Adderall is a prescription stimulant medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy1—a neurological disorder marked by excessive daytime sleepiness and uncontrollable episodes of deep sleep.2 Adderall has a high potential for abuse, and misuse of this medication can be fatal.
In 2018, over 4.6 million people abused prescription amphetamine products—which includes Adderall—in the past year. Young adults—those who fall in the 18 to 25 age group—make up the majority of users (56%) who take prescription amphetamine products for non-medical reasons.
In this article, you’ll learn about how Adderall works, how it is misused, its side effects and associated dangers, and what treatment for Adderall addiction may include.
What Is Adderall?
Adderall is considered a Schedule II drug by the federal government.3 It’s a combination dextroamphetamine/amphetamine product that increases dopamine and norepinephrine (both neurotransmitters) in the brain, resulting in increased energy and sharper focus.1
For those with ADHD, it treats symptoms of disorganization and focus difficulties that make accomplishing schoolwork and other responsibilities problematic.4
Although Adderall is helpful for those suffering from ADHD and narcolepsy, it is also commonly misused, with one study identifying over half (53%) of adults who recently misused the drug doing so in an effort to stay alert or help them to concentrate. The next most popular reason (21.9%) for abuse of Adderall was to help individuals to study.4
Interestingly, a recent study published in the journal Pharmacy suggests the drug actually has little impact on neurocognitive performance in college students who do not have ADHD.5
People also abuse the drug by taking large doses or crushing the pills to snort or inject them for a euphoric high. Frequent use or using the drug for an extended period of time can result in an individual developing a tolerance to Adderall, causing them to use a higher dose of the drug or use it more frequently to feel the same effect. This can to dependency and to a person developing a stimulant use disorder. 1
Adderall can also lead to some fairly serious health issues, especially if they’re abused on a long-term basis.1
Side Effects of Adderall Use
Adderall use, even when prescribed by a medical professional and taken correctly, can lead to the user experiencing side effects. Common side effects of Adderall include:6
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Decreased appetite.
- Dry mouth.
- Weight loss.
- Grinding teeth.
While any side effects can be uncomfortable, many of the side effects of Adderall use can be dangerous, especially its effects on the cardiovascular system. Sudden death from heart attack or stroke has been reported in adults who take stimulant drugs at usual doses and the risk is higher for those with existing heart problems.7 Other serious side effects of Adderall may include: 6
- Difficulty speaking, or sluggish speech.
- Motor or verbal tics.
- Blurry vision or shifts in eyesight.
- Unpleasant or abnormal sensations—including pain, numbness, burning, or tingling—in the hands or feet.
- Rash, hives, and/or itching.
- Swelling of eyes, face, tongue, or throat.
- Trouble breathing or swallowing.
- Episodes of depression and/or mania.
Long-term Effects of Adderall Use
The effects of long-term use of Adderall, even at therapeutic doses, haven’t been studied7; however, a person is more likely to develop an increased tolerance to the drug with repeated use. This means an individual will need to take larger or more frequent doses of Adderall to feel its effects, which will heighten the cumulative risk of experiencing a serious adverse side effect, which includes sudden death.
Excessive doses of stimulant drugs like Adderall can cause a number of potentially harmful or alarming symptoms, including:6
- Pupil dilation.
- Extreme restlessness and tremor.
- Agitation and aggressive or combative behavior.
- Rapid breathing.
- Uncontrollable overactive or overresponsive reflexes.
- Panic and severe anxiety.
- Muscle weakness and movement disorders.
An overdose of Adderall is considered a medical emergency, and immediate medical care is required.6
Not everyone who abuses a drug will become addicted, but those who do put themselves at significant risk of overdose and serious, perhaps permanent health issues.
In order for Adderall abuse to be diagnosed as a stimulant use disorder, the user must demonstrate at least two of the following symptoms within a 12-month period. The user:8
- Takes bigger amounts of Adderall over a longer period of time than originally intended.
- Has a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down using Adderall.
- Spends a lot of time trying to get, use, or recovery from using Adderall.
- Craves Adderall.
- Constantly uses, resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
- Continues to use despite having reoccurring interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of Adderall.
- Gives up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of Adderall use.
- Uses Adderall in situations where it’s physically hazardous.
- Continues using Adderall despite knowing of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by use.
- Develops a tolerance to Adderall, which includes need more of the stimulant to achieve the desired effect or experiencing a lessened effect with continued use of the same amount.
- Withdraws from Adderall, which could include fatigue, vivid unpleasant dreams, insomnia, increased appetite, or psychomotor retardation or agitation.
Treatment for Adderall Addiction
Any kind of addiction is considered a chronic disease that’s defined by a compulsive desire to get a drug like Adderall and use it in spite of consequences that could be physically or socially harmful.9 Because of this, recovering from a stimulant use disorder is difficult and is likely to require help from a health professional.
Fortunately, there are several treatment options for those willing to seek them out.
For many, the first stop when treating their stimulant use disorder is detox. Treatment centers often provide options for medically assisted detox in which you can stay in a hospital setting for the duration of the withdrawal period.
There are several different options you can choose for the next stage of your recovery. Many treatment centers offer inpatient and outpatient options—providing a range of long-term choices depending on your particular situation.
Inpatient treatment, also known as residential treatment, includes safe housing, medical attention, and 24-hour structured care, as well as a range of therapies. Outpatient treatment is a little harder to define, as it encompasses most of the programs that can be offered by a treatment facility.9
Oxford Treatment Center offers both inpatient and outpatient treatment and our continuum of care also covers detox. Our approach to treatment is tailored to each person who chooses our services, so you can feel comfortable knowing you’re choosing a quality experience for your recovery.
Both inpatient and outpatient treatment options should include a range of behavioral therapies.9 The therapies helpful for stimulant use disorder are detailed below.
Therapies for Stimulant Use Disorder
Therapy for stimulant use disorder is conducted by a trained therapist and can be done either in an individual or group setting.9 Two approaches to behavioral therapy are recommended for stimulant use disorder:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you identify the problematic behaviors that led you to misuse Adderall. From there, therapists teach new ways to correct those behaviors in a number of settings. An important tenant to CBT is learning to anticipate parts of your life that could cause your recovery a problem, and learn how to cope in those instances.10
- Contingency management (CM) includes providing tangible rewards—like vouchers for things or events that promote a drug-free lifestyle or small cash prizes—for behaviors that encourage abstinence from Adderall.11
Continuing Recovery After Treatment
Once you complete rehabilitation for your stimulant use disorder, you can continue your recovery with aftercare. This can include support groups, ongoing therapy, and other activities which help you maintain sobriety and avoid a relapse.9
Recovery may not be easy, but it’s possible when you choose to put in the work.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Prescription Stimulants.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institute of Health. Narcolepsy.
- S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Diversion Control Division. Controlled Substance Schedules.
- Lakhan, S.E. & Kirchgessner, A. (2012). Prescription stimulants in individuals with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: misuse, cognitive impact, and adverse effects. Brain and Behavior, 2(5), 661-677.
- Weyandt, L.L., White, T.L., Gudmundsdottir, B.G.,Nitenson, A.Z., Rathkey, E.S., De Leon, K.A., & Bjorn, S.A. (2018). Neurocognitive, autonomic, and mood effects of Adderall: a pilot study of healthy college students. Pharmacy 6(3), 58.
- MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019). Dextroamphetamine and Amphetamine.
- DSM Pharmaceuticals Inc. (2007). Adderall (CII).
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fifth edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Treatment approaches for drug addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Cognitive-behavioral therapy (alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, nicotine).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Contingency management interventions/motivational incentives (alcohol, stimulants, opioids, marijuana, nicotine).