Long-term Adderall use may lead to dependence and addiction. With the right treatment approach, recovery is possible.
Maybe you started taking Adderall because you heard it could help you study. Or perhaps it was the allure of staying up all night while decreasing your appetite.
Maybe you took it because you received a prescription to manage ADHD symptoms.
But now that some time has passed, you can’t seem to cut back, even though you want to.
You may have heard that Adderall is “highly addictive” or that “Adderall abuse” is on the rise, and this worries you. These terms are worth clarifying.
In fact, if you feel like you’re relying on Adderall when you don’t want to, you’re not alone.
But also know that with the right treatment plan and psychological support, recovery from Adderall addiction is possible.
Adderall is a prescription medication. It’s classified as a stimulant, similar to medications like dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) or methylphenidate (Ritalin).
It’s made of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, which stimulate the central nervous system and increase brain activity.
For prescriptions, Adderall is available in two forms:
- Adderall: immediate-release tablet taken one to three times a day
- Adderall XR: extended-release capsule taken once a day
Around 15.4 million U.S. adults use prescription stimulants each year.
Adderall affects several neurotransmitters in your brain, which in turn impact your energy levels and ability to focus. Specifically, the drug is designed to target:
- dopamine, the reward chemical of your brain, which may lead to feelings of euphoria
- epinephrine, the trigger for the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, or freeze response), so you experience alertness and concentration
- norepinephrine, a stress hormone that prolongs the fight, flight, or freeze response, so you can sustain your focus
Roughly 4.8 million adults in the United States misuse prescription stimulants each year.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies Adderall as a Schedule II controlled substance because there’s a statistical high potential for misuse.
According to a 2017 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the most common reasons for stimulant misuse include:
- help staying awake (28%)
- improved focus during studying (22%)
- experimentation (5%)
- weight loss (4%)
- increase or decrease the effects of other drugs (2%)
However, it’s highly advisable to take Adderall strictly according to medical guidelines. When not taken as prescribed, it may cause chemical dependence, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Misuse refers to taking higher doses of a drug than what you were prescribed, or taking it more often than you are supposed to.
It can also include taking Adderall when you don’t have a prescription for it.
When you don’t need it, and you take it anyway, it may give you extra energy, but you’re likely to experience serious physical and mental side effects.
Addiction is an outdated term. It’s actually no longer considered a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), the reference handbook mental health professionals use.
“Adderall abuse” is also a stigmatized term that doesn’t reflect reality.
Instead, if you’re living with a physical or psychological dependence on Adderall, your symptoms fall under the substance use disorder diagnosis.
Substance use disorder exists on a spectrum, from mild to severe. It can present differently for each person, but there are several common symptoms.
A healthcare professional may diagnose substance use disorder based on the following criteria:
- feeling compelled to take a substance daily, or multiple times a day
- spending much of your time acquiring, using, and recovering from use
- experiencing cravings
- increased tolerance (needing more to get the same effects)
- experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try to cut back or stop
- neglecting home, work, school, hobbies, or social life to use the substance
- wanting to quit, but feeling like you’re unable to
- using even though it’s interfering with your relationships
- using even though your mental and physical health are declining
- using the substance in unsafe circumstances or conditions
Being overstimulated for a long period of time can cause your body and mind to run on overdrive and, eventually, give way to serious side effects.
This is one reason it’s important to use Adderall according to medical guidelines.
Some of these side effects may come from the medically supervised use of Adderall. It may be a good idea to discuss these with your healthcare professional ahead of time or when you experience them.
- appetite loss
- blurred vision
- changes in libido
- sleep changes
- uncontrollable shaking
- weight loss
- heart palpitations
- muscular tics
- memory loss
- racing thoughts
- crushing or snorting pills
- fast rate of speech
- financial troubles
- overly excited
- relationship challenges
- stocking up on extra pills
- talking in excess
- taking someone else’s medication
- trouble taking care of personal hygiene
- visiting multiple doctors for prescriptions
- withdrawing from loved ones
An overdose on a prescription stimulant is a medical emergency.
- blood circulation problems
- convulsions or tremors
- hyperactive reflexes
- irregular heartbeat, which may lead to a heart attack
- low or high blood pressure
- muscle pains or weakness
- nerve issues, which may lead to a seizure
- rapid breathing
If an overdose is happening to you or someone near you, or you suspect someone is having a heart attack, seek emergency medical attention.
You can call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. You can also call poison control at 800-222-1222.
When you stop taking a stimulant, it’s natural to have some withdrawal symptoms.
Here’s why: Your brain has been relying on Adderall to kick up your neurotransmitter activity, particularly dopamine, which means you’re not producing as much of that “feel-good” chemical mix on your own.
It may take some time for your brain chemistry to balance back to your usual.
Slowly tapering stimulants is strongly recommended. To help you manage the discomfort, a healthcare professional can help you with a tapering plan.
- increased hunger
- intense cravings
- panic attacks
- sleep problems
- self-harm and suicidal thoughts
Living with Adderall dependence or Adderall use disorder can be difficult. But it’s possible to heal and recover from it.
There are two factors to consider when starting recovery: safely detoxing from chemical dependence and processing a psychological dependence. For many people, it’s a combination of both.
Depending on your dosage, a doctor or other healthcare professional will set you up with a tapering schedule to slowly decrease your dosage in a way that doesn’t overwhelm your system.
A tapering schedule can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
If you want to combine chemical detox and counseling in a safe, supported, and structured environment, inpatient treatment may be the best option for you.
You can locate facilities near you through the Treatment Locator from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Individual and group therapy
A trained mental health professional can help you get to the root of your substance use disorder, as well as give you coping skills to help prevent using Adderall again in the future.
You may find it helpful to use Psych Central’s search tools to find a therapist you resonate with.
A local support group, especially with others in a similar position, may help you feel supported on your journey. Some options include:
If you’re living with a substance use disorder, specifically Adderall use disorder, you may feel overwhelmed and hopeless. But you’re not alone. These feelings aren’t permanent.
There are many roads to recovery, and healing with multiple approaches can be powerful. Treatment may include addressing your chemical dependency with a tapering schedule while getting support in both individual and group counseling.
Try to remember to be compassionate with yourself. You’ve been doing the best you can with the tools you’ve been given. Once you know differently, you can do differently.
You’re already on your way to recovery.