Signs, causes, treatment and more
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 work 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 eliminated too quickly, causing their symptoms. Therefore, Adderall has a stabilizing effect in people with ADHD rather than a stimulating effect.
As with some other drugs, Adderall can change brain chemistry over time as the brain gets used to it. Although it can help with ADHD, it is prone to misuse. This can lead to addiction.
The article below looks at Adderall addiction, including signs of addiction, who is most at risk, and treatment.
Adderall addiction can occur due to the stimulant qualities of the drug. Adderall binds to dopamine and norepinephrine receptors in the brain. It increases chemicals in the brain that promote concentration and a feeling of well-being.
Some people abuse Adderall to improve their mood and help with their study performance. People who take Adderall frequently may become accustomed to high dopamine levels.
When this happens, the brain detects a sudden change in Adderall use, which means that if a person stops taking or reduces their dose, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. This is called dependence, which is different from addiction.
Once someone develops a tolerance to Adderall, they may need a higher dose to experience the desired effects. Due to the stimulating nature of the drug and the possibility of withdrawal upon discontinuation, addiction to Adderall may develop.
According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, Adderall is one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the USA. It is also one of the most commonly misused prescription drugs.
Symptoms of Adderall Use
Signs and symptoms of Adderall use can vary from person to person. The following signs are usually seen in someone without ADHD, although they are not necessarily seen in someone with an addiction:
Adderall addiction symptoms
Signs of Adderall addiction can also vary between individuals.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), diagnostic criteria for stimulant addiction include:
- Higher dosage: A person often takes more of the stimulant or over a longer period of time than intended.
- Shutdown problem: A persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to reduce or control the use of stimulants.
- Dominating a person’s time: A person spends a lot of time trying to get the stimulant, use the stimulant, or recover from its effects.
- Cravings: A person experiences a strong desire or urge to use the stimulant.
- Non-compliance with obligations: A person does not fulfill his main obligations at work, school or home due to the recurrent use of stimulants.
- Interpersonal issues: A person continues to use stimulants despite persistent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the stimulant.
- Reduced socialization: Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced due to the use of stimulants.
- Dangerous use: Recurrent use of stimulants in physically dangerous situations.
- Disregard for health: Use of stimulants continues despite knowledge of a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that may have been caused or exacerbated by the stimulant.
- Tolerance: A person needs increased amounts of the stimulant to achieve intoxication or the desired effect. Or they experience a diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of 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 abusing Adderall would typically experience two or more symptoms to be diagnosed with an addiction.
If a person tries to stop abusing Adderall, they may develop withdrawal symptoms, such as:
Addiction and dependence are separate conditions for each substance, and Adderall is no exception.
Addiction involves a person’s body getting used to the drug. When a person becomes addicted to a drug or medication, their body functions suboptimally without it.
However, addiction involves the compulsive use of drugs. A person may understand that their drug use carries risks, but they still seek the drug to get “high” or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Learn more about addictive behaviors here.
Adderall carries a higher risk of abuse due to the effect it has on chemicals in the brain. The likelihood of addiction increases when Adderall is used without a prescription or beyond a prescriber’s recommendation.
The FDA classifies Adderall as a Schedule II controlled substance. Schedule II drugs have a high potential to cause 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) reports that approximately 5.1 million people over the age of 12 reported abusing prescription stimulants, such as Adderall, in 2020.
Anyone can become addicted to Adderall. The risk of addiction may increase if a person takes more than the prescribed dose of the drug. Typically, the Adderall dosage for ADHD ranges from 5 to 40 milligrams per day.
According to the NIDA, additional risks of developing Adderall addiction include:
- taking it for longer periods than prescribed
- take it more often than prescribed
- take it without a prescription
Usually, people who become addicted to Adderall initially take it to help with focus, concentration, or weight loss. People at 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 who use stimulants report using them to help them with their studies.
Short-term side effects of using a stimulant such as Adderall can include:
The risk of side effects increases when a person uses Adderall above the prescribed dose or takes it without a prescription.
In high doses, prescription stimulants can cause:
Psychological side effects of repeated misuse of prescription stimulants can include psychosis, anger, and paranoia.
To diagnose Adderall addiction, a medical professional will assess a person’s medical history and ask them questions about their use of Adderall. This includes information on dosage and any withdrawal symptoms experienced.
A doctor may also perform a physical exam to look for signs of Adderall use, such as an increased heart rate or blood pressure.
Many mental health professionals use the DSM-5 criteria to diagnose addiction.
Treating Adderall addiction can involve a few steps.
For example, some people need to detox from Adderall in a facility or hospital. The detox process helps an individual gradually reduce the drug and manage the effects of withdrawals. It also helps to break physical addiction.
After detox, a program to stay off Adderall is helpful. Treatment programs available include inpatient facilities and outpatient programs.
A person may be prescribed medication to treat short-term withdrawal symptoms and long-term cravings. However, there are currently no FDA-approved drugs for these purposes.
Different types of therapy and counseling can be helpful during a treatment program, including:
- assessment to determine specific needs
- individual psychotherapy
- support group meetings
- cognitive-behavioral counseling to develop new coping strategies
The prognosis for someone with an Adderall addiction who seeks treatment is good. However, getting the necessary support is essential.
A person can find a nearby drug addiction treatment center through FindTreatment.gov. The website also offers information on treatment options and costs.
The outlook for someone with an Adderall addiction depends on a variety of factors, such as how long they abuse the drug, the availability of treatment, and treatment goals.
The longer a person abuses the drug, the more severe and resistant to treatment the addiction becomes. However, getting help 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, detox programs and therapy can also help. Many people have success and long-term recovery from Adderall addiction.