Medically reviewed by:
Dr. Joshua M. Gleason, M.D.
SA Content Team
Adderall (a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine) is a prescription stimulant used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, many individuals abuse this drug in order to experience the euphoria and energy produced when Adderall is taken recreationally, in higher doses than typically prescribed.
Understanding Adderall Abuse
ADHD is one of the most common neuropsychiatric disorders of childhood that persists into adulthood. Amphetamine-stimulants, such as Adderall, are the most widely prescribed ADHD medications. Though Adderall can have a simultaneously calming and focusing effect on individuals who suffer from ADHD, taking larger doses than prescribed or taking it without a prescription can lead to severe side effects, chief among them being addiction.
Adderall abusers experience euphoria and energy while also putting themselves at risk of experiencing a number of physical and psychological issues. An addiction to Adderall can easily become dangerous, much like addictions to illicit stimulants such as cocaine and crystal meth.
Signs and Symptoms of Adderall Abuse
Some individuals start out taking Adderall as prescribed and then realize they feel better while on the drug, causing them to want to take more. Others may take it for the wrong reasons like
- To lose weight
- To stay up all night to write a paper, study, etc.
- To be more sociable and talkative at parties, etc.
- To get high
All of these reasons one may take large doses of Adderall without a prescription are considered forms of substance abuse.
Adderall causes an increase of dopamine and norepinephrine in the central nervous system, which is what leads to feelings of euphoria at higher than normal doses. Other symptoms of Adderall abuse include:
- Increased energy and activity
- Increased talkativeness
- Increased blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate
- Increased respiration
- Decreased appetite
- Decreased need for sleep
- Dry mouth
- Dilated pupils
- Heightened sense of wellbeing
Dangers of Adderall Abuse
A person can experience psychological issues as a result of chronic Adderall abuse. The drug commonly causes irritability, and those who abuse it for long periods of time can experience full-blown psychosis similar to schizophrenia that causes
- Aggressive or violent behavior
- Suicidal or homicidal thoughts
- Severe paranoia
Severe weight loss is common in those who abuse amphetamine-based drugs, and malnutrition and its consequences can also occur. Many individuals also suffer from a weakened immune system. Other dangerous side effects of Adderall abuse include:
- Chronic weakness and tiredness
- Repetitive motor activity
- Skin infections caused by constant itching
Abusing any type of stimulant drug can cause severe side effects, including tolerance to the drug, which leads the user to take higher doses, and a physical dependence, which will result in withdrawal symptoms when the user attempts to quit or cut down. Withdrawal from Adderall can happen in a few hours, with symptoms reaching their highest point in one to two days.
During the acute withdrawal phase, known as “the crash,” signs and symptoms include:
- Dysphoria- low energy and mood
- Anhedonia-an inability to feel pleasure
- Increased sleep or insomnia
- Vivid dreams
- Drug cravings
- Increased appetite
- Suicidal ideation.
Signs of an Adderall Overdose
Adderall is a combination of two different prescription amphetamines; amphetamines are stimulant drugs that can lead to death when abused in high enough amounts or combined with other drugs, including alcohol. Adderall overdose symptoms can include agitation, anxiety, aggression, hyperactivity, confusion, hallucinations, rapid breathing and heart rate, seizures and dangerously high blood pressure and body temperature. Vomiting and diarrhea are common. When Adderall is combined with other drugs, these signs can change.
The best thing that you can do if you suspect an Adderall overdose is to call 911 for emergency medical assistance. There is no antidote for these drugs. Try to keep the patient from hurting themselves but do not try to restrain them. Follow the 911 operator’s instructions for rescue breathing and/or CPR if necessary.
Adderall addicts often crush the drug and snort it in order to make its effects come on more quickly. This behavior is similar to cocaine abuse, and some individuals do turn to this more intense, illicit stimulant when their tolerance for Adderall become too high. Amphetamine abuse in the long term often leads to addiction, whether the individual was originally taking the drug as prescribed or not.
Am I an Adderall Addict?
If you have been abusing Adderall, you should ask yourself if the following questions.
- Do I use more of my medication than prescribed, take it in a different way than prescribed, or use it more often than prescribed?
- Am I using someone else’s prescription?
- Am I taking Adderall so I can experience effects other than what the drug is prescribed for, such as weight loss or being more fun at parties?
- Do I experience cravings for Adderall when I’m not on it?
- Do I make excuses for myself to take the drug or more of the drug?
- Have I experienced physical or psychological side effects of my substance abuse?
- Do I hide my substance abuse from my family and loved ones?
- Have I lost my job, a relationship, my academic standing, or another important aspect of my life to my substance abuse?
- Have I ever encountered legal or financial problems because of my Adderall abuse?
- Do I suffer withdrawal symptoms when I try to quit or cut down?
- Do I feel that I would be unable to stop using Adderall on my own?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is time to seek professional help. Prescription stimulant abuse is just as dangerous as illicit substance abuse and can lead to all of the same issues, which is why you should not hesitate to find a treatment program.
Adderall Addiction Treatment
There aren’t any pharmacological options for the treatment of prescription stimulant addiction at this time, although a patient may be given medications to treat individual symptoms during detox. Nitropruside may be given for hypertensive emergency and hyperthermia is managed with evaporative cooling or cooling blankets. The withdrawal syndrome associated with Adderall is mostly psychological in nature and can be very uncomfortable, so antidepressants, antipsychotics, and benzodiazepines to manage agitation may be necessary.
Behavioral therapy is usually the crux of the prescription stimulant addiction treatment program. These approaches can help patients learn how to:
- Recognize and avoid triggers
- Cope with stress and cravings
- Change negative beliefs and attitudes
- Integrate better skills and philosophies into their lives to minimize their chances of relapse
Support groups can also be a helpful part of recovery, and many different programs exist for substance abusers like 12-step groups or SMART Recovery. One of the benefits of these programs is that the individual can continue to attend meetings for years after completing a treatment program, to support their recovery for the long term.
Co-occurring disorders, like depression, anxiety disorders, etc., need to be treated along with addiction, and these are usually addressed in individual and group counseling sessions. It is very common for someone to suffer from one or more mental health disorders in addition to addiction, and these must be treated for a successful recovery.
With professional treatment, you can put an end to your Adderall abuse and start living your life free from addiction.