Adderall Addiction: Signs, Effects, and Treatment
Adderall is a prescription medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the sleep disorder narcolepsy.1 However, amphetamines such as Adderall are also extensively misused, and this can lead to tolerance, dependence, and stimulant use disorder.1,2
Read on to learn more about Adderall, its effects, and how it works. Also explore common signs of Adderall addiction, overdose, and withdrawal, along with options for Adderall addiction treatment and aftercare.
What is Adderall?
Adderall is a prescription amphetamine, which is a type of central nervous system (CNS) stimulant.3 It’s commonly used in the treatment of ADHD, a mental health condition that includes hyperactive-impulsive and/or inattention symptoms.1 When used as prescribed for ADHD, Adderall can reduce symptoms, resulting in improved focus and attention.4
However, Adderall is classified as a Schedule II stimulant, indicating that it has a serious potential for abuse.3 According to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1.9% of those aged 18 and older (i.e., 4.8 million Americans) used prescription stimulants such as Adderall in the past year.5
Adderall is misused by a variety of people including:
- Students sometimes misuse Adderall as a study aid or in an effort to improve academic performance, as it is perceived as effective in increasing alertness and concentration.6 (Interestingly, research shows that college students who report use of stimulants as an academic aid have high rates of other substance use and perform less well than those who do not use prescription stimulants in this manner.)6,7
- Athletes sometimes use stimulants for their anti-fatigue properties to improve performance, especially in endurance sports such as cycling, although there is little published evidence of their efficacy.8,9 Stimulants of all types, including Adderall and over-the-counter options, are banned or monitored for compliance by the World Anti-Doping Agency and many other sports organizations.10,11
- Others misuse it for feelings of intoxication and experimentation, as well as to counteract adverse effects of other drugs.6
When misused, prescription stimulants such as Adderall are most commonly obtained from family and friends.6 Although Adderall is prescribed in pill and capsule forms, those who misuse the drug may do so by smoking, snorting, or injecting it as well.3
How Does Adderall Work?
Amphetamines, including Adderall, are potent central nervous system stimulants.3 Researchers believe that Adderall’s effects are primarily due to increasing the activity of norepinephrine and dopamine in the central nervous system, by preventing their reuptake and increasing their extracellular release in the space outside of neurons.1
Norepinephrine helps treat ADHD-related impairments in response inhibition, vigilance, working memory, and planning.12 Dopamine is responsible for the motivational value of rewards and is essential for goal-directed behaviors often lacking in those affected by ADHD.13 Ultimately, however, this can also result in feelings of euphoria and hyperexcitability when the drug is misused, especially at higher doses.14
Common effects of Adderall include:1
- Decreased appetite.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Mood swings.
- Weight loss.
- Dry mouth.
- Fast heartbeat.
Signs and symptoms of amphetamine abuse may include:1
- Increased heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and/or sweating.
- Dilated pupils.
- Decreased appetite.
- Loss of coordination.
- Flushed skin.
- Vomiting and/or abdominal pain.
Anxiety, psychosis, hostility, aggression, and suicidal or homicidal ideation have also been observed.1
Counterfeit Adderall Pills May Be Extremely Dangerous
Counterfeit pills typically look like prescription medications such as Adderall, Valium, etc. According to data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, many of these counterfeit pills contain methamphetamine or fentanyl, which are extremely dangerous. In fact, testing showed that 2 out of every 5 counterfeit pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose.15
Is Adderall Addictive?
Yes, use of amphetamines and stimulants such as Adderall can result in tolerance and physiological dependence and can lead to the development of a substance use disorder.1 Misuse of prescription stimulants such as Adderall for any reason (e.g., to improve academic performance, reduce the effects of other drugs, etc.) is associated with substance use disorder and use of other substances.6
It should be noted that research suggests that use of prescription stimulants such as Adderall in appropriately diagnosed patients does not lead to a stimulant use disorder or increase the risk of serious adverse effects and that long-term use results in continued alleviation of symptoms while the medication is being taken.16 Studies also indicate that adolescents receiving stimulant treatment for ADHD do not have an increased or decreased risk of developing a substance use disorder.17
Adderall Addiction Signs
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), stimulant use disorder is characterized as a pattern of stimulant use that causes significant distress or impairment in daily functioning, including at least two of the following symptoms occurring within a one-year period:2
- 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 that physical and/or psychological problems. are likely to have either been caused or worsened by use.
- Tolerance, which is 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. (This criterion doesn’t count toward diagnosis if a stimulant is being used as prescribed a physician.)
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms or taking the substance to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms. (This criterion doesn’t count toward diagnosis if a stimulant is being used as prescribed by a physician.)
Difference Between Adderall Addiction vs. Adderall Dependence
According to a research report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, when you regularly take a drug, it can lead to physiological dependence due to the body’s normal adaptation to it. When someone is dependent on a drug and they stop taking it or reduce the dosage, they’ll often experience withdrawal symptoms.14
Addiction, on the other hand, may include dependence, but it involves compulsive drug-seeking behavior that significantly impairs a person’s normal daily functioning (at work, school, home, etc.).14
Dependence often goes hand in hand with tolerance, which involves the need for higher doses of the drug to generate the same prior effects.14
Overdose deaths from stimulants have been increasing over the past 20 years, especially deaths attributable to stimulants taken with opioids.16 Amphetamine overdose most often occurs with recreational use.18 Individual responses to amphetamines vary widely, and symptoms of toxicity (i.e., overdose) can appear at low doses in some individuals. Misuse of amphetamines such as Adderall can result in overdose, which may lead to coma, severe organ damage, and sudden death.19
Symptoms of amphetamine overdose and toxicity include:1
- Overactive bodily reflexes (i.e., hyperreflexia).
- Rapid respiration.
- Panic states.
- Cardiovascular effects (e.g., arrhythmias, hypertension/hypotension, circulatory collapse).
- Gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g., nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps).
Severe or potentially serious toxicity symptoms are typically cardiovascular in nature, including abnormally high or low blood pressures, rhythm disturbances (arrhythmias), and cardiovascular collapse. Overdose may also lead to rhabdomyolysis, when damaged muscle tissues release proteins and electrolytes into the blood, which can damage the heart and kidneys and can be fatal or cause permanent disability. Sudden death is also possible for those who use amphetamines.1
Most people with stimulant use disorder experience withdrawal symptoms. Acute withdrawal symptoms usually occur after repetitive high-dose uses (aka binges) and typically subside within one week.2
Although stimulant withdrawal doesn’t usually involve intense discomfort or medical danger, intense symptoms of depression that can resemble those of major depressive episodes is known to occur, and while in this depressed state, a person has an increased risk of suicide.2,16,21
Simulant withdrawal symptoms include:21
- Excessive sleeping, insomnia.
- Poor concentration.
- Decrease in mental and physical activities.
- Increased appetite.
- Drug craving.
Adderall Addiction Treatment and Aftercare
Drug addiction is a disease, which can be treated via detox, counseling, behavioral therapy, and more.14 There are no FDA-approved medications for the treatment of stimulant withdrawal or for stimulant use disorder. Given the potential for severe depression, those with a stimulant use disorder may receive medication to treat symptoms of depression in an effort to both relieve symptoms and reduce the risk of suicidal ideation.21
Treatment options vary, and no single treatment option is right for everyone. Plus, effective treatment involves addressing all of the patient’s needs, not just the drug use. For example, co-occurring mental health conditions, e.g., anxiety and depression, are typically treated concurrently as part of drug rehab.22
Inpatient treatment comprises 24/7 care including safe housing and often also involves more intensive medical attention. Outpatient treatment offers the same programming as inpatient treatment but allows a person to live off-site.
Continuing Care (often termed “aftercare) starts after formal treatment ends and can aid in long-term recovery. Aftercare can involve a variety of formats, including group counseling, individual therapy, brief check-ins (both in person or virtual), self-help meetings, and more.23
Offering the ability to treat Adderall addiction, polysubstance addiction, and other co-occurring mental health disorders, American Addiction Centers (AAC) offer accredited treatment facilities across the United States. Contact our Admissions Navigators to learn more about treatment options and facilities near you.