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Alcohol and Mental Health

Anxiety and ADHD: What's the Link (and How To Cope)

July 11, 2023
8 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 11, 2023
8 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 11, 2023
8 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 11, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 11, 2023
8 min read

Our mind is like a bustling train station during rush hour. Thoughts and worries zoom by like trains on their tracks, each one vying for our attention. Now try adding ADHD into the mix — that’s like having an extra set of tracks with trains moving at lightning speed. It can be incredibly challenging to focus on just one train of thought amid this chaos.

To make matters more complicated, anxiety often shows up at this overcrowded station. It's like a train conductor who constantly blows the whistle of worry and doubt, making peace harder to find.

In an attempt to find relief from this overwhelming mental traffic jam, some of us with ADHD turn to drinking as a coping mechanism. Sometimes it can feel like finding a secret tunnel that temporarily transports us away from the hustle and bustle of our racing thoughts.

By understanding the interconnections between anxiety, ADHD, and our drinking habits, we can break free from this cycle. Together, we'll explore effective coping strategies and actionable changes to reduce stress and cut back on drinking.

The Anxiety-ADHD Connection

The nature of ADHD often makes day-to-day life stressful, creating situations and environments fraught with uncertainty — anxiety’s primary fuel.

It’s no surprise, then, that anxiety and ADHD often go hand in hand. This could be due to the challenges we face in managing our symptoms — which can include inattentiveness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.

ADHD and anxiety disorders frequently occur together — in fact, 50% of us with ADHD will also have one or more anxiety disorders. ADHD and anxiety are linked for several other reasons:

  • Similar symptoms. Several symptoms of ADHD and anxiety overlap, such as difficulty socializing, fidgeting, inattentiveness, and working slowly or failing to complete work on time. What’s more, anxiety is considered a symptom of ADHD — making it more difficult to determine which is which.
  • Brain chemistry. ADHD can worsen anxiety symptoms because of its impact on brain chemistry. In ADHD, the brain has trouble making dopamine and serotonin in a consistent manner, which can lead to anxiety.
  • Genetics. Research indicates that certain genes may explain the link between ADHD and anxiety, as well as the link between ADHD and depression.
  • Thought patterns. ADHD thought patterns, like those tied to perfectionism and self-regulation, can stoke feelings of anxiety and disrupt our lives.

It can be difficult to differentiate between anxiety and ADHD, as the two conditions can appear similar. It’s not uncommon for those who have anxiety to have an incorrect diagnosis around ADHD. If ADHD or anxiety are disrupting your life or relationships, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional or therapist about it.

The Vicious Cycle of Drinking

Just imagine trying to focus on a task while your mind is racing with anxious thoughts of what might go wrong. This constant mental strain can lead those of us with ADHD to seek short-lived relief in drinking.

Alcohol may provide temporary relief from anxiety symptoms for those of us with ADHD. It can help us relax and quiet our racing thoughts. However, relying on alcohol as a coping mechanism creates a vicious cycle that can become problematic.

Let's say you have an important presentation coming up that triggers your anxiety. You decide to have a few drinks the night before to calm your nerves. While it may temporarily alleviate your anxiety, it also impairs your cognitive abilities the next day. This makes it even harder for you to focus and manage your ADHD symptoms effectively.

What’s more, in the long run, alcohol makes anxiety worse.

Coping Strategies for Anxiety and ADHD

Anxiety and ADHD can influence our drinking habits. Here are some ways to cope with anxiety and ADHD, especially when you want to cut back on drinking:

  • Make space for you. Finding healthy outlets for managing stress and emotions — like exercise, hobbies, or mindfulness practices — can help.
  • Note your environment. Remove temptations in the household that might drive you to drink. Get rid of stimuli — sounds, clutter, and the like — that may distract you.
  • Behavior swap. Look for replacement behaviors: swap a drink for a nutritious snack, a mocktail, or tea; try mindful breathing or listen to calming music when you feel anxious; dance to a good beat; take your dog for a walk.
  • Observe your drinking. Notice patterns with your drinking. If you are concerned about your drinking, talk with your doctor. They may recommend a number of treatments to help you stop drinking while managing your ADHD symptoms.
  • Meditation. Engaging in mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce both anxiety symptoms and ADHD-related impairments. By practicing mindfulness, we can learn to observe our thoughts and emotions without judgment, helping us break free from the cycle of anxiety and alcohol.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a powerful therapeutic approach that can help identify and challenge our negative thought patterns. Working with a therapist, we can learn new coping skills to manage anxiety and ADHD symptoms, reducing the need for alcohol as a crutch.
  • Exercise. Movement has been proven to reduce anxiety symptoms and improve attention in individuals with ADHD. Regular exercise releases endorphins, which boost our mood and help us feel more in control of our emotions.

It’s important to note that in the short term, alcohol may appear to be a solution to the restlessness and anxiety often associated with ADHD, but heavy alcohol consumption over a prolonged period of time can actually intensify symptoms of ADHD.

Building a Support Network

Remember, you don't have to face this journey alone! Building a support network can make all the difference when it comes to reducing stress and cutting back on drinking.

Reach out to friends or family members who understand your struggles, or consider joining support groups specifically tailored for individuals with ADHD or anxiety — like the community you’ll find at Reframe.

Sharing experiences, seeking advice, and receiving encouragement from others who have walked a similar path can be incredibly empowering.

Remember, it's okay to ask for help and lean on others for support. Together, we can break free from the cycle of anxiety and alcohol and create a happier, healthier life. You've got this!

Take Control and Reclaim Your Health With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you have nothing to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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