ADHD and Alcohol: A Dangerous Combination

Many students with ADHD take medication. In the words of one of my students, “It was a life-saver. Now I know how all the other kids feel.” Beyond learning differences, students who struggle with mental health issues, such as a mood or anxiety disorder, may take powerful anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication. These medications can make a world of difference, allowing students to reengage with their lives, stay on top of their schoolwork, and pursue their goals as they transition to adulthood.

The dangers that come with prescription medication are not well known. Recently I heard the story of a 19-year-old student named Clay Soper, who died from mixing Xanax with alcohol. His family, absolutely devastated, has created a documentary called, “If I Had Known,” detailing the dangers of abusing prescription drugs.

Clay’s mom relates that, “The youth of today have no fear of pills.” In colleges and high schools across the country, students swap pills and mix them with alcohol or other drugs without true awareness of the potential consequences.

While mixing ADHD medication with alcohol has not been found to be fatal, some studies have shown that students with ADHD are at increased risk for substance abuse. Ironically, students with ADHD who take medication regularly actually have a lower rate of substance abuse.

The fate of Clay Soper, as well as the many college and high school students who overdose each year, show us that we need to be vigilant. Working to educate students on the effects of their prescription medication is one step; helping to limit opportunities to abuse these drugs is another. This is a prevalent issue that won’t be going away anytime soon, but if we are going to recommend that our students with learning and attention challenges take medication, then we need to be aware of the dangers.

If you’re in the Massachusetts area, you can see the Soper Family’s film, “If Only They Knew” on June 14th, 2:30 PM, at Winchester High School.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director