Research shows that there are some links between alcohol use and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People with ADHD may be more likely to drink heavily or start drinking earlier.

Not everyone with ADHD will misuse alcohol, but their risk of developing an alcohol use disorder is higher.

Keep reading to learn just how alcohol affects people with ADHD, how it interacts with ADHD medications, and other risk factors.

While ADHD doesn’t in any way cause alcohol misuse, it has long been recognized as a risk factor.

The following are some known links between alcohol use and ADHD:

  • Earlier alcohol use. A 2018 twin study found that more severe childhood ADHD was associated with earlier alcohol use, as well as frequent or heavy alcohol use.
  • Increased risk of binge drinking. According to a 2015 study, people with ADHD are also more likely to engage in binge drinking in early adulthood.
  • Increased sensitivity to alcohol’s effects. A 2009 study found that participants with ADHD were more likely to show signs of alcohol impairment, even when asked to complete tasks that typically decrease impairment.
  • More severe ADHD symptoms. Alcohol impairment could aggravate symptoms of ADHD such as impulsiveness and difficulty focusing. In addition, long-term alcohol use is associated with difficulties with cognition, decision-making, memory, and speech. These effects could worsen symptoms of ADHD.
  • Increased risk of alcohol use disorder. A 2011 review reported that childhood ADHD is a significant risk factor in the development of alcohol use disorder.

Drinking alcohol always comes with risks, whether or not you have ADHD. If you have ADHD, the risks are higher.

Alcohol can interact with your ADHD medication, but it depends on the type of medication you take.


Stimulants, including Ritalin and Adderall, are among the most commonly prescribed treatments for ADHD.

They work by increasing central nervous system (CNS) activity. Alcohol, on the other hand, decreases CNS activity.

Instead of cancelling out the effects of the stimulant, alcohol actually changes the way your body processes it. This can lead to increased side effects, such as:

  • racing heart rate
  • high blood pressure
  • trouble sleeping

Using both substances also puts you at an increased risk of alcohol poisoning and overdose. Over time, both substances can put a strain on your heart, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke.


Atomoxetine (Strattera) is a nonstimulant medication for ADHD. While it’s far less common in treating ADHD, it may be safer when combined with alcohol.

A 2015 literature review found that nausea was the only reported side effect among heavy drinkers who also took atomoxetine for ADHD. However, the drug’s manufacturers don’t recommend combining it with alcohol.

Other factors

There are a lot of additional factors involved in how your body reacts to alcohol while taking ADHD medication. Some of these factors include the dose and whether your medication is short-acting or long-acting.

In general, you should avoid drinking alcohol — and especially heavy drinking — while taking medication for ADHD. With that said, it might be fine to enjoy a drink now and then.

You should talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about how drinking could affect your ADHD medication.

It’s best to avoid drinking alcohol, especially heavily, while taking medications for ADHD.

The relationship between alcohol use, depression, and ADHD is complex. While none of these 3 conditions directly cause each other, they’re related.

People with ADHD are more likely to both use alcohol and experience depression. In addition, alcohol use is associated with depression.

According to a 2019 longitudinal study, people with ADHD might be at an increased risk of simultaneous depression and heavy drinking.

Some people might drink to relieve symptoms of ADHD or depression. Others might drink too much, and end up experiencing more severe ADHD symptoms. They may end up feeling depressed as a result.

In both cases, alcohol disrupts brain chemistry. It can increase your risk of depression and make your ADHD symptoms worse.

Heavy drinking can quickly become a vicious cycle for people with ADHD or depression. After bingeing, you might wake up feeling anxious, depressed, or guilty. You might feel restless or have difficulty focusing.

It’s tempting to drink more to cope with those feelings. Over time, it may be necessary to drink more and more to find relief. Meanwhile, the negative effects of drinking also become more difficult to cope with.

Alcohol isn’t the only substance that people with ADHD might use. According to a 2017 review, ADHD is also a risk factor for substance use, misuse, and dependence.

This link has to do with common symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, and disrupted emotional functioning. All 3 of these symptoms also play a role in substance use, putting people with ADHD at an increased risk of addiction.

If someone has been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder and ADHD, treatment requires addressing both the addiction and ADHD.

This usually requires first getting sober, also known as detoxification. Later, your doctor might prescribe ADHD medications to reduce your risk of addiction, including long-acting stimulants or nonstimulants.

If you have ADHD, you should talk to your doctor about your alcohol and substance use. Your doctor can help you make decisions that reduce your risk of misusing substances.

In addition, you should see a healthcare professional if you or a loved one experiences the following symptoms of alcohol or substance use:

  • strong cravings for the substance
  • a desire to use the substance regularly, often daily or several times in a day
  • increased tolerance to the substance’s effects
  • keeping a supply of the substance on hand at all times
  • spending a lot of time and money on the substance
  • avoiding responsibilities or social activities because of substance use
  • using the substance in spite of the problems it causes
  • doing things you wouldn’t otherwise do because of the substance
  • trying and failing to stop using the substance
  • experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the substance

If you think you or a loved one might have an addiction, you can call the National Drug Helpline at 1-844-289-0879.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse features additional online resources for individuals and their families.

There’s a strong link between ADHD and alcohol use. But that doesn’t mean everyone with ADHD will develop a disorder.

However, if you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, you should talk to your doctor about how alcohol and other substances can affect your symptoms and medication.