ADHD and Alcohol: Friends or Foes?

Julia Ovcharenko, CEO of Numo
May 21, 2024

A saying goes, "When life gives you lemons🍋, make a gin-tonic. 🍸

Okay, maybe not quite like that, but a glass of wine with dinner or a cold beer after work is a simple pleasure for many of us. 

Does this also apply to ADHDers?

Does ADHD make us more prone to alcohol abuse? Or is it just the opposite?

Does drinking alcohol worsen symptoms of ADHD? Are there interactions between alcohol and ADHD that can increase the risk for addiction? 

Let’s answer these questions and get to the bottom of the ADHD and alcohol relationship:

  • The connection between ADHD and alcohol abuse
  • How ADHD symptoms manifest under the influence of alcohol
  • ADHD medications and alcohol
  • How to cope with ADHD impulsivity and take control over your drinking habits
  • When ADHD and alcohol become a problem

So, shall we dive in?

[Alcohol Effect on the Brain] Sip by Sip: What Happens to Your Brain When You Drink

Ever feel like your evening drink turns into a never-ending game of 'just one more'? Blame it on the brain's sneaky neural circuitry. 

The Endless Chase for the Perfect High

You're chasing the elusive high of that first sip, but it keeps slipping through your fingers like a butterfly in a garden.

That's alcohol – the mischievous troublemaker that messes with your brain's reward system.

One sip, and bam! Dopamine explosion. 🤯

The feel-good vibes flood in, and you're on cloud nine. 

But your brain, my friend, it's no rookie. Over time, your brain rewires its neural pathways, and suddenly, 'just one more' becomes your nightly mantra. You start needing more of that elixir of happiness just to get back to square one.

So, what's the grand finale? You end up thinking, "Just one more won't hurt." And, well, we all know how that unfolds. 🍺😬

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When Stress Strikes Back

We've all been there - a sip to unwind after a tough day. It seems harmless, right? Not quite. 

When the buzz fades, your brain goes haywire, desperately seeking that lost calm.

Do you know what's happening behind the scenes?

Booze doesn't just mess with your evenings; it rewires your brain. It changes your neural circuits, especially those playing mood and happiness tunes. 

You become less stress-resilient, and your brain tricks you into thinking you need a drink to find your zen. 🌋🍹

So, if you’re a regular drinker (7-14 drinks a week):

  • Your serotonin levels are out of whack, which is why your mood is off 😣
  • Your risk of depression and anxiety is higher 🚀
  • Your motor skills and coordination become impaired 😵
  • You feel more stressed and overwhelmed 😮‍💨
  • You become more impulsive 💥

…and all of that even when you’re not drinking.1

But there are ways to kick stress in the butt without taking a drink:

  • You can try meditation or non-sleep deep rest (NSDR)2
  • Sweating out the stress with some exercise
  • Diving into one of your favorite hobbies (you want to say you haven’t neglected at least 5)

The Rise of Estrogen Levels

No matter the gender, regular sips of alcohol can make your estrogen levels rise. And that’s NOT a good thing.

It all happens through the aromatization process. 

And what's this "aromatization," you ask? 

It's the process where testosterone and its androgen buddies transform into estrogens, all thanks to the aromatase enzyme. 

It might lower your risk for heart troubles and brittle bones (coronary artery disease and osteoporosis, to be precise). 💪🦴

But on the other hand, this estrogen boost can increase the odds of something you don't want to win - breast cancer. 🎰🎀

And let me repeat - it doesn’t care if you’re a male. It doesn’t discriminate.3

[ADHD and Alcohol Abuse] Understanding the Craving: ADHD and Alcohol Abuse

We get it - living with ADHD is like playing a never-ending game of "Whack-a-Mole" with challenges like:

  • impulsivity
  • restlessness
  • a constant need for stimulation

Alcohol sometimes becomes our secret solace in the face of these challenges. 

Why does this happen?

Brain chemistry

Sure, alcohol affects everyone, neurotypicals included, but us ADHDers? We’re a bit more vulnerable. 😕

You see, folks with ADHD have this ongoing battle with dopamine, the brain's pleasure and reward guru. Unlike our neurotypical pals, we chronically have less dopamine. That means we’re always seeking that satisfaction and pleasure kick.

And guess what? 

Alcohol waltzes in and temporarily boosts those dopamine levels, creating this blissful sense of satisfaction and pleasure.

In our pursuit of happiness and stress relief, we might find ourselves stuck in a loop of alcohol abuse.

But that’s not all. 

The “self-medication” system

Many ADHDers wrestle with overwhelming emotions, anxiety, the occasional "I'm-so-done-with-this" moments, and sometimes, the big bad D-word: depression

It’s no secret that alcohol can temporarily hush these demons, giving us relief and calm. However, this ‘self-medication’ strategy often spirals into a dangerous cycle of dependence.5

Impulse control? Others have that?

Now, let's talk about impulse control - or the lack of it? 🙈

One of ADHD's greatest hits is impulsivity. We tend to act on our immediate desires without a second thought. Consequences be damned. This impulsive behavior doesn’t skip our drinking habits either. 

Peer pressure? Cravings? 

Bring it on! 

We’re more likely to give in, leading to those regrettable nights of excessive drinking.6

Noting without social challenges 

Navigating social interactions with ADHD can sometimes be a doozy. It can be challenging to fit in or keep up with the pace of social events. 😬

That’s when alcohol swoops in as the social lubricant, making conversations flow easier and those social gatherings a tad less intimidating. 

But beware! It can also pave the way for increased alcohol use as a coping mechanism.7

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[ADHD Meds and Alcohol] To Drink or Not To Drink: ADHD Meds and Alcohol Insights

Now, let's dive right into a topic that's as tricky as it gets: can you enjoy a casual drink while taking your ADHD meds? 

The answer isn’t a straightforward yes or no; it’s more of a ‘let’s talk about it’ situation. 

The sort of drug you're taking, the dosage, and how long it stays in your system will all affect this.


So, stimulants like Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall are like life savers in the ADHD world. They zoom up your central nervous system, getting everything into action mode. 

On the flip side, we have alcohol, the chill pill that slows things down.

Balance is great…but not in this case. Long story short, stimulants and alcohol simply don’t mix

Mixing the two not only increases your odds of alcohol poisoning and overdose but also puts your heart under a lot of stress.8


While stimulant meds are often the go-to choice for treating ADHD, there's a quieter player in town, which goes by the name of Atomoxetine, or as it's popularly known — Strattera. 

We're not going to bore you with medical jargon; we're here to spill the beans on whether Strattera and alcohol can be buddies.

A 2015 literature review9 (trust us, we read the fancy stuff for you) found that heavy drinkers who dabbled with Strattera reported only one major hiccup - nausea

However, the Strattera manufacturers (the party poopers in this scenario💩) don't recommend mixing their precious pill with alcohol. Boo! 

Not to play a doctor, but here's our two cents.

If you're considering trying this combo, it's probably a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider first. They will be the ones to give you the green light 🚦 or wave the red flag ⛳. 

After all, your health should always be a priority numero uno!

Other factors

Factors like your medication dose and whether short-acting or long-acting play a role.

So, should you crack open a cold one while on ADHD meds? 

The wise folks in white coats generally say, "Eh, maybe not." Avoiding alcohol, especially the hard stuff, is like giving your brain a little break from all the excitement.

You have only one brain, no spares. So, keep it safe and fun; if in doubt, ask your doc. 🧑‍⚕️

[Safe Drinking with ADHD] Tips for Safe Sips with ADHD

Setting Sail with a Plan

Decide how many drinks you can handle and stick to your plan. Better yet, recruit a trusty first mate (or a friend, as landlubbers call them) to keep you on course. Sharing your plan with them ensures you have a reliable anchor when the seas get rough.

Choosing Your Liquid Gold

Rather than diving headfirst into the rum barrel, consider low-alcohol options.

Light beer and wine are like the life vests of the drinking world – they keep you afloat without dragging you under. 

And don’t forget to hydrate! 

Alternate between the hard stuff and water to keep your ship buoyant and your mind sharp.

Know Thyself

Every ship reacts differently to the winds of alcohol. With ADHD at your helm, it's vital to recognize your limits. 

Feeling wobbly in the knees? That's your ship's way of waving the white flag. 

Respect your body's signals and resist the sirens' call for more grog.

Land Ho, or Maybe Not

What if you would like to enjoy the social seas without booze? 

Luckily, there are islands of delights in the form of mocktails, alcohol-free brews, and sparkling water with a twist. 

Enjoy the fun without regretting it in the morning.

Steering Clear of Temptation

Now, navigating the ADHD waters requires a keen eye. Be mindful of each sip. If you find your ship veering off course into impulsive territory, it's time to drop anchor. 

Seek support from your crew – friends and therapists who understand the unique challenges of your vessel. They'll help you steer straight.

Beware of the Sirens

There's nothing more treacherous than the siren song of impulsivity.

Identify your triggers – stress, peer pressure, or a particularly catchy sea shanty. Learn to navigate these waters without drowning your sorrows in alcohol. Develop strategies to weather the storms without relying on the bottle.

Remember, fellow sailors, there's no universal map for these seas. Your ship is unique, and so are you. Set your boundaries, seek guidance when needed, and enjoy the ride.  

[ADHD and Alcohol Conflict] When ADHD and Alcohol Abuse Clash

Managing alcohol and ADHD can be particularly challenging. It's crucial to be aware of the warning signs that may signal a problem with alcohol. These signs can help you or a loved one recognize when an hour has come for seeking help.

  1. Increased Tolerance: Do you need a gallon of the stuff to get on the same wavelength?

  2. Withdrawal Symptoms: You decide to take a break from the booze, and suddenly, you're experiencing anxiety, shakiness, and a dash of nausea.

  3. Neglecting Responsibilities: Remember that important work meeting you skipped because you were on a bender? If your ADHD symptoms worsen due to alcohol-related neglect, it's a red flag.

  4. Failed Attempts to Quit: You know the drill: you promise yourself, "No more drinks!" Yet, before you know it, you're clinking glasses again.

  5. Loss of Interest: Feeling ‘meh’ about things you once loved? Alcohol has taken the front seat, leaving your passions in the dust. 

If this rings a bell, it might be time to reach out. 

Bear in mind that you are not alone in this. The first step toward a better, clearer tomorrow is recognizing these signs. 

[Numo ADHD App] Numo: Navigating ADHD Together

Exploring relationships with alcohol is not something you should do alone, no matter if you believe that you have substance use issues or mere curiosity. In the first case, a support network can give you encouragement and wisdom on handling your addiction. In the latter case, they can warn you of the pitfalls and the dangers of mixing ADHD and alcohol.

The need for a tightly-knit community that can act as your ADHD headquarters is why we have created Numo - to be the place where you can never be alone. Through our squads and tribes, you can connect with fellow ADHDers for advice, encouragement...or to share cat memes. 

But there's more to Numo:

  • ADHD Planner: Juggling life's tasks can be difficult, especially when exploring the ADHD-alcohol dynamic. Our planner makes task management engaging, with every task completion bringing you a step forward. It’s a fun, interactive way to stay on track.
  • Noise Generator: Amidst the whirlpool of thoughts, a static noise could be the soothing backdrop needed. It’s a simple, effective tool to help you focus.
  • Knowledge Library: A stash of quick tips and strategies, providing insights on managing ADHD through useful tips, strategies, and coping mechanisms. 

Numo is more than just an app; it’s a community where shared experiences guide the way to better understanding and managing ADHD, including its relationship with alcohol. If this feels right, we’d love to welcome you. Drop by, say hi, and join a fellowship that gets the essence of living with ADHD. 🤗

[Conclusion] Wrapping up

This is what we learned today about the connection between ADHD and alcohol:

  • How alcohol affects the brain in general (yes, even the neurotypicals)
  • Why are ADHDers more vulnerable to alcohol 
  • How ADHD symptoms make them prone to alcohol abuse
  • Alcohol and ADHD medications - is it a good idea?
  • How to drink responsibly
  • When is it the time to ask for professional help and support

And yeah, I know, life happens, and sometimes you can’t help slipping and losing control over your impulses. But remember, these tips can help you only if you know how alcohol affects you, your mood, and ADHD symptoms. 

The combination of ADHD and alcohol abuse together is common. So, if you or someone you know struggles with ADHD and alcohol, call your doctor or therapist. 

[References] References

1 Huberman Lab Podcast: What Alcohol Does to Your Body, Brain & Health
2 Try a 9-minute NSDR by Dr. Andrew Huberman 
3 National Library of Medicine: Can alcohol promote aromatization of androgens to estrogens? A review 
4 National Library of Medicine: The Clinically Meaningful Link Between Alcohol Use and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
5 WebMD: ADHD and Substance Abuse
6 National Library of Medicine: Behavioral Components of Impulsivity Predict Alcohol Consumption in Adults with ADHD and Healthy Controls
7 National Library of Medicine: Persistent attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder predicts socially oriented, but not physical/physiologically oriented, alcohol problems in early adulthood
8 Healthline: How Ritalin and alcohol interact 
9 BMC Psychiatry: Are there any potentially dangerous pharmacological effects of combining ADHD medication with alcohol and drugs of abuse? A systematic review of the literature

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