Adderall (a brand name for a mixture of four different amphetamines) is a potent stimulant most known for its use in treating Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADHD). In 2018, 25 million prescriptions for Adderall were written, making it the most prescribed amphetamine in the U.S. While the drug is administered to people of all ages, it is consumed largely by college and university students who use the drug as a study aid and performance enhancer.

Like many stimulants, Adderall is highly addictive because it targets the pleasure system in the brain. While Adderall is less harmful than illicit stimulants like methamphetamine, the drug still causes dependence due to its uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Adderall is also psychologically addicting, especially in cases where individuals use the drug for improved concentration, energy, and focus.

However, there is hope for recovery for those who become addicted to Adderall. With multiple treatment options available, individuals can restore their health and lead new lives free from addiction.

Before going into the treatment methods that are available for Adderall addiction, this article will provide an outline of what Adderall is and what the long-term effects are.

What Is Adderall?

Adderall is a prescription amphetamine typically used to treat Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and sleep disorders like narcolepsy. It is also used for cognitive enhancement, athletic performance, and appetite suppression, as well as recreationally as an aphrodisiac and euphoriant. Known also as a “brain booster” or “study drug,” Adderall is widely consumed by college and university students to help them focus and cope with high academic demands.

Adderall contains four amphetamine salts and is composed of equal parts racemic amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Like most stimulants, Adderall triggers the production of two key neurotransmitters — dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine is known as the “pleasure chemical,” the release of which creates a reward system in the brain. Norepinephrine, on the other hand, influences how the brain responds to events in terms of speed and attention rates.

The most common way to ingest Adderall is to take it in pill form; however, it can also be chewed, snorted, or diluted in water and injected.

Other names for Adderall include:

  • Addys
  • Uppers
  • Beans
  • Black Beauties
  • Pep Pills
  • Speed
  • Dexies
  • Zing
  • Study Buddies
  • Smart Pills

Is Adderall Addictive?

Adderall is a highly addictive drug and is a Schedule II Controlled Substance in the U.S. What makes this drug addictive are its stimulating qualities and its effect on the body’s dopamine levels.

However, unlike other street stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamine, Adderall is usually taken as a study aid or enhancer and not just to get “high”. Adderall becomes addictive when it is used frequently for enhancement purposes as the individual depends on the drug to help them focus or concentrate. Long-term use can also lead to addiction due to the withdrawal effects.

It’s worth noting that there is a difference between dependence and addiction when it comes to this drug. Physical dependence on Adderall can occur when the body is reliant on the chemical interactions caused by the drug. In this case, medical support may be required to help wean the individual off the drug. However, dependence differs from addiction in that the individual isn’t mentally attached or obsessed with taking the drug.

Adderall addiction, on the other hand, occurs when individuals are largely unable to function without the drug. They often develop a physical and psychological addiction that leads them to go to extreme lengths to obtain an Adderall prescription. Individuals who are addicted will also usually take more than the prescribed amount or for longer than its intended use.

Adderall Abuse Statistics

Adderall is the most commonly prescribed amphetamine in the U.S. In 2012 alone, over 16 million prescriptions were written for stimulants like Adderall. Adderall abuse is also most common among young adults of college or university age.

According to a study by the medical journal Addiction, 25% of students (from 100 surveyed campuses) had used Adderall to help them cram for exams.  Other statistics show the scope of the problem:

  • The 2008 National Survey on Drug Use found that college students using Adderall non-medically were 8 times more likely to use cocaine and tranquilizers.
  • The same study also found that 90% of these individuals were reported binge drinkers.
  • In 2012, over 116,000 people in rehab were admitted for stimulant addictions like Adderall.
  • A 2014 Partnership for a Drug-Free Kids survey reported that 20% of college students abuse prescription stimulants.
  • According to the 2016 Recovery Brands survey, more than 60% of people aged 18 to 28 were able to obtain prescription Adderall through friends.

The History of Adderall

Adderall was first synthesized in the late 1920s by an American chemist named Gordon Alles. While amphetamines had already been produced as early as 1887, Adderall in its current form was developed almost accidentally when Alles was searching for an asthma treatment.

Synthesizing a substance related to adrenaline, Alles created beta-phenyl-isopropylamine, the chemical which is now known as modern amphetamine. Alles subsequently self-injected the formulation and discovered its stimulating effects.

By the 1930s, amphetamines were being sold under the name Benzedrine to help elevate mood, boost energy, and increase awareness. These were later dispensed to the American military (known as “go pills”) for soldiers during World War II. Amphetamines were also being widely used elsewhere marketed as Orbetrol, which was used for appetite suppression and dieting. When amphetamine use increased to around 10 million people in the 1970s, the Food and Drug Administration intervened and began to put restrictions around its use.

While amphetamines fell out of popular use following the regulations, they emerged again in the 1990s when Richwood Pharmaceuticals began to promote it as a treatment for ADHD. The formulation was tweaked and subsequently named Adderall. A time-release version was also provided, which prolonged the delivery of the drug into the bloodstream. This was said to make the drug less addictive and easier to stop taking. Since then, Adderall has been prescribed to millions of Americans each year for enhancing cognitive and physical performance.

How Adderall Is Taken

Adderall is prescribed in either immediate-release (IR) and extended-release (XR) formulations. These are available as tablets and are usually taken orally. The pills are also sometimes crushed and snorted.

When taken orally, Adderall starts working within 30 minutes to an hour. Depending on the dose, the effects of Adderall can last for 4 to 6 hours. The extended-release tabs (Adderall XR) can last up to 12 hours.

A typical Adderall dose usually starts with 5 mg once or twice daily. This dosage will be increased or decreased depending on an individual’s needs. Adderall XR doses can range from 10 to 20 mg initially.

Children who are taking Adderall will usually be given 2.5 to 10 mg daily, depending on their age and condition. The maximum daily dose for children is 40 mg per day.

Who Abuses Adderall?

While Adderall is used by people of all ages, some population groups have a higher prevalence of abusing the drug. These include:

College Students

As mentioned, college students make up a large portion of the population who use Adderall. The drug helps students stay awake and concentrate for long periods, making it a desirable option when there are high academic demands. Working professionals are also known to use the drug for similar reasons.

Athletes

Athletes are known to use Adderall to increase energy and enhance their performance both in practice and during competitions. In 2012, for example, Adderall abuse reached an all-time high in the National Football League.

People With Eating Disorders

Due to Adderall’s appetite-suppressing qualities, individuals with eating disorders will often abuse the drug to help them lose weight.

The Effects of Adderall

Adderall releases brain chemicals that are responsible for pleasure and focus. If the drug is taken in high doses, it can create an intense high. Some of the short-term effects include:

  • Increased energy
  • Improved focus
  • Excitability
  • Increased sociability
  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Self-confidence
  • Decreased appetite

Side Effects

Adderall can also cause a range of uncomfortable side effects, which will vary according to the individual. They include:

  • Convulsions
  • Paranoia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Dry mouth
  • Lack or loss of strength
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation
  • False sense of well-being
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Lower back or side pain
  • Twitching
  • Seizures
  • Peeling skin
  • Muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis)
  • Stomach pain

Common Adderall Combinations

Like most drugs, Adderall is used recreationally with other substances to enhance its effects and achieve a greater high. Some of the most frequent Adderall combinations include:

Alcohol

Alcohol is commonly used with Adderall. While this is sometimes taken to alter the high, it can also be used to help the individual come down from the stimulating effects of the drug (e.g. at the end of a study session).

However, like other stimulants, Adderall can mask the effects of alcohol and cause someone to drink more than they normally would. Conversely, alcohol can mask the stimulating effects of Adderall, potentially leading to an overdose.

Another danger of mixing alcohol and Adderall is the potential strain it puts on the heart. Both drugs are known to increase heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, so the combination places pressure on the entire cardiovascular system.

Cocaine

Another common combination is cocaine and Adderall. As both drugs produce similar stimulating effects in the body, they can amplify the side effects and lead to health complications. These include the risk of heart attack, stroke, impaired judgment, high blood pressure, and increased paranoia. It can also cause severe “crashes” once the drugs wear off as individuals experience depressed moods, anxiety, and sleep issues.

Marijuana

Marijuana and Adderall are often combined to either enhance the high or help minimize the side effects. For example, marijuana can minimize uncomfortable Adderall symptoms like agitation. Conversely, Adderall can counter some of the slower cognitive effects of marijuana.

However, combining these two drugs can lead to health complications such as heart problems and stroke. Also, like most drug combinations, mixing the two can lead to increased tolerance and a need to increase the dosage of each drug. This can cause toxic effects or fatal overdose.

Xanax

Another common Adderall combination is Xanax. However, as these drugs are antagonistic, they can create opposing effects in the body. As Adderall is a stimulant and Xanax is a depressant, they can lead to fatal overdoses when an individual mistakenly thinks they are soberer than they are.

Another danger of mixing these drugs is the effect they each have on the respiratory system. Xanax, for example, slows down breathing while Adderall can demand increased oxygen. This can lead to respiratory complications as the individual struggles to meet their oxygen needs.

Signs & Symptoms of Adderall Addiction

Adderall can be both physically and psychologically addicting, especially if the drug is used for sustained periods. The signs and symptoms of Adderall addiction can vary from person to person, depending on how much they take and long they’ve used it.

However, there are physical, psychological, behavioral, and social signs to watch out for.

Physical Signs of Adderall Addiction

Individuals who regularly take Adderall at high doses (or frequently and for long periods) can exhibit physical signs of addiction such as:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeping for long periods
  • Staying awake for days on end
  • Exhaustion
  • Excessive weight loss
  • Disorientation
  • Mania
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia

Psychological Signs of Adderall Addiction

Individuals who regularly abuse Adderall will also exhibit psychological signs of addiction and emotional changes the longer they take the drug. This includes:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Financial troubles
  • Aggression
  • Secretive behavior
  • Memory loss
  • Incomplete thoughts
  • Unusual excitability

Behavioral Signs of Adderall Addiction

Any sudden changes in behavior can be clear indicators of a problem. While some of the behavioral signs of Adderall addiction also apply to other drug dependencies, there are a few abuse indications for this drug. These include:

  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Being overly talkative
  • Running out of prescriptions early
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies
  • Uncooperative attitude
  • Worsening performance at school or work
  • Hiding or lying about Adderall use
  • Difficulties controlling Adderall use
  • Frequently taking Adderall
  • Legal or financial problems
  • Isolation from work, family, and social life
  • Continuing to use Adderall despite its negative side-effects
  • Spending a great deal of time using, obtaining, or recovering from Adderall
  • Abusing other substances (poly-substance)
  • Relationship problems
  • A decline in personal hygiene

Other Signs of Adderall Abuse

Aside from the signs above, there are a few other identifying behaviors to watch out for if you suspect someone has an Adderall addiction.

Mood Swings

In the early stages of Adderall use, an individual is likely to be chatty, focused, and vibrant. But as is the case with most long-term stimulant abuse, individuals can eventually become withdrawn and depressed.

If someone you know was previously sociable and easygoing but is suddenly hostile and doesn’t want to engage in conversation, this could be a sign of Adderall addiction.

Financial Problems

Like many drug addictions, excessive use can lead to financial burdens. Individuals may struggle to pay for their addiction while maintaining daily living costs such as rent and bills. Kong-term drug use may cause them to lose their jobs, resulting in a downward spiral of substance abuse and financial problems.

Cognitive/Psychiatric Symptoms

Chronic Adderall use can also exacerbate some of the negative side effects of the drug, which include confusion, paranoia, or hallucinations. If an individual regularly uses Adderall, they can end up in a negative loop where a chronic release of dopamine leads to mental health conditions such as depression.

Physical Changes

People who use Adderall for a long period may also depict physical changes. One of the most prominent is when the body is deprived of dopamine. While not as extreme as the physical impacts of substances like meth, this lack of dopamine can lead to extreme exhaustion and is characterized by cravings, depression, and anxiety.

Long-Term Health Consequences

Long-term Adderall use can leave lasting and damaging effects on a person’s health, especially when it comes to the cardiovascular system. The physical consequences of long-term use include, but are not limited to:

  • Sleep difficulties
  • Fatigue
  • Aggression
  • Heart disease
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Constipation

The long-term psychological consequences of Adderall use include:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lack of motivation
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks

Another important thing to look out for is a potential Adderall overdose. Key signs and symptoms of an overdose include:

  • Chest pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fast breathing
  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Fainting
  • Fever

Adderall Addiction Resources

At RehabAid.com, we are dedicated to helping people recover from problematic substance use and associated mental health disorders. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone. Information on treatment and support options is readily available through the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-4357. To further assist you along the path to recovery, the treatment center locator on our website allows you to easily find rehabilitation programs and services in your local area.

We provide our readers with factual, evidence-based content concerning the causes and nature of addiction, as well as available treatment options. However, this informative content is intended for educational purposes only. It is by no means a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. With regard to any addiction-related health concerns, you should always seek the guidance of a qualified, registered physician who is licensed to practice medicine in your particular jurisdiction. You should never avoid or delay seeking professional health care advice or services based on information obtained from our website. Our authors, editors, medical reviewers, website developers, and parent company do not assume any liability, obligation, or responsibility for any loss, damage, or adverse consequences alleged to have happened directly or indirectly as a result of the material presented on RehabAid.com

About the Author

Jenn Tomomitsu, PhD

Jenn is a Canadian writer and poet with a background in psychology, sociology, and natural health. She is the founder of The Master in You, a mental wellness site that provides information about the role that thoughts and emotions play in our physical and emotional health. Jenn is passionate about inner growth and the power of the mind-body connection, and this informs her writing and research on addiction treatment. On Rehabaid, Jenn aims to write accessible, informative content and provide resources that can help people make empowered and informed decisions about their recovery.

Browse posts by Jenn Tomomitsu, PhD