Many adults with ADHD take a stimulant drug like Adderall, Ritalin, or Vyvanse to help them focus and be more attentive. Alcohol is a drug, too. But it is a depressant. The two don’t balance each other out when you use them together. In fact, ADHD meds can blunt that relaxed, buzzed feeling you get from alcohol. So you may end up drinking more than you should.
The labels on ADHD drugs advise against drinking. But some doctors think it’s OK for people to have a beer or a glass of wine, maybe two depending on the person. Some people are naturally better at holding their booze. Just to be safe, doctors say you should wait until your ADHD meds wear off before you have that cocktail.
Why ADHD Meds and Alcohol Don't Mix
The stimulant drugs used to treat ADHD boost the activity of two chemicals in your brain, dopamine and norepinephrine. This allows you to buckle down and concentrate. Alcohol slows your body’s vital functions, leading to things like slurred speech and slow reaction time.
We don't have much research on how ADHD meds and alcohol interact. But we do know that drinking while taking these medicines can cause problems, sometimes serious ones. It can:
- Harm your judgment
- Make it harder for you to tell you're getting drunk
- Lead to alcohol poisoning, which can be life-threatening
- Cause nausea, vomiting, and dehydration
- Make you drunker if you drink on an empty stomach (ADHD meds cut your appetite, so it's sometimes hard to eat and drink enough.)
- Hurt your reaction time, coordination, and vision
- Make your heart beat too fast or irregularly, or increase your blood pressure
- Lead to heart disease over time
- Cause sleep problems
- Trigger anxiety and depression
- In rare cases, cause strokes and seizures
Is There a Safe Way to Drink Alcohol?
Stimulants used to treat ADHD come in different forms. The short-acting kind (called immediate release) typically wear off after about 4 hours. Most people take the long-acting version (called extended release or ER), which can last up to 12 hours.
If you want to celebrate your anniversary with a bottle of wine or share a beer with your friends, some doctors say you should wait until the ADHD drugs have worn off. Or skip them that day.
Potential for Abuse
Even some people who know the dangers of mixing alcohol with their ADHD meds do it anyway. College students might do it to party longer. Others drink because they don’t like the way their meds make them feel. Either situation can lead to excessive drinking.
Another concern is that both ADHD meds and alcohol can be addictive. Combining the two over the long term can affect your ability to concentrate, remember, and solve problems. It also can lead to depression and other mental health problems.
Your best bet is to skip alcohol when you're taking ADHD medication. But if you want to celebrate responsibly, ask your doctor how you can stay safe.