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Risks of Alcoholism for People with ADHD

Individuals with a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have an increased risk of falling prey to alcoholism. There are many reasons why alcohol would appeal to someone with ADHD. These reasons include that those treated for ADHD are often prescribed stimulant medications such as Adderall and Ritalin. Adderall and similar medications are stimulants with many similarities to the illicit drug methamphetamine (meth).

Adderall and other stimulant ADHD medications are “uppers” and can result in side effects that make turning to a depressant or “downer” like alcohol a tempting way to wind down at the end of a long day. Repeatedly gearing your body up with stimulants and then taking your body down with depressants results in a cycle of abuse that can quickly result in the formation of dependence and addiction.

Risks of Alcoholism for People with ADHD

Those who are not properly diagnosed or treated for symptoms of ADHD may turn to alcohol as a way of calming their everyday symptoms. ADHD makes focusing difficult, can cause a flight of ideas, the temptation to jump from task to task, and boundless energy. Alcohol, a depressant, can provide a temporary calming effect that may initially mute some of the feelings of frenzy that accompany symptoms associated with ADHD. Over time, repeated abuse of alcohol as a coping mechanism can result in an alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

Risks that increase the likelihood that a person with ADHD will develop a problem with alcohol use can include:

  • Exposure to recreational use of alcohol at a young age
  • Increased risk of binge drinking
  • The effects of alcohol may be felt more intensely by those with ADHD
  • Alcohol can make symptoms of ADHD worsen
    • Decrease in cognitive ability
    • Poor decision-making
    • Memory issues
    • Speech issues
  • Increased risk of an alcohol use disorder (AUD)

ADHD commonly results in hyperactivity, impulsivity, and disruptions in emotional functions. All three of these elements play a role in the reasons why people turn to substance abuse. These factors put those with ADHD at an increased risk of turning to substance abuse as a coping mechanism and, in turn, increase the potential for developing an addiction.

How ADHD Medications Can Interact with Alcohol

Stimulant ADHD medications like Adderall and Ritalin are processed in the body differently when alcohol is also in a person’s system. This can result in problematic and potentially risky side effects including:

  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Trouble sleeping

Mixing uppers and downers pose its own set of risks. These include an increase in the potential for alcohol poisoning or overdose. Both alcohol and stimulants put extra strain on the heart muscle which can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Not all ADHD medications are stimulants. Atomoxetine (Strattera) is a non-stimulant medication that can be prescribed for ADHD. A person who regularly consumes alcohol and wants to continue medication-assisted treatment for ADHD may want to consider asking their doctor about the benefits of atomoxetine for treating their ADHD symptoms as it may be a safer alternative. Keeping this in mind, there have been reports indicating that some of those who drink while taking atomoxetine experience feelings of nausea. The medication manufacturers do not recommend drinking alcohol while taking this medication.

Signs You May Have Developed an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

There are many common signs and symptoms associated with alcohol abuse and the development of an AUD or full-blown alcohol addiction. These include:

  • Cravings 
  • Withdrawal symptoms 
  • Increased desire to drink 
  • The temptation to drink at inappropriate times of day 
  • The temptation to drink more frequently and in greater quantities 
  • Increased tolerance 
  • Drinking more without feeling the effects of alcohol 
  • The desire to keep a supply of alcohol on hand “just in case” 
  • Spending more time acquiring alcohol and more of your money on buying alcohol 
  • Lack of interest in activities that previously felt enjoyable
  • Avoiding situations where there is not an opportunity to drink 
  • Drinking in spite of negative consequences
    • Including physical and mental health issues
  • Acting recklessly while drinking 
  • Developing relationship issues
  • Attempting to cut back or cease use and finding it difficult or impossible to do so 
  • Financial issues
  • Legal troubles 

Common Reasons For Alcohol Abuse

There are many reasons why people turn to substances as a coping mechanism. There is a wide range of common triggers and risk factors that predispose individuals to have alcohol abuse and addiction. Common factors may include: 

  • Trauma
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Genetics 
  • Biological factors
  • Mental health issues 
  • Work-related anxiety 
  • Home life issues 
  • Family stress 
  • Death in the family 
  • Environmental factors 
  • Early exposure to drugs and alcohol
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Low income household
  • Low income neighborhood

Cognitive-behavioral Therapy for ADHD and Alcoholism

In cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), counselors work with clients to target a specific issue, or set of issues, and develop a treatment plan to work on over a designated number of sessions. Counselors discuss goals with clients and determine methods to reach these goals. There are always bumps along the road and a good therapist working with the CBT model is effective at pivoting appropriately to help clients manage their needs.

CBT is derived from the theory that an individual’s perceptions are deeply connected to their reactions. This means that the way a person interprets a situation has a direct correlation to how they comprehend an experience. Using CBT methods, counselors guide clients on learning to better perceive and comprehend their own actions and how others respond to them. One of the goals is to learn how to have more realistic perceptions and expectations of yourself and others as you navigate everyday life situations.

Our experiences are subject to our own cognitive distortions, that is, we often misunderstand what we’re really dealing with in a given situation and, as a result, we do not come to logical conclusions. CBT helps clients better understand why we see things the way that we do and how we can better understand the reality of our circumstances and interactions with others.

CBT aims to help clients better understand their thoughts and actions using techniques of problem-solving and learning to avoid negative behaviors and unhealthy life choices. Understanding the meaning of our experiences in ways that are clear and realistic promote positive and healthy attitudes towards social interactions and help improve feelings of an overall sense of well-being. more clearly and realistically. 

A good CBT counselor keeps in mind guiding principles in order to maintain a healthy relationship with clients. Counselors want clients to know they can trust their doctor and speak their mind, while also keeping in mind that CBT therapy is goal-oriented. This means that a CBT therapist is trained to keep clients on track to meet established goals and incorporate interventions when necessary so clients receive the most benefit out of their sessions. 

After completing the set number of sessions in a CBT treatment plan, clients should feel like they have made progress working towards their intended goals. There’s always the opportunity to set up a new treatment plan and a new set of goals. 

Components of a CBT therapeutic treatment plan will likely include:

  • Maintaining core values
  • Focus on the importance of trust
  • Development of a sensible treatment plan
  • Use of “homework” as part of a plan of action  
  • Careful monitoring of client progress
  • Helping clients comprehend distorted thinking and reframing 
  • Making sure to keep conversations positive 
  • Keen awareness of when to intervene if initial goals are not being met
  • Keeping in mind that CBT has an educational component 
  • Sticking to a set number of sessions 
  • Maintaining session structure  
  • Safe and effective closure at the end of a treatment plan  

If you believe CBT may be a good option for you or your loved one, we encourage you to reach out to Oasis Recovery for more information. 

Contact Us to learn more about ADHD and Alcoholism 

Individuals who have developed an alcohol addiction often have a co-occurring mental health disorder that may or may not be diagnosed. If a person knows they have ADHD, they may also have another undiagnosed condition such as anxiety or depression. The professionals at Oasis Recovery know those with ADHD are at risk for developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or other substance abuse disorders (SUDs).

We pride ourselves on treating our clients with the respect and dignity they deserve. Our doctors and mental health practitioners work with our clients to develop personalized treatment plans that are designed to meet the personal needs our every client. Contact us today to get started on working towards a plan of action. Reach out and speak with a specialist who can help provide more information about our treatment options. 

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