Alcohol and ADHD, my Experience as a Police Officer

Calm in chaos with ADHD

Alcohol, ADHD and Police Officer rarely go together in the same sentence, but it’s so important that we have this conversation. I’m now part of the Creased Puddle team through understanding my ADHD and why so many things had happened in my life. Prior to joining Creased Puddle I was a Police Officer for 14 years, I spent most of that chasing things around London, cars, people, anything that would give me dopamine. I didn’t realise at the time what was happening, let’s dig a little deeper in to the neuroscience of the ADHD brain.

The neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenaline are closely linked with ADHD, they are both involved in the brain’s reward system. In ADHD, disruptions in the balance and functioning of these neurotransmitters can lead to difficulties with impulse control. These neurotransmitters have significant impact on the executive function of the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is the brain’s management system. How does this relate to alcohol? Well, alcohol temporarily helps with the regulation of the brain’s activity giving the person a rest from their ADHD symptoms. The brain continues to want this feeling and this is why many people with ADHD have a substance misuse disorder.

Carl Mumford

Chasing the High with ADHD

When I worked 6 days on, 4 days off as a shift pattern, I spent 6 days at speed. I would work long days, often adrenaline fuelled due to my work and unlike others I would dread my days off. This is because I had to sit still, I could chase anything, I wasn’t getting in to intense situations, my brain lacked stimulation. What did I do on my days off? I would go out and socialise, and drink, I would go home, and have a drink. I would drink quickly, anything to find relief from my ADHD symptoms. When I drank a four pack of ciders from the corner shop, I was able to do the dishes, I was able to start cleaning. This was because the alcohol was providing my brain the fuel it needed. The pre-frontal cortex of my brain, the bit that makes decisions, was able to make them easier.

I was lucky, I had the consequences of a uniform to prevent me from making really poor decisions. I now know that fear of failure and rejection sensitivity were pushing back from the other side, which are both commonly experienced with ADHD. In 2019 I joined the Mounted Branch, in hindsight it was obvious why. What’s more dopamine inducing that riding a horse across a field at 30mph? Well, chasing someone down a London road on a horse trumps that, I had combined the best of both words. What I didn’t know was that I had set myself up for failure, that high was even higher and what goes up, must come down. I sustained some life changing injuries when riding the horse and I had surgery just before the pandemic, I went from riding a horse to sitting at home on my own. It was effectively like boiling a frog in a pan, if you can can excuse the horrible metaphor.

Alcohol, Opiates and ADHD

I was now in a lot of persistent pain, I was not able to see anyone, I was barely moving at home, and this is where we go wrong with ADHD. We tell people to slow down and relax, that is unlikely to help. ADHD brains thrive on movement, they love thrill, they like the novelty, when I was moving I felt comfortable. I drunk alcohol, I combined it with co-codamol and I got the same feeling as chasing that person on the street, the same feeling as riding a horse. I was able to think clearly, I was able to be present, my ADHD took a backseat for just a short time. However, as we know alcohol and opiate medication are not the solution and contributed to long periods of depression and persistent anxiety. The physical and mental toll of substance misuse and ADHD is not often spoken about, we often see the addiction before ADHD is ever considered. This is what inspired me to become a founder of the ADHD Alliance, this is a support group for all of the emergency services to improve knowledge, support and understanding of ADHD.

When you understand why you’re really seeking alcohol, you can begin to put strategies in place to prevent it being your source of dopamine. Through the psychoeducation of understanding what ADHD is, I make better choices, I choose other means of regulating myself and those around me are also more understanding to. So many people are struggling to put their hand up for help, people often ask me what’s the benefit in getting a diagnosis? I wouldn’t be wrong in saying it saves lives for the very reasons I speak about in this post. I am now a Criminal Justice Neurodiversity Consultant for Creased Puddle and I use my policing experience to help drive change within the criminal justice system for neurodiversity. I am incredible passionate about the work I do, and this would never have happened without understanding ADHD and the lessons it has taught me.

One of the most effective strategies for me was coaching. I received coaching from someone who had similar experiences with ADHD. Through this coaching, I learned why my brain repeated the same behaviours and sought the same stimulation repeatedly. You can obtain coaching from Creased Puddle.

If you would like to receive more posts like this, follow me on LinkedIn.

If you’re struggling with addiction and your mental health, here are some helpful support agencies: