Medically Reviewed

Adderall Misuse: How to Quit

5 min read · 7 sections

Adderall is a prescription amphetamine primarily used for the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While prescription amphetamines have been around since the 1930s, the current illicit production of drugs such as Adderall has led to increased misuse.1

Read on to identify the symptoms of both Adderall addiction and withdrawal from Adderall, and learn more about rehab options.

What is Adderall?

While Adderall is a prescription amphetamine, which is a type of central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that’s often used to treat ADHD, it’s also a Schedule II drug within the Controlled Substances Act with a high potential for misuse and dependence.1,2 In fact, according to data from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 5.1 million Americans aged 12 or older misused prescription stimulants such as Adderall in 2020.3  

How Does Adderall Work?

Researchers believe that Adderall’s effects are primarily due to increasing the activity of norepinephrine and dopamine in the central nervous system.2 Norepinephrine helps treat ADHD-related impairments in response inhibition, vigilance, working memory, and planning.4 Dopamine is responsible for the motivational value of rewards and is essential for goal-directed behaviors often lacking in those affected by ADHD.5

However, the potential for Adderall and other stimulants to enhance cognitive performance, produce euphoria, reduce fatigue, and increase mental focus can lead to misuse.1 For example, students may turn to Adderall for its potential to increase alertness and concentration in an ultimate effort to improve academic performance.6Athletes might turn to it to reduce fatigue.7 Others simply take Adderall for its intoxicating effects or to counteract effects of other drugs.6

Whatever the person’s motivation, studies suggest the risks of stimulant misuse outweigh any short-term benefits or boosts in performance. For example, students who use stimulants as an academic aid have high rates of other substance use, don’t perform as well as their counterparts who do not use prescription stimulants.6 And while Adderall might improve attention performance, it results in impairment in cognitive functioning (working memory).8

Additionally, athletes who use Adderall to reduce fatigue risk overheating the muscles, which can be dangerous.9 And, of course, use of amphetamines to induce euphoria is a risk factor for additional misuses, which can lead to addiction.10 Misusing one drug to counteract the effects of another is never safe because the effects of combining drugs are often stronger, more unpredictable, and even deadly.11

Along with the aforementioned effects, Adderall use generates a host of immediate and long-lasting effects. Plus, Adderall and other amphetamines can result in physiological dependence and tolerance, and it can contribute to the development of addiction.2 And while overdose is rare and typically occurs with recreational rather than therapeutic use, an Adderall overdose can generate several adverse effects resulting in severe consequences such as death.1,12

What Causes Adderall Addiction?

Addiction to prescription stimulants can start with misuse, which typically involves:13

  • Taking the drug in a manner or dose that wasn’t prescribed.
  • Using someone else’s medicine.
  • Taking the stimulant only to get high or for its nontherapeutic effects.

Misuse can result in the development of physiological adaptations to the drug that can promote further use, which can lead to: addiction in some people; tolerance, where  increased amounts of the drug are needed to produce the same desired effect; dependence, where a person experiences withdrawal symptoms if they stop the drug or significantly reduce their dose; and stimulant use disorder, a disease characterized by the compulsive use of stimulants such as Adderall despite significant negative consequences.14

Symptoms of Adderall Addiction

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a person has a stimulant use disorder when use leads to significant impairment, as manifested by exhibiting at least two of the following criteria within a 12-month period:14

  • Stimulants are taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
  • Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control stimulant use.
  • Significant time is spent trying to obtain, use, or recover from the stimulant.
  • Craving or strong desire or urge to use the stimulant.
  • Recurrent stimulant use resulting in failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Use continues despite persistent or recurring social or interpersonal problems due to such drug use.
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are abandoned or reduced due to stimulant use.
  • Recurrent stimulant use in physically hazardous situations.
  • Use continues despite persistent or recurrent stimulant-related physical or psychological problems.
  • Tolerance. (This criterion doesn’t count toward diagnosis if Adderall is being used as prescribed.)
  • Withdrawal. (This criterion doesn’t count toward diagnosis if Adderall is being used as prescribed.)

When you or someone you know is struggling with Adderall use, it’s helpful to understand these diagnostic criteria. However, a formal diagnosis can only be made by a healthcare professional.14

Adderall Rehab: How to Quit Stimulants

If you or someone you care about is misusing Adderall or other drugs, treatment is available. Adderall treatment/rehab may help you to reduce or stop misuse of the drug and ultimately achieve a return to normal levels of daily functioning and overall well-being.15

Treatment typically involves an ongoing assessment of the patient’s psychological, physical, and social health and wellbeing along with an analysis of environmental and other factors that may contribute to substance use. It also includes the identification of relapse triggers and prevention strategies to deal with them and to avoid a return to drug use. Treatment may also include assessment and management of mental health disorders that occur alongside addiction.15,16 Common co-occurring disorders include bipolar disorder, depressive disorders, and anxiety disorders.15,16

Learn more about treatment options for you or a loved one.

Adderall Withdrawal

Those with a stimulant use disorder typically experience withdrawal, which often includes temporary yet potentially severe depression along with symptoms such as:14,15

  • Excessive sleeping, insomnia.
  • Fatigue.
  • Anxiety.
  • Irritability.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Decrease in mental and physical activities.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Paranoia.
  • Drug craving.

Patients identified with a potential for severe depression may benefit from increased supervision to monitor for depression severity and suicidal ideation. Although there are no FDA-approved medications indicated for the treatment of stimulant withdrawal, medications may be prescribed to alleviate certain withdrawal symptoms.15

Adderall Addiction Treatment Programs and Aftercare

Adderall addiction treatment can include a host of therapies. However, no single treatment option is right for everyone. Treatment plans are individualized to a patient’s unique needs—e.g., co-occurring conditions such as anxiety and depression. Plus, they promote success in meeting all of the patient’s recovery goals, not just eliminating drug use.17

According to Treatment of Stimulant Use Disorders, a guide compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the following therapies can be helpful in treating stimulant use disorders.18,19

  • Contingency management. A type of behavioral therapy, contingency management reinforces desired behaviors via incentives such as privileges, cash, or prize. For example, attendance at treatment sessions or submitting to urine testing might be incentivized with vouchers for retail goods.
  • Motivational interviewing. This treatment approach is a client-centered type of counseling that helps people overcome ambivalent feelings and insecurities in order to become more motivated to reduce or stop stimulant use.
  • Community reinforcement. Often used alongside contingency management, community reinforcement helps to identify behaviors that reinforce stimulant use and attempts to make a substance-free lifestyle more rewarding. The approach can involve analyzing patients’ substance abuse, relationship counseling, job skills training, and vocational guidance.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. This short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment helps patients understand their problems, challenges, and experiences in an effort to change their thinking and behaviors.

Treatment of stimulant use disorders can occur in a variety of settings that typically fall under one of these two headings.20

  • Outpatient treatment. Usually comprising regularly scheduled group and/or individual counseling, outpatient treatment may be used independently or as an initial or follow-up complement to inpatient treatment.20
  • Inpatient treatment. Inpatient rehab comprises 24/7 care that can include safe housing and medical attention within a hospital or residential setting. Each treatment facility offers a unique mix of therapeutic approaches that help the patient to lead a drug-free lifestyle after treatment.20

Once inpatient or outpatient treatment concludes, aftercare starts. Sometimes called “continuing care,” an aftercare plan may contain various components (e.g., group counseling, individual therapy, brief check-ins, self-help meetings, and more) in an effort to promote long-term recovery.21

An effective treatment program often involves many types of therapies and interventions, each of which addresses a particular aspect of addiction. And since addiction is a chronic disease, like other chronic diseases (e.g., asthma, diabetes, etc.) it may require long-term or repeated treatment episodes to sustain ongoing and long-term recovery.22

How to Find Treatment for Adderall Addiction

If you or a loved one are ready to take the first step toward recovery, there are several ways to find help. For those with health insurance, the process starts with a quick call to discuss your benefits and what services they cover. However, if you don’t have insurance, many treatment centers will work with you to identify grants and scholarships, and they may use an income-based sliding fee scale. American Addiction Centers can connect you with a patient navigator that will help support you through the entire process.

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