The dangerous way mixing Adderall and alcohol messes with your brain
- Adderall is a stimulant and
alcohola depressant, but both boost feel-good chemicals in your brain.
- When mixed, the effects from both drugs are dulled which can make you unaware of how much you've had.
- If you take prescription Adderall as instructed, you can drink in moderation if you time it right.
Simply put: Adderall and alcohol don't mix. If you drink and take Adderall at the same time, you could strain your heart, get alcohol poisoning, and even end up in the hospital.
That doesn't mean, however, that drinking is off the table if your doctor prescribes you Adderall. Here's what you need to know.
Why do people mix Adderall and alcohol?
Adderall belongs to a class of drugs called prescription stimulants (PS). These drugs stimulate the brain to boost energy and enhance focus. Most people use Adderall to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.
On the other hand, alcohol is a depressant, meaning it works pretty much the opposite of Adderall, causing you to feel relaxed and less focused. But both of these drugs have one thing in common: They boost your dopamine levels.
Dopamine has many functions, but it is best known for making us feel good. Your brain produces dopamine naturally whenever you do something pleasurable like laugh or kiss someone.
So, when you mix Adderall and alcohol, you're essentially getting a double dopamine hit, which means combining the two drugs can lift your mood even higher than either drug would alone. Moreover, as a stimulant, Adderall can delay the drowsiness you would normally feel as you keep drinking.
If this sounds like a good time, stop to consider something very important: These feel-good effects of mixing Adderall and alcohol can also make it harder to recognize when you've had enough.
"People who use Adderall and alcohol may find that the effects of alcohol and Adderall are lessened when the drugs are used together. This may cause individuals to drink too much alcohol or take excessive amounts of Adderall, which can be dangerous," says Kelly Johnson-Arbor, co-medical director of National Capital Poison Center and medical director of hyperbaric medicine at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
Important: All prescription stimulants including Adderall, Concerta, Focalin, and Vyvanse will interact negatively with alcohol. Therefore, if you are taking any prescription stimulant, be careful about when and how much you drink.
Why mixing Adderall and alcohol is so dangerous
Adderall and alcohol make you less aware of how much you've taken of either drug.This means you're at greater risk of alcohol poisoning or a stimulant overdose.
Most people taking prescription Adderall as recommended by their doctor aren't the ones who are misusing it with alcohol. However, an estimated 2.1% of adults in the United States misuse prescription stimulants outside their intended purpose. They are usually either taking it without a prescription or using it outside of the recommended schedule.
PS misuse is most prevalent among young adults ages 18 to 25. Incidentally, this age group is also most likely to report binging alcohol.
A large 2013 study found almost half of college students reporting PS misuse had combined stimulants with alcohol at least once in the past year. Moreover, students who combined the drugs were five times more likely to experience "moderate" alcohol-related consequences such as:
- Straining a relationship
- Blacking out
- Getting injured or injuring someone else
- Damaging property
- Missing class (which may explain why they were also more likely to have lower grade point averages)
These students were also twice as likely to experience severe alcohol-related consequences such as:
- Having sex they later regretted
- Getting into a physical fight
- Receiving a ticket for a DUI/DWI
- Crashing a car or motorcycle
Important: You don't have to take Adderall and alcohol at exactly the same time to put your
Although rare, several case studies have shown a combination of alcohol and Adderall can cause heart attacks in young adults.
Organ damage is a possibility as well. "Adderall and alcohol are both digested by the same liver enzymes, which can result in liver problems in the long-term," says Aaron Sternlicht, credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor of the private practice Family Addiction Specialist.
Can I ever drink alcohol if I'm prescribed Adderall?
Adderall is safe when used according to your doctor's instructions, and most people can drink in moderation without severe side effects.
"We do not recommend our patients drink while they are on the medication. However, occasional social drink does not pose a danger," says Roueen Rafeyan, chief medical officer of the Gateway Foundation and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University.
Important: "Both the immediate release and extended release formulations of Adderall can interact with any type of alcohol," says Johnson-Arbor.
Timing is also important: "To safely drink alcohol one should wait until they have metabolized Adderall, which will vary from individual to individual depending on their history of Adderall use as well as various physiological factors," says Sternlicht.
In general, the less you weigh, the longer it takes for your body to metabolize Adderall. The average adult body takes 13 hours to process most of the drug. If you're one of many people who take Adderall in the morning, you should probably skip the brunch mimosas and wait until evening before drinking.
What to do if you mix Adderall and alcohol
If you mix Adderall and alcohol, whether intentionally or by accident, be on the lookout for side effects. According to Sternlicht, you should seek immediate medical attention if you:
- Notice a change in your heart rate
- Start sweating and shaking
- Have difficulty breathing
It is better to seek medical attention "just in case" than to ignore a potentially life-threatening health issue. If you need help, consider reaching out to the following resources:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Hotline (1-800-662-4357)
- Poison Control (1-800-222-1222)
- Your local emergency services (911)
Be ready to provide how much Adderall and alcohol you've taken within the last 24 hours.
Adderall and alcohol are both relatively common drugs, but they should not be used together. Mixing these drugs can cause dangerous health issues.
If you fall ill after combining Adderall and alcohol, seek help. Prompt medical treatment can potentially save your life.
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