending on the severity of your alcohol usage (3).
But, once your brain returns to a natural state of balance, you will most likely think, feel, and live better.
However, if you need additional support during the PAWS process, then I highly-recommend joining a local support group. At a local support group, you’ll be able to connect with other people who are experiencing the same “rollercoaster” of emotions that you may be going through. This will help you emotionally and spiritually.
And, if you happen to be a heavy or long-time user of alcohol, then alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening. So, if you experience physical or psychological issues that significantly affect your quality of life, then it will be best to immediately chat with a medical professional.
The best alcohol alternatives for people with ADHD
I drink alcohol very occasionally. So, I frequently use “alcohol alternatives” instead.
The following alcohol alternatives should give you an uplifting buzz without causing you any harm.
In fact, the following alcohol alternatives may actually improve your health and well-being over the long-term…
Alcohol alternative #1. Coffee
It’s becoming more common for people to drink coffee instead of alcohol.
If you’re a productive type of person with ADHD, and you don’t want to wake up with a nasty hangover, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with drinking coffee rather than booze.
If your friends make fun of you for this, then you might need better friends.
Coffee can even provide you with some excellent health benefits, like improving your cognitive function, and lowering your risk of depression .
To brew a great pot of coffee, just visit your local health food store, and pick up some high-quality coffee beans. And make sure to use clean, filtered drinking water to brew your coffee.
After drinking a couple cups of coffee, you’ll probably be the most alert and in-control person out of your group of friends.
Alcohol alternative #2. Kombucha
Kombucha is probably my favorite alternative to alcohol because of how great kombucha tastes, and how happy you feel after drinking kombucha.
Drinking kombucha is especially great for your gut health, because kombucha is loaded with probiotics.
When you improve your gut health, you literally feel better.
This happens because the health of your gut is linked to your mood, emotions, and even your level of anxiety .
Best of all, when you drink kombucha out of pint glass, people will assume you’re drinking alcohol anyway.
I like the Tealixir Herbal Kombucha Variety Pack (Amazon) the most.
This is some delicious, healthy kombucha that instantly makes you feel good.
Alcohol alternative #3. ADHD medication
A study from Indiana University shows that the use of ADHD medication leads to a significantly lower risk of substance abuse problems.
The study actually found a 35% reduction in risky behavior in men, and a 31% reduction in risky behavior in women.
This makes sense, because when your brain gets the dopamine that it craves from ADHD medication – you usually won’t feel as tempted to engage in risky behavior.
ADHD medication is ultimately a better choice than alcohol most of the time, because you can make real progress in your life while taking ADHD medication (if you choose to).
If you get in a habit of taking ADHD medication, there’s actually a chance that you’ll avoid drinking alcohol so that you can wake up early, be productive, exercise, and live a “cleaner” lifestyle.
(The flip side is that this might turn you into a boring person. But, at least you’ll feel like a productive person on Sunday morning rather than a hungover mess).
So, if you have ADHD, and you haven’t tried ADHD medication yet, then you might want to chat with your doctor, and explore all of your options.
Please note: I’m not saying that you should always substitute alcohol for ADHD medication. I’m just sharing my personal life experience here. For example, when I significantly cut down on drinking alcohol, and started taking ADHD medication instead, I personally achieved better results in most areas of my life. Your results may be similar, or totally different. The key is to experiment, and find out what works best for your lifestyle.
Alcohol alternative #4. Yerba mate
Yerba mate is a special type of tea from the South American rainforest.
When you drink yerba mate, you’ll notice a major improvement in your mood and mental clarity.
The benefits of yerba mate are pretty addictive. So, yerba mate is ultimately one of the best drinks that people with ADHD can consume.
Yerba mate is also very healthy for you.
I drink yerba mate almost every day. It’s that good.
Alcohol alternative #5. Kava
Kava is an anxiety-fighting plant from the South Pacific region that gives you an alcohol-like buzz.
But, drinking kava doesn’t give you any of the nasty side effects that typically come with drinking alcohol.
Drinking kava makes you feel warm, fuzzy, relaxed, and social. And best of all, when you choose a quality source of kava, it’s an extremely safe plant to use.
Kava is probably the most similar substance to alcohol available. So, kava is an excellent choice for those who need a safe, natural, and effective alternative to alcohol.
Try some kava before going out at night, and see how you feel. There are also some awesome kava bars in U.S. cities that you can visit, too.
In a perfect world, drinking alcohol shouldn’t be that big of a deal.
But, many people with ADHD will always find alcohol to be a controversial substance.
This is just the nature of how ADHD brains are wired, and how alcohol affects the ADHD brain.
So, here are the main takeaways of this article to keep in mind:
> A little bit of alcohol can be used to have a lot of fun in life
> Be aware that alcohol is also commonly used to escape the harsh challenges of living with ADHD, and this is a dangerous slope to go down
Either way, I trust that you’ll be able to make the best decisions for your life – whether you choose to include alcohol in your life, or not.
Do you have any thoughts on ADHD and alcohol consumption?
Has alcohol made your life with ADHD better or worse?
Please feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing from you.