Adderall is a medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It may increase the risk of depression. But, with correct use, according to the prescription, this is extremely rare.
Approximately 2.5 million people in the United States take Adderall or an alternative called Ritalin as a prescription medication. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists depression as one of several possible side effects.
However, this only tends to occur if people misuse Adderall. Even in such cases, the link is difficult to confirm, with researchers noting that people with depression may be more likely to misuse Adderall in the first place.
Keep reading to learn more about Adderall and depression, including the other possible side effects of Adderall, where to get help for Adderall misuse and depression, and alternative treatment options.
Adderall is a brand name for a drug that contains amphetamine and dextroamphetamine.
It belongs to a class of drugs known as central nervous system stimulants, which work by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.
Doctors can prescribe this drug to people aged 3 years and above to control the symptoms of ADHD. It can help improve focus and concentration.
The FDA has also approved Adderall for the treatment of narcolepsy.
Inappropriately discarded drugs can harm people, animals, and the environment. It is essential to dispose of any unwanted medication safely. Read our guide on medication disposal here.
Information that the FDA has provided about Adderall states that depression is a possible adverse reaction of the medication.
However, it is worth noting that this reaction is extremely rare. It tends to occur only in people who misuse the drug or use it without a prescription.
The FDA also notes that a person should take care when using the medication if they have a history of bipolar disorder or another psychotic condition. They recommend that people with behavioral symptoms undergo screening for these mental health conditions before taking Adderall.
The FDA claims that a person may also develop depression if they abruptly stop taking Adderall after taking it in high dosages for an extended period. It may also result in extreme tiredness.
A 2015 review concludes that the misuse of stimulant medication — in this case, among college students — may have some association with depression symptoms. However, the authors also state that further research is necessary to confirm this link.
Additional side effects of Adderall may include:
- unintentional weight loss
- abdominal pain
- decreased appetite
- heart palpitations
- dry mouth
- changes to libido
If a person experiences any of the following symptoms when taking Adderall, they should seek immediate medical attention:
- speech difficulties, including verbal tics
- blurred vision
- physical tics
- confusion or being suspicious of others
- numbness or weakness in the limbs
- pale or blue fingers or toes
- unexplained wounds
- tingling sensations in the hands or feet
- rash, hives, or itchy skin
- swelling in the eyes, face, tongue, or throat
- breathing difficulties
Adderall misuse occurs when people take it regularly without a diagnosis that requires it or a prescription. It can also occur if people with a prescription do not take the correct dosage as per a doctor’s instructions. People without a prescription may take the drug because it helps with focus and concentration.
The authors of a 2021 study state that stimulant use disorder is common among undergraduate and college students. This is because people believe that it will increase focus, memory, and attention.
They go on to say that nonprescription use of this drug may actually have negative effects on academic performance.
This is because many people experience a lack of motivation, headaches, tiredness, and sleep difficulties when taking Adderall as a nonprescription drug.
Some of the side effects of long-term Adderall abuse may include:
- sleep problems
- concentration and motivation difficulties
- depression or suicidal thoughts
- anxiety and panic attacks
- irritability and mood swings
- unintentional weight loss
- heart problems
The Addiction Center says that common signs indicating problematic Adderall use include:
- the need for larger doses
- struggling to cope without the drug
- spending large amounts of money on it
- developing withdrawal symptoms
The organization notes that people can get help from therapy or outpatient rehabilitation. Individuals can also contact the Addiction Center on 844-971-1894 at any time for confidential help.
The authors of a 2020 review suggest that colleges should implement prevention programs and provide further education to stop students from misusing Adderall and other similar drugs.
In addition, they state that doctors should be more careful when prescribing Adderall.
Seeking help for addiction may seem daunting or even scary, but several organizations can provide support. If you believe that you or someone close to you is showing signs of addiction, you can contact the following organizations for immediate help and advice:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 800-662-4357 (TTY: 800-487-4889)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
A person can visit a doctor, who can offer advice on the treatment options for depression. They may prescribe medication, such as antidepressants, or suggest that the person seek therapy.
A variety of online therapy services is available for a person to choose from, or they can ask the doctor for a recommendation.
Some people may also benefit from joining a support group, where they can meet people facing similar challenges and share experiences and coping mechanisms.
A person may also wish to try relaxation exercises, meditation, acupuncture, or massage therapy.
Various crisis hotlines are available to those who need to talk with somebody urgently.
Learn more about support groups for depression.
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.
Adderall is not the only treatment available to people with ADHD. The alternatives may include:
- dexmethylphenidate (Focalin XR)
- lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Vyvanse)
- methylphenidate (Concerta)
- methylphenidate (Ritalin)
If a person is taking Adderall as a nonprescription drug for focus or concentration, they may wish to try a natural supplement that may boost focus. Possible options include fish oil, vitamin B12, rosemary, mint, flaxseed, ginkgo biloba, saffron, cocoa seed, and sesame seeds. However, limited data are available to confirm that these supplements provide such benefits.
Doctors usually prescribe Adderall for the treatment of ADHD and, occasionally, narcolepsy.
In some people who misuse the drug, it may cause depression. However, the vast majority of people who use it correctly with a prescription will not experience this side effect.
People who may misuse Adderall include university or college students who believe that it will improve their concentration when they are studying overnight or for long periods.
Long-term misuse can result in serious side effects.
There are a variety of alternatives to Adderall if a person finds that this medication is not right for them. Learn more about them here.