Adderall Addiction: Symptoms, Signs and Side Effects
Last Updated: January 17, 2023
Adderall is an FDA-approved prescription amphetamine that treats attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Adderall improves attention and focus and reduces hyperactivity and impulsivity in people with ADHD and promotes wakefulness in people with narcolepsy. There are also off-label uses for Adderall, including treatment-resistant depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, whether or not off-label use of Adderall delivers real therapeutic benefits is controversial.
Adderall is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, which are both central nervous system (CNS) stimulants. Like other prescription CNS stimulants, amphetamine and dextroamphetamine are schedule II substances, meaning that the Drug Enforcement Administration recognizes that they have medicinal value but that they also have a high risk of abuse and can cause psychological or physical dependence and addiction.
An alarming number of high school and college students misuse Adderall due to the misperception that it is a “study drug” that will allow them to easily improve their GPA without any risk of adverse effects. Adults also can misuse Adderall in an attempt to increase the quality and quantity of their work. However, mounting evidence suggests that Adderall misuse among people without ADHD does not improve school or work performance and may actually have a negative effect on the quality of work.
What Causes Adderall Addiction?
Adderall, like other drugs of abuse, increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. When dopamine levels are increased in the brain, the “reward system” becomes activated, causing a sensation of pleasure and, if enough dopamine is released, euphoria. Under normal circumstances, the reward system promotes behaviors that improve health and quality of life (e.g. good food, sex). However, drugs of abuse hijack this system by causing huge amounts of dopamine to be released inappropriately. The more dopamine that a drug causes to be released, the more addictive it is.
Even when taken as prescribed, Adderall can be addictive. Regular use of Adderall rapidly induces tolerance, which means that higher and higher dosesare needed in order to achieve the desired effect. Adderall dependence indicates that physical withdrawal symptoms are experienced when the dose is reduced or eliminated, but is not associated with the compulsive drug-seeking behavior that characterizes addiction.
Symptoms of Adderall Abuse
At this point, it is important to distinguish between “abuse” and “addiction”. Adderall is abused in order to achieve a desired effect, but someone who abuses Adderall may not be addicted. Addiction is characterized by an inability to control Adderall abuse even in the face of negative health or social consequences. Abuse may be more difficult to identify than addiction because a compulsive need to use Adderall is not in place.
Symptoms are subjective experiences that are consequential to drug use. In other words, symptoms are experienced by the person abusing Adderall. Common symptoms of Adderall abuse include:
- Physical Symptoms: Loss of appetite, elevated temperature, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, dry mouth and headache
- Behavioral Symptoms: Mania, jitteriness, anxiety, altered libido, insomnia, intense concentration/focus and a preoccupation with Adderall
Signs are objectively measurable consequences of drug use and can be observed by someone other than the person abusing Adderall. Common signs of Adderall abuse include:
- Physical Signs: Weight loss, excessive sweating, trembling, and decline in personal hygiene
- Behavioral Signs: Hyperactivity, rapid speech, erratic behavior, failure to meet responsibilities at work or school, sneaking pills and evasiveness
Another component of Adderall abuse is the so-called “Adderall crash”. When the effects of the drug begin to wear off, people will experience cravings, depression, exhaustion and increased appetite. They may be noticeably irritable, fatigued and may have rapid mood swings.
See More: Commonly Abused Drugs
How To Tell if Someone is Addicted to Adderall
Abuse and addiction both cause people to withdraw from friends and family who may disapprove of their Adderall habit, and a common early sign of Adderall use disorders is abnormal secrecy or evasiveness. Other signs of Adderall addiction include running out of prescriptions before they can be refilled and being sneaky about how much Adderall is being used. Addiction is accompanied by an intense interest or preoccupation with using and obtaining Adderall. Other common signs of Adderall addiction are erratic behavior and extreme mood swings.
If you are concerned that someone you know is addicted to Adderall, The Recovery Village developed a quiz that can help you find answers.
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Adderall Addiction Self-Assessment Quiz
Adderall addiction symptoms are similar to those of abuse, but are more pronounced. Addiction is associated with an intense preoccupation with getting and using Adderall, and extreme emotional states that coincide with whether or not you have access to Adderall. For example, if you don’t have access to Adderall, you may feel depressed and angry and spend a great deal of time trying to obtain Adderall. Once you get it, you may feel immense relief, joy and excitation.
If you are concerned that you may be facing an Adderall addiction, The Recovery Village developed a self-assessment quiz that can help you determine whether your Adderall use is out of control.
Side Effects of Adderall Abuse
Adderall is a popular drug of abuse because of its positive side effects and the perception that using it will improve the quality of work life and social standing. Unfortunately, Adderall abuse is also associated detrimental side effects that may impact home, work and social life.
Short Term Side Effects
Positive short term side effects of Adderall include:
- Increased alertness
- Improved ability to focus
- Elevated mood
- Ability to work without fatigue
Negative short term side effects of Adderall include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Elevated body temperature
- Flu-like symptoms
- Poor circulation
- Increased blood pressure
- Rapid mood swings
- Altered sex drive
Long Term Side Effects
Long term side effects of Adderall abuse are not present in all cases, but when they are they tend to be exclusively negative and may be incredibly debilitating. Long term side effects include:
- Increased blood pressure
- Prolonged depression
Adderall Abuse Statistics
Despite its high potential for abuse, Adderall was the 45th most prescribed drug in 2016, with over 17 million prescriptions being written. In 2018, 5.1 million people met the criteria for having a prescription stimulant use disorder. The age group with the highest rate of Adderall abuse is 18 to 25 year olds, with rate of 0.5% meeting criteria for a prescription stimulant use disorder. Younger and older groups were both found to have a frequency of 0.2% meeting criteria for a use disorder.
Adderall is a central nervous system stimulant, meaning that it increases overall activity in the brain. When someone takes too much Adderall, the result is hyperactivity in regions of the brain that are responsible for regulating body temperature, heart rate and cognitive processing.
Physical signs of an Adderall overdose include hyperthermia (high body temperature), racing heart, rapid breathing, overactive reflexes, vomiting, erratic or aggressive behavior, dilated pupils and twitching/tremors. Serious overdoses can cause unconsciousness, seizures or heart attack. If you suspect an overdose, call 911. Adderall overdose treatment is best done in a hospital setting, where sedatives can be administered to reduce brain activity and limit the risk of heart attack or stroke. While waiting for the paramedics, it is important to remain calm, as well as keep the person who overdosed calm as well. Keep the person’s body temperature down by moving them into a cool room or surrounding them with ice.
Because regular Adderall use causes tolerance to develop, there can be significant differences in how much Adderall can cause an overdose. Someone who has never taken Adderall may experience overdose symptoms by taking 30 mg, which is towards the high end of the daily prescribed dose range. On the other hand, someone who regularly abuses Adderall may be able to take more than 100 mg and not experience overdose symptoms.
Adderall Overdose Symptoms
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing
- Severe trembling/shaking
- Lack of coordination
- Discolored urine
- Muscle spasms
- Blurred vision
- Altered mental state
If you suspect an Adderall overdose, call 911. Some people may be concerned about getting into trouble if they were abusing Adderall with friends and be hesitant to seek help. Ohio has a Good Samaritan Law that provides immunity to someone who could be charged with a minor drug possession offense when they seek emergency assistance during a drug overdose.
Facing Adderall Withdrawal and Detox
People who have developed physical dependence or addiction to Adderall will experience prolonged, uncomfortable physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms when they reduce their dose or stop taking it all together. The severity of withdrawal symptoms is linked to the amount and frequency of Adderall use, and symptoms begin to set in within about 24 hours after taking the last dose. In cases of mild dependence, the symptoms often resolve within several days. People with more serious dependence or addiction disorders may experience withdrawal symptoms for several weeks or more.
Acute symptoms of Adderall withdrawal last for 3–5 days and include:
- Drug cravings
- Lack of motivation
- Increased appetite
- Hypersomnia (excessive sleep)
- Vivid dreams
The progression of withdrawal is associated with some changes to the symptoms that are present. These later symptoms often last for 7-10 days, and include:
- Inability to concentrate
- Body aches and pains
- Mood swings
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) may occur in some people. PAWS is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that are present for longer than expected, in some cases for months. The severity of symptoms fluctuates over time, but they will reliably subside as time goes on.
Although Adderall withdrawal is not associated with physical dangers, some people become so depressed that they contemplate or attempt suicide. Some studies have shown that light to moderate exercise can be very helpful in overcoming depression and other withdrawal symptoms.
If you or a loved one has an Adderall use disorder, The Recovery Village Columbus can help. Our team of experts is experienced in treating prescription stimulant use disorders. Take the first step towards recovery: Call us today.
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