The Dangers of Mixing Adderall and Alcohol
What is Adderall?
Adderall is a prescription central nervous system (CNS) stimulant drug that contains amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. While it’s FDA-approved for the treatment of both and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Adderall is most often used to treat the latter as it has a paradoxical effect on the condition.4,5 That is, even though it’s a stimulant, it can help people with hyperactivity to focus, and it can improve their cognitive abilities and psychological functioning.5
However, while Adderall has legitimate medical uses, it is widely misused. In fact, according to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 3.7 million people aged 12 and older misused prescription stimulants such as Adderall in the last year.6 Misuse involves one or all of the following:7
- Taking a substance in ways or doses other than prescribed.
- Using the substance only for the effects, such as to get high.
- Taking someone else’s medicine.
In addition, Adderall is listed as a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act, which means that it has a high potential for misuse that can lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.3,8
Why do people misuse Adderall? People might misuse Adderall for different reasons, such as to experience euphoria (get high), increase energy or alertness, or improve mental performance.7 Additionally, athletes may use stimulants for their perceived ability to improve performance and for their anti-fatigue properties.9.10
Meanwhile, students typically misuse Adderall to stay awake to study or to improve academic performance.7 That said, research indicates that college students who report use of stimulants to aid academic performance have high rates of other substance use and don’t perform as well as those who do not use prescription stimulants in this manner.11,12
Why Do People Mix Adderall and Alcohol?
People mix alcohol with prescription drugs for various reasons, likely without knowing the potential dangers. For example, some people erroneously assume that prescription drugs such as Adderall are inherently safe, particularly if they’re mixed with a legal substance such as alcohol. Similarly, many people don’t consider the adverse effects of mixing Adderall and alcohol, and/or they may think that the effects of one substance compensate for the effects of the other.3,13
While there are many reasons for mixing Adderall and alcohol, research seems to indicate that there is a correlation between Adderall misuse in college students and young adults and alcohol use and misuse.14 According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 3.7% of full-time college students are estimated to have engaged in nonmedical (i.e., recreational) prescription drug use during the past month. One of the main reasons for this appears to be academically motivated, as one study of college students found that 28.6% agreed or strongly agreed that nonmedical prescription drug use could help them earn higher grades.15
Dangers of Mixing Adderall with Alcohol
Polysubstance use means using two or more substances (intentionally or unintentionally) at the same time or within a short time of each other. This can be a dangerous practice because the interactions of different substances, including prescription drugs, can be unpredictable, stronger than when used independently, and potentially deadly when used with other substances.1
Adderall is a stimulant, and alcohol is a depressant. Based on info from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the combination of stimulants with central nervous system depressants can be particularly dangerous. Instead of negating the effects of each other (or cancelling each other out, so to speak), one drug can hide or change the other drug’s effects. Once the drug’s effects are masked, your symptoms may give you no indication of how much of the drug you’ve taken. As a result, it can be easier to overdose.1
Risks of Mixing Adderall and Alcohol
Mixing Adderall and alcohol can increase the risk of several conditions including:2,3,13
- Cardiovascular problems.
- Heart failure.
- Respiratory infections and bronchitis.
- Dehydration, overheating, and kidney failure.
In addition to the aforementioned health risks, mixing alcohol with other substances can increase the risk of various behaviors and disorders such as:2,3,14
- Unsafe sexual behavior.
- Alcohol, stimulant, or other substance use disorders (i.e., addiction).
- Severe psychiatric or medical problems.
- Increased risk-taking behaviors.
- Interpersonal problems.
Additionally, people with co-occurring ADHD and addiction are reported to have:16
- An increased risk of suicide.
- Earlier onset of addiction.
- Increased hospitalizations.
- Increased impulsivity.
- More severe disease course.
- Increased likelihood of polysubstance use.
- Lower rates of abstinence.
- Lower rates of treatment adherence.
People with co-occurring ADHD and addiction can also experience an increased risk of comorbidity with depression, conduct disorder, bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.16
Can You Drink on Adderall if You Have a Prescription?
The previously described risks related to mixing Adderall and alcohol apply regardless of whether the individual has a prescription. Additionally, just because you have a prescription for Adderall doesn’t mean you might not be misusing it (as defined earlier). Misuse of Adderall can be dangerous and can lead to dependence and addiction, social problems, overdose, and negative health consequences.4,7
So, can you drink on Adderall? Given the related risks of health consequences and overdose, patients may wish to avoid alcohol if they use Adderall.2 The prescribed substance should only be taken as directed in the dose and frequency indicated by a doctor, and patients should inform their doctors if they have a history of alcohol misuse or dependence prior to using Adderall. Again, speak with your healthcare provider if you have concerns about drinking alcohol while using Adderall.4
Treatment for Adderall and Alcohol Addiction
If you or a loved one misuses Adderall, alcohol, or both, it’s important to seek treatment and to start the path to recovery. Note that someone that misuses Adderall and/or alcohol could have a substance use disorder (i.e., an addiction) related to one or both substances. The former is deemed a stimulant use disorder, and the latter is an alcohol use disorder.
The recovery process for various substance use disorders can involve detox to help you through the withdrawal period, followed by inpatient treatment and/or outpatient rehab. Regardless of the setting, treatment usually involves a combination of counseling, medication, and behavioral therapies, depending on your unique needs.17
However, according to insights from SAMHSA’s Treating Concurrent Substance Use Among Adults, treatment plans for polysubstance use should address the unique needs of this patient population, some of which include:16
- Withdrawal from, and withdrawal timeframes for, each substance.
- Simultaneous intoxication from two or more substances.
- Potential interactions between substances and FDA-approved medications used to treat substance use and/or co-occurring mental disorders.
With multiple inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities, American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of individualized addiction treatment for both Adderall and alcohol addiction as well as polysubstance use that includes medically assisted detox, inpatient rehab, outpatient treatment, aftercare, and more. Call to speak to an admissions navigator to learn more about treatment and potentially take your first steps toward recovery today.