Adderall is a prescription medication that combines amphetamine and dextroamphetamines to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. These two powerful stimulants combine to increase alertness, attention, and concentration by acting on the central nervous system. In addition, it helps to reduce fidgeting and hyperactivity, and to control impulses.
Is Adderall Addictive?
When used appropriately and as prescribed, Adderall is a helpful medication for people who need assistance with maintaining focus and staying awake. The drug should be used as part of a larger, comprehensive treatment program for individuals diagnosed with ADHD. This treatment plan, which is constructed by a doctor, likely includes psychological and social therapy in addition to use of the medication. Adderall by itself is not an effective treatment for ADHD.
Some people develop an addiction to Adderall, often due to abusing it recreationally. In other instances, people use the drug nonmedically to enhance academic or career performance. Because Adderall is a potent stimulant, it is sometimes abused as a weight loss drug as well.
People who abuse Adderall do so because the drug elevates mood, increases energy, decreases appetite, enhances physical performance, and increases concentration. Mothers whose children have Adderall prescriptions, college students, and partygoers are all at a higher risk for abusing Adderall.
An article on PubMed reported that, while Adderall and other stimulant abuse among adolescents remained stable, nonmedical use of amphetamines among adults increased over 67 percent between 2006 and 2011, and emergency room visits went up over 155 percent.
About 30 percent of college students have abused Adderall or another ADHD medication, according to an article in the Columbia Undergraduate Science Journal, and an estimated 81 percent of college students did not believe that prescription stimulants were dangerous.
Another report shows that, between 2002 and 2010, there was a 750 percent increase in Adderall prescriptions among women ages 26-39. This trend suggests that, as the medication became a more popular treatment for ADHD, it became more popular among stressed and overworked parents too.
Symptoms of Adderall addiction include:
- Increasing one’s dose without consulting a doctor
- Ingesting the medication other than as prescribed (for example, snorting crushed pills)
- Feeling anxiety when medication is running low
- Intense cravings for the drug
- Needing the drug to feel normal
- Doctor-shopping to get multiple prescriptions
- Spending an excessive amount of money on the drug
- Suffering physical withdrawal symptoms, such as exhaustion or depression, when without the drug
- Physical side effects, like weight loss, insomnia, chest pain, or restlessness
- Psychological side effects, like anxiety, paranoia, or psychosis
When a person takes Adderall unnecessarily, or outside the bounds of their prescription, they may become addicted to this strong stimulant. People who abuse this medication can quickly build up a tolerance to it, finding that they need larger and larger doses to get the same effects as their first dose.
Stimulants increase the amount of dopamine in the brain. This neurotransmitter is associated with feelings of pleasure or reward, which reinforces specific behaviors. When a person stops taking Adderall, they may struggle with symptoms of withdrawal related to a dopamine imbalance, or reduced ability for the brain to release dopamine naturally. These symptoms can include:
- Sleep disturbances, such as an inability to sleep or over-sleeping
- Mood swings
- Powerful cravings for the drug
- Exhaustion or fatigue
- Anhedonia, or an inability to feel pleasure or happiness
- Panic attacks
- Suicidal thoughts
Due to the potential of severe withdrawal symptoms, it is always important to consult a doctor when deciding to end Adderall use or abuse. Medical detox is recommended to ensure safety and comfort throughout the withdrawal process.
Withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from five days to three weeks, but it can take up to three months for a person to feel completely normal without the drug. The stimulant stays active in the body for between 24 and 78 hours, depending on the size of the dose. The worst withdrawal symptoms will occur in the first few days after the drug leaves the body, but milder symptoms linger for weeks to months.
Quitting Adderall Suddenly
The phrase cold turkey refers to quitting a drug or behavior suddenly, and typically without medical help. The Australian Government Department of Health reports that self-detoxifying attempts were common among people who had become dependent on amphetamines, including Adderall. About 86 percent of study participants reported withdrawal symptoms, including aches and pains, irritability, impaired social functioning, and depression. Many relapsed, reportedly due to social pressure, persistent withdrawal symptoms after three weeks, or serious depression.
For people who have developed a dependence on Adderall, or who have struggled with Adderall addiction for a long time, tapering is likely the most effective approach to withdrawal. People who have a greater buildup of the medication in their system are more likely to experience stronger withdrawal symptoms and cravings, which, if quitting cold turkey, can increase the potential for relapse.
Because Adderall is a stimulant, there are also health risks associated with suddenly stopping the drug. These include:
- Heart attack
Medical detox can help to ensure withdrawal symptoms are managed, and individuals stay safe throughout the process.
The Road to Recovery
Although there are no medications that specifically treat amphetamine withdrawal, a doctor’s supervision during the detox process is very important. Even with a tapered approach, side effects like depression or cardiac problems can become serious. In a medical detox setting, professionals can intervene promptly if needed.
While doctors are still working to find an effective medication to help people withdraw from stimulants, there are other steps a person can take while they work with a medical professional to wean off Adderall. Some studies suggest that exercise can help, since it releases dopamine and endorphins in the brain.
Working with a comprehensive rehabilitation program, either on an inpatient or outpatient basis, is extremely important for people who struggle with Adderall addiction. These programs not only offer medical oversight during detox, but also individual and group therapy to help the person uncover the roots of their addiction and develop better coping mechanisms for life in sobriety.