I had a bit of a light-bulb moment this morning, regarding my relationship with alcohol. I was at a small birthday party yesterday. I knew I wouldn’t be drinking, as I had to drive. I was ok about that until cocktails started being poured. It was like a switch had been flipped. I went from reasonably calm to totally hyperactive – bouncing/buzzing hyper. I became really agitated that I couldn’t drink – it all looked so appealing. Fancy cocktail glasses, colourful alcohol and slices of various fruits – sensory stimulation (that many of us with ADHD are always seeking).


If it hadn’t been for my daughters needing to go home, this is where my impulsivity would have taken over and I would have had one (and then many more) and to hell with all my resolve. I’m going to be 46 this year and hangovers are a week-long event nowadays with a whole pile of anxiety and regret thrown in for an extra fun experience. I just can’t do it any more, I just don’t want to do it any more, but my ADHD mind doesn’t think that far ahead – it’s purely in the moment.

Seeing how difficult I was finding the situation, a friend offered to make me a mocktail. I now had the fancy glass, a slice of fruit and a colourful non-alcoholic drink and I felt part of the whole thing. I was still just as hyper and to anyone looking in, I appeared and sounded drunk. I had fun, I wasn’t so bothered about the lack of alcohol and more importantly, this morning I wasn’t hungover. Instead, I was with it enough to have a bit of a moment of clarity and see that it isn’t the alcohol that I need and that gets me so excited, it’s the fact that other people are drinking and that means that other people will be hyper, oversharing and uninhibited – all states that I (and my ADHD brain) can get into quite easily (and indeed spend a large part of my life in) but for most people, they need the effects of alcohol to achieve.

I love being around other people who are feeling as high as me, I love the energy and the excitement. I find it all hugely stimulating. However, normally I would give in to my impulsivity and have a drink too. This had left me feeling like that was all part of the experience. But it isn’t. I can do it without the alcohol and frequently do, it’s just that often, the people I’m with need it to reach the same hyper/energised and excited state as me. Consequently, I see alcohol at a party or gathering and I automatically become excited without actually having to drink it. My brain associates the alcohol with these really stimulating, dopamine boosting times.

A large part of my teens and twenties was spent self-medicating with alcohol (I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my 40s) because it was the only time I didn’t feel the crippling anxiety and sometimes depression that I suffered from. I now realise that a big part of that was probably due to the fact that during the times when I was out drinking I didn’t feel so different, I didn’t stand out so much – we were all hyper and excitable. It’s just that many of us with ADHD are lucky enough to be able to reach this state without the aid of alcohol.

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