Adderall® Addiction: Effects, Risks, Symptoms, and Treatment Resources
- Adderall® is a pharmaceutical used to treat the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy
- As an amphetamine, Adderall® is also abused and has the potential to become highly addictive
- Adderall® is abused when it is taken improperly, without a prescription or with a prescription but not as prescribed by a physician
- Short term effects of Adderall® include euphoria, increased energy, and mood increase, but also include a racing heart, increased blood pressure and mood swings
- Long term use of Adderall® causes damage to the body’s organs, and may result in panic disorders, schizophrenia-like mental illness, and cardiac arrest
- Adderall® is easy to overdose on and can result in a severe medical emergency and even death
- Recovery from Adderall® abuse is possible, and involves detoxification, therapeutic treatment, and lasting lifestyle changes
What is Adderall®?
Adderall® is a pharmaceutical used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Containing both amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, Adderall® works as a stimulant on the central nervous system (CNS). It also has a high abuse potential, especially for students, athletes, and those with substance use disorder.
Adderall® Quick Reference
|Drug Category||Commercial & Street Names||DEA Schedule||Administration|
|Stimulant||Addies, Bennies, Black Beauties, Crosses, Hearts, LA Turnaround, Speed, Truck Drivers, Uppers||Schedule II||
How Does Adderall® Work?
Adderall® impacts two key neurotransmitters, or chemicals, in our brains — norepinephrine and dopamine. By blocking their absorption, Adderall® is designed to cause a higher level of these neurotransmitters to remain in the brain, providing relief from the symptoms of narcolepsy and ADHD.
But in individuals without an appropriate diagnosis, Adderall® has a different, and more dangerous effect. By increasing the levels of dopamine in the brain, Adderall® stimulates the reward centers of the brain and provides deep feelings of euphoria and hyperexcitability. This is the mechanism behind an Adderall® addiction.
Is Adderall® a Controlled Substance?
Adderall® is categorized by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as a Schedule II controlled substance. This means that Adderall® has a high risk of addiction and potential for abuse.
Who is at Risk of Adderall® Addiction?
Adderall® addiction affects people from every demographic and lifestyle group. However, Adderall® misuse is often seen in students, athletes, people with eating disorders or trying to lose weight, professionals in stressful positions, and people struggling with concurrent substance use disorders.
A 2017 study from the University of Nebraska observed that college students saw Adderall® as a ‘study drug’ which could help them boost their GPA. It also observed that 34% of students who used Adderall® illicitly did so during periods of acute stress, for example during midterms and finals. . These students believed that Adderall® was “less addictive than street drugs” and would otherwise not use illegal substances.
This speaks to one of the larger issues surrounding Adderall® addiction. Because it’s a common pharmaceutical, US adults and youth see its illegal use as safer, not as harmful, and without long-term consequences. This is a false narrative, because as an amphetamine used without proper medical supervision, Adderall® is just as addictive and dangerous as any other illegal drug sold through the black market.
Can People Taking Adderall® to Treat ADHD Become Addicted?
People taking Adderall® with an appropriate ADHD or narcolepsy diagnosis can still become addicted to the drug. This risk increases as the body adjusts to Adderall® and higher doses are required to maintain the same benefits. It may also involve taking the drug in a different way or at different doses than prescribed.
Understanding the Effects of Adderall®
Adderall®’s effect as a Central Nervous System (CNS) stimulant is due to its impact on the norepinephrine and dopamine neurotransmitters. Together, an increase in these two brain chemicals results in an increase in pleasure, happiness, alertness, and blood pressure.
Short Term Positive Side Effects of Adderall®
People taking Adderall® without a proper diagnosis report a multitude of pleasurable sensations immediately after taking this pharmaceutical drug. These include:
- A euphoric ‘rush’
- A feeling of ‘breathing easier’
- Improved mood
- Alertness and increased energy
- Deeper focus
- An increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar
- Decreased appetite
Short Term Negative Side Effects of Adderall®
As with any drug, people taking Adderall® may find some side effects of this stimulant unpleasant and difficult to manage. These are called adverse side effects and are more likely when Adderall® is taken without a medical prescription. These side effects may include:
- Nausea, constipation, and diarrhea
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Insomnia and difficulty staying asleep
- Feeling ‘spacey’
- Mood swings
- Weight fluctuations
- Dry mouth
- Excessive fatigue
Long Term Side Effects of Adderall®
Adderall® is an amphetamine, and shares some of the same long-term risks as using other Central Nervous System stimulants like meth or crack cocaine. Unfortunately, some of these negative effects may take the form of:
- Cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart)
- Arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythm)
- Sexual and reproductive dysfunction
- Hair loss, often falling out in clumps
- Hallucinations, psychosis, and other Schizophrenia-like symptoms that require lifetime treatment
- Panic attacks, social anxiety, and other anxiety disorders requiring long-term treatment
- Brain damage
- Kidney damage
- Skin disorders
- Slowed speech and an inability to form sentences
- Sudden cardiac arrest (heart attack)
Can You Overdose on Adderall®?
Adderall® overdose is possible, even at a very low dose, and can result in a serious medical emergency or even death. The risk of acute Adderall® overdose increases when the drug is acquired illegally, as it’s more likely to mix with opioids like fentanyl and other contaminants. Symptoms of an Adderall® overdose range from mild to severe.
Symptoms of a Mild Adderall® Overdose
- Rapid breathing
- Stomach pain
Symptoms of a Serious Adderall® Overdose
It’s critical to seek medical attention for both mild and severe Adderall® overdose symptoms. If you or someone in your care is overdosing on Adderall®, call 9-1-1 or head to your closest Emergency Room. The following are signs of a serious Adderall® overdose:
- Rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscles)
- Tremors and convulsions
- Heart palpitations
- Cardiac arrest
- Extreme panic
Adderall® abuse occurs when a person takes this drug improperly. This might mean they’re using Adderall® without having an ADHD or narcolepsy diagnosis, without this pharmaceutical being prescribed by their doctor, or having a prescription but taking it in a different way or dosage than prescribed.
Adderall® Use and Abuse Statistics
Adderall misuse is most prevelant among 18- to 25-year-olds and 60% of non-medical uses of Adderall®. It is also believed that a documented rise in ER visits related to the prescription stimulant without a corresponding increase in prescriptions being administered is a result of Adderall® taking medication intended for someone else.
Prescription stimulant use varies widely, state by state. New Jersey stimulant prescriptions account for 5-7% of the population whereas Tennessee ranges from 10-12%. The highest states (South Dakota and Louisiana, among others) registered between 12-22%.
In Tennessee, the Regional Overdose Prevention Specialists (ROPS) program serves to offer harm reduction services related to substance use. Since 2017 and through March of 2023, they distributed over 450,000 units of life-saving overdose prevention resources to combat the impact of substance misuse.
How is Adderall® Addiction Diagnosed?
Adderall® addiction refers to the continued use of this stimulant despite significant distress and problems across multiple areas of daily life. Adderall® addiction is diagnosed based on the criteria for Stimulant Use Disorder as presented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).
To meet the criteria for Stimulant Use Disorder, an individual must meet at least two of the following symptoms within a one-year period:
- Use of the drug in larger doses or for a longer period than had been intended.
- A persistent desire to use or repeated unsuccessful attempts to decrease or cease use.
- Spending an inordinate amount of time attempting to procure the drug, use it, or get over its effects.
- Cravings, urges, or a desire to use.
- Recurrent use resulting in failure to fulfill obligations at school, home, or work.
- Continued use despite negative effects on social life and interpersonal relationships.
- Reduced recreational, work, or social activities reduced or abandoned.
- Repeated use in environments or situations where it could cause physical harm.
- Ongoing use even with the knowledge of physical and/or psychological problems. are likely to have either been caused or worsened by use.
- Tolerance, as defined as a need for markedly increased amounts of a substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect or a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance. (Reader’s Note: This criterion isn’t valid if Adderall® is prescribed by a physician.)
Recovery from Adderall® Addiction
Overcoming an addiction to Adderall® involves three components — withdrawal management, treatment, and long term lifestyle maintenance. The good news is that recovery is possible. The first step is to speak with your family doctor and an addiction recovery specialist.
Managing Adderall® Withdrawal
When an individual uses Adderall® for a long period of time, their brain chemistry is altered and changed, and without the drug, that individual will struggle to produce the dopamine and norepinephrine necessary for daily functioning. This results in a variety of withdrawal symptoms that may require medical management.
Some people describe Adderall® withdrawal as the opposite of being on this stimulant. Commonly reported withdrawal symptoms include:
- Insomnia and sleep disturbances
- Increased appetite and binge eating
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Difficulty concentrating
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Suicidal thoughts
- Mental fogginess
- Drug cravings
Withdrawal symptoms typically occur within 6 hours of their last dose of Adderall® and may last from 5 days to 3 weeks. The duration and severity of withdrawal are dependent on the dosage the individual was taking, the amount of time they were abusing the drug, and other concurrent medical and psychological factors.
In order to lessen the severity of symptoms, your doctor or addiction specialist may taper down the dosage of your Adderall® gradually and may prescribe other medications to help manage withdrawal throughout the process.
Therapies Used in Adderall® Addiction Treatment
The second stage of recovery from Adderall® addiction and abuse takes the form of psychological and therapeutic interventions to help address the underlying causes behind the use of this stimulant. This may include one-on-one talk therapy, behavioral therapies, and support groups.
Talk therapy will involve a registered psychotherapist who specializes in addiction. You can expect a judgment-free zone designed to help you understand and address the reasons behind Adderall® addiction, as well as take ownership for your recovery.
Behavioral therapies are designed to equip you with a toolbox of skills and insights that will reinforce your ability to overcome Adderall® addiction. These may include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and other models.
Support groups allow you to connect with others going through Adderall® and other addictions, in order to share your experience, learn from one another, and build the foundation of supportive relationships with others in recovery.
Long-Term Lifestyle Maintenance for Adderall® Addiction
The last stage of recovery from Stimulant Use Disorder associated with Adderall® addiction includes creating a lifestyle designed to optimize physical and mental health, interpersonal and community connections, and lasting sobriety.
This may include continued attendance at peer-led support groups, relationship counseling, vocational guidance and training, new recreational activities, and a solid social network.  Counseling may continue for months or years, depending on what works best for the individual in recovery.
It’s important to note that the journey will look different for each individual recovering from Adderall® addiction. What matters most is a solid support team consisting of your doctor, addiction specialists, psychological professionals, and a core community of family and friends.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are currently no medications approved by the FDA to treat Stimulant Use Disorders, including Adderall® addiction.
Adderall® and other stimulants tend to reduce hunger, and may help your body burn calories faster than usual. However, this is not a recommended way to lose weight, as typically the weight returns as soon as the medication is stopped. Exercise, diet management, and lifestyle changes are the only proven way to lose weight and keep it off.
Whether or not Adderall® is safe to take during pregnancy depends on how this pharmaceutical is used. When Adderall® is prescribed by a doctor and taken according to their recommended dose, it is safe to continue to take Adderall® while pregnant. However, if Adderall® is purchased illegally, or taken in larger doses than recommended, it can be harmful to developing fetuses.
Are you or a loved one struggling with Adderall® addiction?
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Regional Overdose Prevention Specialists. Tennessee State Government – TN.gov. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.tn.gov/behavioral-health/substance-abuse-services/prevention/rops.html on May 29, 2023
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