Cornerstone of Southern California Drug and Alcohol Rehab
Dangers of mixing Adderall and Alcohol
Author: Cornerstone of Southern California
Published: January 28, 2022

Dubbed as a study drug and a way to stay out partying longer by students, Adderall abuse has become relatively common on college campuses. A significant number of people also drink alcohol with Adderall.

Unfortunately, mixing the two substances can increase the dangers of Adderall and alcohol abuse and lead to severe conditions, including cardiac arrest.

What Is Adderall?

Adderall is a prescription medicine that contains the substances amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. As a stimulant drug, Adderall can help you focus, pay attention, and control behavioral problems. For this reason, doctors usually prescribe it to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It can also treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder where you may fall asleep throughout the day.

You can administer Adderall in an immediate-release version or an extended-release version. The effects of immediate-release Adderall last around four to six hours. In contrast, the effects of extended-release Adderall can last for about twelve hours. Extended-release Adderall can be beneficial because you only need to administer the medicine at the start of the day.

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How Does Adderall Affect the Brain?

Our brains are made up of different areas of cells that communicate with each other through molecules known as neurotransmitters. Brain neurons pass messages between neurotransmitters to send signals to other neurons or cells in the body. Two of the main types of neurotransmitters are dopamine and norepinephrine.

Experts think that ADHD may result from an imbalance of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. This imbalance leads to cognitive symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating and lack of motivation.

Adderall increases dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, improving communication between cells and stimulating brain activity. This increases attention and concentration, which can help people develop better work habits and skills.

Although Adderall can be beneficial, it may have certain side effects, including:

  • Headaches
  • Nervousness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia

What Are the Dangers of Mixing Adderall and Alcohol?

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies Adderall as a Schedule II drug. This means that while it is a medically useful substance, it has a high potential for abuse. Adderall is a highly addictive drug with a risk of physical dependence if consumed in higher doses or more frequently than a doctor prescribes.

One of the main ways people abuse Adderall is by mixing it with alcohol. However, mixing alcohol and Adderall (or other prescription stimulants) is extremely dangerous.

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Increased Risk of Overdose

Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, meaning it slows down activity in the brain. Meanwhile, Adderall is a CNS stimulant that speeds activity up.

Alcohol and stimulant drugs tend to have different, and sometimes opposite, effects. This can mean that the effects of alcohol, Adderall, or both substances may appear less salient than if you took the same dosages independently. However, the content and strength of each substance do not decrease when you take them together. This results in many people consuming higher quantities of either substance than they realize, increasing the risk of an overdose.

An overdose happens when you consume more of a drug than your body can process. Both alcohol and Adderall overdose can be hazardous.

Alcohol overdose, also known as alcohol poisoning or alcohol intoxication, is life-threatening. In severe cases, it can slow your breathing and heart rate down to dangerous levels and lead to cardiac arrest. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Pale, blue-tinged skin
  • Falling unconscious
  • Irregular or slow breathing

Adderall overdose can also be life-threatening. Symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Aggressiveness
  • Fever
  • Tremors
  • Panic

If you think someone may have overdosed on either substance, seek immediate medical attention.

Short-Term Effects

Taking Adderall with alcohol can lead to dangerous effects that you would not experience if you took either substance by itself. These effects are unpredictable and include serious conditions.

Taking Adderall and alcohol puts strain on the cardiovascular system. It may:

  • increase your heart rate.
  • raise your body temperature.
  • cause irregular heartbeat.
  • increase your blood pressure.

A report in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine describes a case where a young man suffers a myocardial infarction (heart attack) after consuming moderate quantities of alcohol and Adderall.

People mixing Adderall and alcohol often think that their reflexes and motor coordination are less inhibited than drinking alcohol alone. In reality, their reaction time, motor coordination, and visual perception are significantly affected, causing them to engage in a variety of potentially dangerous situations, including drunk driving.

Long-Term Effects

Long-term Adderall and alcohol abuse can damage the central nervous system, causing serious cognitive and emotional issues. These may include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired learning and memory
  • Impaired problem-solving abilities
  • Apathy and loss of motivation
  • Mental health issues including depression and psychosis

Substance Use Disorders

Misuse of prescription stimulants like Adderall puts you at increased risk of developing substance abuse problems, including physical dependence and Adderall addiction. Drinking alcohol with Adderall may make you feel like you can tolerate higher doses or take the drug more often, increasing the risk of a substance use disorder.

Mixing alcohol and ADHD medications can also lead to an alcohol use disorder. If you become dependent on alcohol to ease the side effects of Adderall, you may end up drinking much more frequently than drinking in moderation guidelines recommend. This can lead to dependence or addiction.

Repeated use of alcohol and Adderall can also lead to polysubstance abuse and co-occurring substance use disorders where you may develop an Adderall and alcohol addiction.

If you are struggling with an Adderall use disorder or alcohol use disorder, remember that help is available. Substance abuse treatment programs can help you overcome addiction and reclaim a fulfilling, sober life. Evidence-based treatment options, including talk therapies and support groups, help you identify the causes of your addiction and make long-term, meaningful changes to your thought patterns and behaviors.

Recovery from addiction is not an easy process, but it can be a life-changing decision. You can avoid the serious and potentially life-threatening risks of stimulant and alcohol abuse by attending treatment.

Why Do People Mix Adderall and Alcohol?

Adderall abuse is most common in young people, especially among college students. Drug abuse of prescription stimulants has risen dramatically in recent years - research suggests that 5 - 35% of college students may misuse ADHD medications.

People who abuse ADHD drugs like Adderall procure the substance in various ways. These include:

  • Getting it from a friend who has a prescription
  • Buying it illegally

Research suggests that a significant proportion of people abusing ADHD medications may combine them with alcohol. In a study of over 200,000 tweets mentioning Adderall, 4.8% reported mixing Adderall with alcohol. There are several reasons that people might drink alcohol with Adderall, such as:

  • Some people may take Adderall with alcohol to reduce the undesirable side effects of stimulant medications. When people take large amounts of Adderall, they can feel hyperactive, jittery, and over-alert. People may drink alcohol to counter these effects.
  • Some people report taking Adderall to help them stay alert longer when out partying, often with alcohol.
  • Some people with ADHD may begin drinking alcohol to try and manage their symptoms. In the short term, alcohol can increase dopamine levels, improving ADHD symptoms. However, in the long term, alcohol depletes dopamine which may exacerbate ADHD.

Contact Us Today

If you are worried about Adderall or alcohol misuse, reach out to us today. Our team of experts can offer free and confidential advice on all kinds of substance abuse and talk you through the next steps.