ADHD And Alcohol Abuse
Author: Hannah Zwemer
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What Is ADHD?
A neurodevelopmental disorder, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects the way the brain develops and processes information. Usually diagnosed in childhood, ADHD can manifest in many different behaviors, but most commonly involves a difficulty paying attention, impulsive actions, and/or a certain level of hyperactivity. For children, symptoms can look like excessive fidgeting/inability to stay still, frequent interruption, or a difficulty getting along with others. Adults with ADHD, similar to children, might find it challenging to focus on a single task at hand or organize a multitude of responsibilities, relative to the specific diagnosis. There are 3 different types of ADHD and depending on the severity and frequency of exhibited symptoms, a professional can determine the type and the most effective ways to treat it.
Types Of ADHD Disorder
Once known as ADD, this type is classified by the majority of symptoms relating to inattentiveness, or the inability to stay focused. While an individual may experience effects of hyper or overactivity and/or impulse control, their difficulties with paying attention, concentrating, and remaining organized are the primary struggles.
Some common symptoms of this specific type include:
- Trouble focusing on a single task.
- Missing details and getting distracted easily.
- Difficulty organizing thoughts and taking in new information.
Unlike inattentive ADHD which involves just one of the three behavioral tendencies of ADHD, this type combines the hyperactivity and impulsive components. Individuals with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD experience an uneven struggle with their inability to slow down and be still and controlling impulses. An inverse of the first type, individuals can still experience symptoms of inattentiveness; they are just secondary.
Common symptoms of this type:
- Incessant talking.
- Difficulty staying still.
- Acting/blurting out of turn with no awareness of consequence.
As the name suggests, the combined type of ADHD is an amalgamation of the previous two, where an individual experiences the symptoms of all three behavioral challenges (inattentiveness, hyperactivity, impulsivity) equally.
For someone to be diagnosed as having this specific presentation of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, they must exhibit a certain number of symptoms from both categories.
Co-Occurring Disorders: ADHD And Alcoholism
Like other mental illnesses, those who suffer from Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder are more likely to develop an addiction or dependence to substances like alcohol. In one study, researchers found that 15% of adults living with ADHD also qualified as having a substance use disorder (SUD) compared to the 5% of adults with a SUD who did not have ADHD. By these results, adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder are at risk of developing a co-occurring SUD 2-3 times higher than those without.
Perhaps because alcohol is easily accessible or maybe because a single drink has the power to take the edge off the racing thoughts, alcohol is the most abused substance for adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Because ADHD (all types) largely deals in behavior and the reward system of the brain, it makes sense that this disorder has been linked to various addictions. In the short term, alcohol may seem to damper the incessancy of the mind, but after prolonged use, alcohol can damage not only the physical body, but it can exacerbate certain symptoms of ADHD like cognition and decision-making.
Stimulants are generally prescribed to help combat the most severe symptoms of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder by increasing dopamine levels in the brain. Stimulants, as the name suggests, increase the level of activity in the central nervous system (CNS) while alcohol, a depressant, decreases activity. Rather than simply cancelling each other out, the combination of alcohol with ADHD medications can alter the way the body converts those compounds which can cause a multitude of unpredictable and often life-threatening side effects like dehydration or seizures.
Both Disorders Must Be Treated
Because co-occurring disorders are so intrinsically tied to one another, treatment must address both the Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and alcohol use disorder to be the most effective. While there are numerous medications that can be prescribed to assist with ADHD, they aren’t meant to interact with alcohol and can potentially cause serious issues. There are, however, various supplemental options like Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) where an individual learns about their governing thinking patterns and beliefs and is given tools to adapt and adjust their mindset. Group therapy can also be helpful because it provides a safe space for shared experiences while also holding attendees responsible. Attending either inpatient or outpatient rehab is also a great option as it allows for the person receiving treatment to obtain intensive care and ensures they are regularly monitored by professionals.
With co-occurring disorders, it can sometimes be difficult to determine which illness was present first, making care and treatment challenging. Comorbid conditions like alcoholism and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder can either develop in parallel tracks or each can exacerbate the other in a sort of cause and effect. This is precisely why it is most helpful to seek treatment that can deal with both simultaneously, in an integrated approach. Contact a treatment provider today to learn about the options available and to discuss any questions about treatment you might have.
Reach Out To Ask Questions And Get Help
Living with ADHD can feel exhausting and frustrating when no one seems to understand what it’s like to live with your thoughts, day in and day out. You may feel overwhelmed, confused, and lonely and the temptation to give in to your vices is all too strong. Know that there are resources to assist you; you don’t have to struggle in silence. Treatment providers are available to provide the information you need so that you may start living a better, freer, more fruitful life. Reach out today to get started on your journey.
Author: Hannah Zwemer | Last Edited: May 10, 2022
Medical Reviewer: David Hampton