The Links between ADHD and Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Research is now showing that there are definite links between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).

When I grew up during the 1970s and 1980s, things were simple. I ate 3 balanced meals a day, I went to school, I did sports, I did my homework and I went to bed. Sometimes I may have watched a bit of TV in the days of Dallas and Magnum PI! If kids were hyperactive at school they got caned or sent out of the classroom. If kids were inattentive at school they were sent to the back of the classroom or simply ignored. In those days, there were no names for such issues and no one had a ‘disability’ or a ‘disorder’ because they were restless or not listening.

In the past 20 years, the words Autism, Aspergers, Attention Deficit, Hyperactivity Syndrome, Disorder, Bipolar and Depression have raised their heads and become a dominant part of mainstream speech.  Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall and other drugs are recommended by tired teachers, and ignorant parents then obey these educators and dose their kids. I find it all very daunting and wish we lived in a similar era to the 1970s and 1980s when I was a kid and deemed ‘normal’.

What is interesting, however, is that adults who grew up during those decades are only NOW being diagnosed with Autism, ADHD and ADD! Many of these adults drink a lot and have used alcohol to combat the disorder and the disorder as an excuse to use alcohol. So, there are links and there are impacts between ADHD and alcohol use. Let’s dig in and find out what the links are!

ADHD and AUD are Connected

According to this research paper, Smith, B. H., & Molina, S. G. (2002). The Clinically Meaningful Link Between Alcohol Use and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Alcohol Research & Health, 26(2), 122-129., “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a childhood mental health disorder that can lead to alcohol and other drug (AOD)-related problems if it persists into adolescence and adulthood. Several findings suggest that ADHD contributes to the development of AOD use disorders. ADHD generally precedes alcohol use and is correlated with developmentally inappropriate levels of alcohol use or abuse…”

It seems that people who have ADHD are more prone to use alcohol and drugs in their lives and many of these people battle to overcome their dependence on such substances. When a child has ADHD, he or she is inattentive, impulsive, hyperactive and battles to focus on a task at hand. The term ADHD was coined in 1987 and scientists admit that the disorder evolves all the time, but that it is very real. When a child with this condition reaches adulthood, he or she continues to suffer the effects and many of these people turn to alcohol or drugs to cope.


In some cases, ADHD causes increased alcohol consumption. Smith, B. H., & Molina, S. G. go on to say that “the dopamine system also has been implicated in mediating some of alcohol’s effects on the brain and therefore may play a role in the development of alcohol use disorders. Accordingly, disturbances in the dopamine system may underlie both ADHD and alcohol use disorders and may therefore contribute to the association between the two disorders.” They conclude that ADHD can increase the risk of alcohol use disorder and it is a common mental health disorder.

Remember that AUD is “a pattern of alcohol use that involves problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol or continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems. This disorder also involves having to drink more to get the same effect or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking. Alcohol use disorder includes a level of drinking that’s sometimes called alcoholism.”

So what this is saying is that there is a definite link between ADHD and the misuse of alcohol – people who suffer from ADHD do tend to start drinking alcohol earlier on in life, or they drink more heavily than their peers. It is also pertinent that people with ADHD do battle to focus, to manage their emotions, to be more restless and hyperactive than those who do NOT have the condition. But there are of course people who with ADHD who do not drink at all!

In my own experience with chatting to people who drink a lot then stopped, low self-esteem and the need to be alone and solitary are also huge contenders for drinking a lot!

The Link Between Alcohol Use and ADHD

In another scientific research paper, Lundervold, A. J., Jensen, D. A., & Haavik, J. (2020). Insomnia, Alcohol Consumption and ADHD Symptoms in Adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 11., it was found that in adults diagnosed with ADHD, the biggest substance use disorder was alcohol use disorder. Some people with ADHD can drink moderately but simply having the condition increases the chances of developing a dependence on alcohol. Binge drinking is also a common problem in people who have ADHD symptoms.

The findings show that people with ADHD:

  • Started to drink earlier in life
  • Had a higher risk of binge drinking
  • Had a higher risk of alcohol use disorders
  • Used alcohol to control restlessness and anxiety
  • Did things that lead to dangerous situations or outcomes

The reality is that alcohol use does NOT assist anyone with ADHD and only leads to more problems with alcohol. People who drink a lot can suffer from poor memory, weaker decision-making skills, less understanding about issues and life and lack of stamina or drive. All of these effects can then worsen the ADHD symptoms: anxiety, restlessness, battling to control emotions, being impulsive and constantly seeking attention.

If you suffer from ADHD and you are also drinking a lot of alcohol, now is your opportunity to do the research and find the links and then take control of your life. Get help for ADHD and get help for alcohol use disorder!

Remember that Tribe Sober is here to help too in a non-judgemental and safe space. Join our tribe today!



The 11 Year Fact

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