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Adderall Addiction & Abuse

Adderall is a prescription medication used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. The drug is structurally similar to illicit amphetamines (like methamphetamine) and is highly addictive. 

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Adderall abuse is characterized by periods of frenetic energy followed by a deep crash. Someone with an addiction may cycle through these stages multiple times every month, and they may feel unable to quit the drug without help. Treatment teams can make all the difference, helping you to stop using drugs and build a better life. 

Almost 7% of American adults use prescription stimulants like Adderall. About 2% misused these drugs.[1] Up to 20% of college students abuse prescription stimulants like Adderall.[2]

What Is Adderall?

Adderall is a prescription stimulant drug. For people with conditions like ADHD, the medication is helpful. They can remain calm and focused while using Adderall. 

But people without ADHD can get high with Adderall. They can develop addictions in time. 

Key Facts About Adderall

Key Facts

  • About 20% of college students abuse prescription drugs. Most get Adderall from peers with valid prescriptions for the drug.[2]
  • Adderall prescription rates are rising. In 2016, 3.6% of people had a stimulant prescription. In 2021, 4.1% of people did.[3]
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that amphetamines like Adderall have a high potential for abuse and should be dispensed sparingly.[4]
  • People with cardiac conditions should not take Adderall. The drug has been linked to sudden death in these situations.[4]

Adderall Addiction

Adderall is a prescription medication, and it’s safe for people to use with a doctor’s help. But the drug can also cause addiction, especially in people who abuse the substance for long periods. 

Scientific Reasons

Amphetamines like Adderall change how your body produces and recycles the chemical dopamine.[5] This substance is associated with addictions to many types of drugs, including opioids like heroin.

When exposed to something rewarding and pleasant (like a bite of chocolate), your body naturally releases dopamine. The flushed, happy feeling that sets in after your bite is caused by dopamine.

Addictive drugs cause your body to do either of the following:[6]

  • Overproduce dopamine: A hit of drugs causes cells to spike production, flooding your cells with dopamine.
  • Under-recycle dopamine: Drugs limit your body’s ability to clear dopamine from your cells, allowing it to build up.

In time, your body responds by producing less dopamine. Without it, you feel sad and jittery, and those feelings entice you to return to drugs. 

Psychological Reasons 

Addiction is a medical condition caused by changes in brain chemistry. People who are addicted to Adderall aren’t weak-willed or lazy. They have a legitimate medical condition. But as their addiction deepens, they develop a psychological attachment to the drug. 

Someone may feel they’re not smart without Adderall. They may crave the drug when faced with a difficult or complex task requiring stamina. They may feel like a better student or employee while on drugs. 

“The prevalence of prescription drug misuse is highest among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25; over 11% report the misuse of prescription drugs in the past year.”

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration[7]

Symptoms of Adderall Addiction 

Prescription stimulants are powerful, and they can make people seem sped-up and enthusiastic. 

While the person is high on Adderall, they might do the following:[4]

  • Talk too much or too quickly
  • Jump from one task to another
  • Seem joyful and happy
  • Become aggressive or impulsive 
  • Remain energetic without the need for sleep

An Adderall high is a manic state. Someone using this drug can stay awake for days, as long as they keep taking the medication regularly. Some people go on amphetamine binges and take huge amounts of the drug all at once to keep the high going.

When the Adderall runs out, or the person stops taking it, a crash sets in. The person may seem desperately exhausted and may sleep for days at a time. The person may seem depressed and sad. Suicidal thoughts may also appear at this stage.

Why People Use Adderall Without a Prescription 

College students abuse drugs like Adderall to stay awake for long periods.[2] Adults in high-pressure jobs might use Adderall for the same reason. 

People who take Adderall without a prescription feel smarter, more alert, and more focused. If you’re faced with a difficult deadline or a complicated work project, taking Adderall could boost your confidence and make your work easier. 

Researchers say there’s no evidence that Adderall makes people smarter. It may make you feel more intelligent, but it doesn’t impact your brain function or intelligence.[14]

Who Typically Abuses Adderall?

High School Students 

In the 2022 Monitoring the Future Survey, 2.3% of 8th-grade students, 2.9% of 10th-grade students, and 3.4% of 12th-grade students reported misusing Adderall within the last year.[8] 

Young students are under pressure to get good grades and enroll in a prestigious college. Some use drugs to cope.

College Students

Adderall abuse among college students is widespread. An estimated 20% of college students abuse stimulants like Adderall.[2] 

A heavy course load can lead to tight deadlines and late-night test-cramming sessions. Some people lean on drugs to make these actions possible. If they started using drugs in high school, they may keep using these drugs in college. 

Collegiate & Professional Athletes

Stimulant medications like Adderall are listed on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List.[9] Athletes caught using Adderall without a prescription can be stripped of their awards or prevented from competition. Rules like this can keep athletes from abusing drugs. 

But Adderall can result in increased energy and attentiveness. Some athletes look for ways to keep using the drug to boost their performance. They may shop for doctors to get the drugs they want. 

Professionals in High-Stress Work Environments 

Job performance can mean a big difference in salary and overall quality of life. Lawyers, salespeople, dentists, and real estate agents might use Adderall to help them find more clients, complete more projects, and work longer hours. 

Understanding how many professionals fall into this category is difficult. Some adults get valid prescriptions to cover up their drug abuse. 

Adderall Warnings 

The FDA warns that amphetamines like Adderall have a high potential for abuse. Doctors are encouraged to use the drugs for short periods only. And they’re warned that prescriptions should be dispensed sparingly.[4]

A doctor should try other methods to assist your ADHD before turning to Adderall. And if you’re given a prescription, your doctor will monitor your progress carefully and switch to a different therapy if needed. 

If you take Adderall you’re given by friends and family members, you lose all of these critical protections. It’s not safe. 

People who should never use Adderall, even with a prescription, include those with the following conditions:[4]

  • Clogged blood vessels
  • Heart disease 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Hyperthyroidism 
  • Glaucoma 
  • Bipolar illness
  • Seizure disorders 

Avoid taking Adderall while pregnant, as the drug can pass to your unborn child. If you have a bad reaction to the drug, even once, don’t take it again.[4] 

Avoid Mixing Adderall With Other Substances

Adderall is a powerful stimulant. Combine it with other drugs, and it can cause even more problems. 

Common substances to avoid while taking Adderall include the following:[4]

  • Alcohol: People dependent on alcohol can transfer their addictive habits to Adderall instead. 
  • Prescription medications: Other stimulants and some types of antidepressants (MAOIs) are especially dangerous.
  • Weed: Mixing alcohol and weed can lead to uncomfortable mental health symptoms. 
  • Caffeine: Caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea, and soda can increase the stimulant effects of Adderall.

Adderall Side Effects

High blood pressurePsychosis Impaired speech
Higher risk of cardiac diseaseInsomniaIrritability 
Decreased appetiteParanoiaLack of motivation 
Weight lossDepressionAddiction and dependence on stimulants
Dry mouthSuicidal thoughts

Source: [4, 13]

In some cases, Adderall use can cause serious side effects, such as heart attacks or strokes. If you are experiencing chest pain, respiratory problems, or extreme lightheadedness, call 911 immediately.

How Long Do Adderall Side Effects Last?

People with ADHD using Adderall under a doctor’s guidance move past side effects in a few days. If they’re uncomfortable, they can visit their doctors for a different dose.[10] People abusing the drug may have a different experience. 

With continued abuse, your body becomes accustomed to Adderall. You can experience withdrawal-like side effects between your doses. If you don’t respond by taking more Adderall, they can last three weeks or longer.[11]

Adderall stays in your system (and is detectable in a urine drug test) for just four days. But the problems caused by Adderall can last much longer. 

Adderall Withdrawal 

Continued use can lead to Adderall dependence. Your body relies on your prescription, and without it, core systems malfunction. The longer your abuse lasts and the more drugs you take, the worse your symptoms. 

Adderall withdrawal symptoms can include the following:[4]

  • Anorexia
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss
  • Mood swings
  • Depression

Quitting Adderall cold turkey is associated with stronger symptoms. Your Adderall detox plan might involve tapering your dose to allow your brain to adjust to sobriety slowly and safely.

Withdrawal problems are extremely common, as experts say almost 88% of people dependent on amphetamines will develop them.[11]

Is There Medication to Treat Adderall Withdrawal?

The FDA hasn’t approved an Adderall withdrawal medication. The best way to get sober is to work with your doctor on a tapering dose of the drug. The following self-care tips may help too:

  • Stay hydrated to help your organs flush out toxins.
  • Eat a healthy, bland diet to provide your tissues with nutrition.
  • Rest when you can.
  • Use yoga or meditation to ease anxious thoughts.
  • Surround yourself with people who support you.

Adderall Overdose 

Take too much Adderall, and you can experience an overdose. If you think you’ve taken too much and are experiencing an overdose on Adderall, call 911 and ask the operator what to do next.

Common signs of Adderall overdose include the following:[4]

  • Heart attack: Adderall and other amphetamines work directly on your body’s cardiovascular system. Your heart beats faster, your blood pressure rises, and you feel more energetic and alert. Take too much Adderall, and your body and heart will work too hard.
  • Stroke: A fast-beating heart can also lead to blood vessel tears, and your blood can clot. A clot inside your blood vessels can move up to your brain, triggering a stroke. An episode like this can also be life-threatening.
  • Seizure: Adderall can also cause your body temperature to rise. Some people develop seizures due to high temperatures and associated organ failure. Each seizure can further raise your body temperature, making another seizure more likely.

Dangers of Snorting Adderall 

Some people crush oral Adderall pills and snort the powder.[13] Doing so puts active ingredients in contact with blood-rich tissues inside the nose and sinus. The high is both immediate and powerful. It’s also very dangerous.

Adderall pills are made to move through the acidic digestive tract. Coatings that dissolve safely there can clump and irritate delicate lung tissues, leading to chronic cough. People who snort drugs can also develop chronic nosebleeds and nasal passage deterioration due to the habit. 

If you’re snorting Adderall, you’re showing signs of a stimulant use disorder and should talk with your doctor. 

When to Contact a Doctor 

Your doctor should guide your Adderall use. If you have questions or concerns about the drug, your doctor should answer them.

If you have a valid prescription for Adderall and are using bigger doses, too close together, or combined with other substances, talk to your doctor.

If you don’t have a prescription and are abusing Adderall, talk to your doctor. You’ll need a plan for quitting your use. 

Treatment Options for Adderall Addiction 

No prescription medication or shot can remove your Adderall addiction. Any addiction is a chronic disease. There is no cure, but it can be managed. 

Your body needs time to heal, and you must support it during this process. Treatment programs can help.

Counseling is the cornerstone of Adderall addiction treatment. Treatment professionals help you understand why you started misusing medications, and they help you identify the triggers that spark your cravings. With triggers identified, you can build up resistance and skills. 

At the end of a treatment program, you’ll have a deep understanding of your addiction. And you’ll have a robust toolkit you can use when you’re tempted to reach for Adderall. 

A program like this takes time to complete, and many people benefit from staying in support groups for years. But this treatment could make all the difference in helping you to live a healthy life.

If you’re struggling with Adderall, talk to your doctor about treatment programs. Work together to find one that works for you and your addiction.

Adderall Addiction & Abuse FAQs

We’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about Adderall addiction and abuse. 

Is it safe to take Adderall while pregnant?

If you’re pregnant and using Adderall, talk to your doctor. The FDA hasn’t proven that Adderall is safe to take during pregnancy.[4]

What is Adderall used for?

Adderall is a prescription medication used to treat ADHD in adults and children.[4]

Why do people take Adderall?

People without ADHD take Adderall because they feel smarter and more energetic when high. There’s no proof that Adderall makes anyone more intelligent or more productive, however.[14]

Why is Adderall so popular among students?

Adderall’s stimulant effects make all-night study sessions easier. Students also tend to feel smarter while using Adderall, even if the data doesn’t bear this out.[14]

What are the side effects of Adderall?

Common side effects include irritability, nervousness, insomnia, and anxiety.[4]

Is Adderall addictive?

Yes. Adderall is a stimulant medication with a high abuse potential.[13]

Can you overdose on Adderall?

Yes. You can take too much Adderall and overdose.[13] 

Updated September 19, 2023
  1. Compton WM, Han B, Blanco C, Johnson K, Jones CM. Prevalence and correlates of prescription stimulant use, misuse, use disorders, and motivations for misuse among adults in the United States. Am J Psychiatry. 2018;175(8):741-755. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17091048
  2. Kennedy S. Raising awareness about prescription and stimulant abuse in college students through on-campus community involvement projects.
  3. Danielson ML, Bohm MK, Newsome K, et al. Trends in stimulant prescription fills among commercially insured children and adults — United States, 2016–2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2023;72:327–332.
  4. Adderall prescribing guide. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published March 2007. Accessed June 30, 2023.
  5. Berman SM, Kuczenski R, McCracken JT, London ED. Potential adverse effects of amphetamine treatment on brain and behavior: a review [published correction appears in Mol Psychiatry. 2010 Nov;15(11):1121]. Mol Psychiatry. 2009;14(2):123-142
  6. Drugs and the brain. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published March 22, 2022. Accessed August 21, 2023.
  7. Prescription stimulant misuse and prevention among youth and young adults. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Published 2021. Accessed June 30, 2023.
  8. What is the scope of prescription drug misuse in the United States? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published February 2023. Accessed June 30, 2023.
  9. What do athletes with ADHD need to know about TUEs? USADA. Published July 2, 2018. Accessed June 30, 2023.
  10. Dodson W. The Adderall effect on ADHD symptoms: ADD medication overview. ADDitude. Published June 20, 2023. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  11. Shoptaw SJ, Kao U, Heinzerling K, Ling W. Treatment for amphetamine withdrawal. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;2009(2):CD003021. Published 2009 Apr 15.
  12. Arria AM, Caldeira KM, Vincent KB, et al. Do college students improve their grades by using prescription stimulants nonmedically?. Addict Behav. 2017;65:245-249.
  13. Prescription stimulants DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published June 2018. Accessed July 20, 2023.
  14. Elizabeth Bowman et al., Not so smart? “Smart” drugs increase the level but decrease the quality of cognitive effort. Sci. Adv. 9,eadd4165(2023).
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