Adderall is a type of prescription medication used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. If misused, however, the risk of Adderall addiction increases.
Adderall is a prescription stimulant that contains amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Both compounds act to stimulate the central nervous system (CNS).
Together, they increase CNS activity in people without ADHD by increasing dopamine. In people with ADHD, the dopamine in their brain is removed too quickly, which causes their symptoms. Therefore, Adderall has a stabilizing effect in people with ADHD rather than a stimulating one.
As with some other medications, Adderall may change the brain chemistry over time as the brain becomes used to it. Although it may help with ADHD, it is prone to misuse. This can lead to addiction.
The article below looks at Adderall addiction, including the signs of addiction, who are most at risk, and treatment.
Adderall addiction can occur due to the stimulant qualities of the medication. Adderall binds to dopamine and norepinephrine receptors in the brain. It increases the chemicals in the brain that promote concentration and a feeling of well-being.
When this occurs, the brain senses an abrupt change in Adderall use, meaning if a person stops taking or reduces their dose, they may experience symptoms of withdrawal. This is known as dependence, which is different from addiction.
Once someone builds a tolerance to Adderall, they may need a higher dose to feel the desired effects. Because of the “feel good” stimulating nature of the drug and the possibility of withdrawal when stopped, Adderall addiction can develop.
According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, Adderall is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. It is also one of the most frequently misused prescription drugs.
Adderall use symptoms
The signs and symptoms of Adderall use may vary depending on the person. The following signs are typically seen in someone without ADHD, though they are not necessarily in a person with an addiction:
Adderall addiction symptoms
The signs of Adderall addiction may also vary depending on the individual.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the diagnostic criteria for a stimulant addiction includes:
- Higher dosage: A person often takes the stimulant in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
- Trouble stopping: A persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control stimulant use.
- Dominating a person’s time: A person spends a great deal of time trying to obtain the stimulant, use the stimulant, or recover from its effects.
- Cravings: A person experiences a strong desire or urges to use the stimulant.
- Failing to fulfill obligations: A person fails to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home due to recurrent stimulant use.
- Interpersonal problems: A person continues to use stimulants despite having persistent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the stimulant.
- Reduced socializing: Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of stimulant use.
- Hazardous use: Recurrent stimulant use in physically hazardous situations.
- Disregard for health: Stimulant use continues despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the stimulant.
- Tolerance: A person needs increased amounts of the stimulant to achieve intoxication or desired effect. Or they experience a diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the stimulant.
- Withdrawal: A person experiences withdrawal symptoms if they stop using the stimulant. Or they take the stimulant to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
A person misusing Adderall would typically experience two or more symptoms to be diagnosed with an addiction.
If a person tries to stop misusing Adderall, they may develop withdrawal symptoms, such as:
Addiction and dependency are separate conditions for every substance, and Adderall is no exception.
Dependency involves a person’s body becoming used to the drug. When a person becomes dependent on a drug or medication, their body functions sub-optimally without it.
However, addiction involves compulsive drug use. An individual may understand their drug use has risks, yet they still seek the drug to get “high” or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Adderall carries a higher risk of misuse because of the effect it has on chemicals in the brain. The likelihood of addiction increases when Adderall is used without a prescription or beyond the recommendation of a prescriber.
The FDA classifies Adderall as a Schedule II controlled substance. Schedule II drugs have a high potential to lead to physiological and physical dependence.
According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), Adderall is the most popular stimulant for self-medication.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that about 5.1 million people over the age of 12 reported misusing prescription stimulants, such as Adderall, in 2020.
Anyone can develop an addiction to Adderall. The risk for addiction may increase if a person takes more than their prescribed dose of the drug. Typically, the dosage of Adderall for ADHD varies from 5 to 40 milligrams per day.
According to the NIDA, additional risks for developing an addiction to Adderall include:
- taking it for longer periods than prescribed
- taking it more often than prescribed
- taking it without a prescription
Usually, people who develop an addiction to Adderall take it initially to help with concentration, focus, or weight loss. People with an increased risk of misusing Adderall for the above purposes include:
- people with an eating disorder trying to lose weight
According to the NCDAS, about 19% of people using stimulants report using them to help with school studies.
The short-term side effects of using a stimulant such as Adderall can include:
- feeling a “rush” of euphoria
- increased blood pressure and heart rate
- increased breathing
- decreased blood flow
- increased blood sugar
The risk of side effects increases when a person uses Adderall above their prescribed dose or takes it without a prescription.
At high doses, prescription stimulants can cause:
To diagnose Adderall addiction, a healthcare professional assesses a person’s medical history and will ask them about their Adderall usage. This includes information on dosage and any withdrawal symptoms experienced.
A medical doctor may also perform a physical exam to check for signs of Adderall use, such as increased heart rate or blood pressure.
Many mental health professionals use the criteria in the DSM-5 to diagnose addiction.
The treatment for Adderall addiction may involve a few steps.
For example, some people need to detox from Adderall at a facility or hospital. The detox process helps an individual taper off the medication and manage the effects of withdrawals. It also helps to break the physical addiction.
After detox, a program to remain off Adderall is helpful. Treatment programs available include inpatient facilities and outpatient programs.
A person may be prescribed medications to treat the short-term symptoms of withdrawal and long-term cravings. However, there are currently no FDA-approved medications for these purposes.
Different types of therapy and counseling may help during a treatment program, including:
- assessment to determine specific needs
- individual psychotherapy
- support group meetings
- cognitive behavior counseling to develop new coping strategies
The prognosis for someone with an Adderall addiction that seeks treatment is good. However, getting the needed support is essential.
A person can find a treatment facility for substance misuse near them through FindTreatment.gov. The website also offers information on treatment options and costs.
The outlook for someone with Adderall addiction depends on various factors, such as how long they misuse the drug, availability of treatment, and treatment goals.
The longer a person misuses the drug, the more severe and treatment-resistant the addiction becomes. However, getting support increases the chances of success.
Treatment options are available. For example, with the help of an addiction specialist, withdrawal symptoms are manageable.
After a detox program, substance misuse programs and therapy may also help. Many people have a successful outcome and long-term recovery from Adderall addiction.