Mixing medications of any kind can be a risky proposition without the advice and oversight of a doctor. Some people may not be aware that mixing medications with other substances is also potentially dangerous. One example of this is mixing drugs with alcohol.
It may seem that mixing a stimulant like Adderall with a depressant substance like alcohol would not be a problem. However, there are physical interactions between these substances that can cause severe physical problems based on one substance masking the other or due to the effects of both substances together on internal organs.
Effects of Adderall on the Brain and Body
Adderall is a nervous system stimulant, meaning that it stimulates the brain and nerves, causing messages to move more quickly through the body and increasing responsiveness. The active substance in Adderall is amphetamine, as described by the Center for Substance Abuse Research. The basic physical and mental effects of this type of substance include:
- Increased heart rate and breathing
- Improved ability to focus
- Increased alertness
- Heightened sense of capability
Because of these effects, amphetamine drugs like Adderall can help those who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or sleep disorders like narcolepsy. There are some side effects of these drugs that call for caution, as described by RxList. These include:
- Nervousness, restlessness, and agitation
- Anxiety and fear
- Digestive discomforts, including nausea and vomiting
- Heart palpitation or irregular heartbeat
- Potential sudden heart attack
Physical and Mental Effects of Alcohol
People who drink alcohol casually are familiar with the depressive effects of this substance. They may describe it as helping them feel more relaxed and content, enabling them to release inhibitions, and contributing to a “buzzed” or fuzzy mental state. However, as described in an article from Current Topics in Behavioral Neuroscience, alcohol also has stimulant effects on the body, similar to some of Adderall’s effects, such as increased heart rate.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism describes a number of more severe effects that alcohol has on the brain and body. These can include damage to the heart, liver, and pancreas. In addition, drinking alcohol can result in decreased immune system function and potentially contribute to the development of some cancers.
Mixing Alcohol and Adderall: What Happens in the Body
Because of the common understanding of Adderall as a stimulant and alcohol as a sedative or depressant, some people may believe that using them together is fine because the actions of the substances would cancel each other out. This is a misperception based on limited understanding of how alcohol and Adderall affect mental and physical systems when used together. In fact, the combined actions of these two drugs can amplify the negative effects that both drugs have on the body, especially the heart, as described below.
Still, it is true that the sensation of the sedative effects of alcohol can be diminished by taking Adderall while drinking. This can make the person drink a certain amount of alcohol without feeling as affected as might be the case otherwise. Still, this can cause problems that the individual might not expect.
The Issues of Mixing Alcohol with Other Stimulants
One reason that some people take Adderall while drinking alcohol is to stave off the sleepiness and sedative action of the alcohol, enabling them to drink more without the risk of passing out. On the surface, it may seem like this is no problem. However, as described by an article from Health Central, this is not as benign as it seems.
Because Adderall keeps the person from feeling the full effect of the alcohol, the individual may drink more than would otherwise be possible. This, in turn, leads to a risk of alcohol poisoning for an individual who, because of Adderall, continues to drink far more than the person is used to. This can be a life-threatening situation, as excessive alcohol consumption can lead to problems with breathing or even to heart issues.
Alcohol, Adderall, and Heart Damage
The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine published a case study of a young man who took Adderall after consuming a great deal of alcohol, hoping to keep himself awake for an exam the following morning. The result was that the young man suffered a heart attack due to the effects of the two substances.
As described above, alcohol and Adderall each have negative effects on the heart, including:
- Accelerated heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Risk of heart attack, stroke, or other heart disease
Because both drugs affect the heart in this way, combining the two can increase the risks associated with each one alone. Again, this is a life-threatening situation that can come on suddenly, and it is less likely to occur if these two substances are not used together.
Behavioral Effects of Mixing Adderall and Alcohol
Mixing Adderall and alcohol can cause other problems that are not necessarily life-threatening, but that can have a serious negative effect on the individual’s quality of life. Healthline describes the fact that combining alcohol and Adderall can increase the potential for aggression or other mental responses that sometimes occur when drinking alcohol alone; they can also increase the severity of these mental reactions.
In addition, for those who are prescribed Adderall for ADHD, using alcohol at the same time can counteract the desired action of Adderall in the body, resulting in the ADHD not improving or even worsening. If nothing else, this can cause the person to struggle more in daily life, with an inability to focus, as well as potential for other mental effects that result from alcohol, such as depression or anxiety.
Legitimate Prescription: Does It Make a Difference?
A doctor prescribing a drug does not give an individual a free pass to use the drug with other substances without concern about the effects of mixing. Some individuals might assume that having a prescription means the prescribed drug is safe no matter what. Whether or not a doctor has prescribed Adderall for a legitimate mental or physical disorder does not change the way alcohol and Adderall react in the body. This is explained and clarified in a publication by the National Council on Patient Information and Education.
If a doctor prescribes any medication, it is important for the individual to share information about any other substances being used, including alcohol. Any psychoactive substances can interact with one another in unexpected ways for the individual. A doctor or pharmacist can help the person to understand what substances can and cannot be used together.
Getting Help for Someone Using Adderall and Alcohol
As explained above, some people will use Adderall on purpose while drinking, believing that it will help them enjoy more alcohol without getting drunk so quickly. Others may use the two together inadvertently, not realizing the risks this creates. As demonstrated above, this can lead to severe health and behavioral problems. To prevent these effects, it is important for anyone who is mixing these substances to stop this behavior right away.
If there is suspicion that a loved one is using these two substances together, intervention is necessary to avoid the potential risks described above. In addition, if addiction to either or both substances is suspected, assistance from a professional, reputable, and research-based addiction treatment center can help the person regain control of current and future health.