Key takeaways:

  • Adderall is most commonly used to treat symptoms of ADD and ADHD in both children and adults with this disorder. By increasing the activity levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, Adderall calms the brain and makes it easier for people to focus
  • The common misconception is that Adderall is mostly abused by high school and college students who are looking to excel. This isn’t always the case though as many adults and professionals abuse the drug for performance and recreationally
  • People often combine Adderall and other substances in order to boost the effects of both. This may be by mixing it with other stimulants such meth or crack, or taking it when drinking to balance out the depressant aspect of alcohol, making the user able to maintain social aspects and be engaged

Adderall is a prescription stimulant that is often prescribed to people with ADD or ADHD. Because Adderall has effects similar to cocaine, it is a controlled substance, meaning it has a high risk for abuse and addiction. When a person becomes addicted to Adderall, it can be difficult to stop using it.

Understanding Adderall (prescription amphetamines)

Adderall is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant composed of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine and is the most commonly prescribed as an amphetamine treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is also used to treat narcolepsy (a condition that causes fatigue during the day) by stimulating the CNS and creating alertness by increasing dopamine levels. [1, 2, 3] 

Adderall is most commonly used to treat symptoms of ADD and ADHD in both children and adults with this disorder. By increasing the activity levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, Adderall calms the brain and makes it easier for people to focus. Adderall usually comes in pill or tablet form, or a slow-release powder, to be ingested orally in 5 to 30-milligram doses (up to 60 milligrams for those with severe narcolepsy). [1, 2, 3]

Despite its potential to help when used in the recommended dose, Adderall has a high potential for abuse and addiction and is a schedule II drug under the controlled substances act. Those who abuse Adderall will often crush pills and tablets into a powder and snort it to get the desired high. [1]

Common street names for Adderall include Addys, speed, uppers, black beauties, and pep pills.

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Adderall abuse

Adderall is often considered safe as it is so widely prescribed by doctors. This is true if taken in the recommended dose, but the reality is that Adderall is an addictive drug and is often abused. When people take the medication, the effects are similar to the high people experience when using cocaine or other amphetamines. 

Like with other prescription medications, taking Adderall without a prescription, taking more than prescribed, or using more often than prescribed is considered abuse. Changing the method of administration is also considered abuse, especially for those who snort Adderall. For example, some people crush and snort Adderall tablets for a more immediate and intense high, and others may chew extended-release tablets to get the full effects faster. [4]

Why people abuse Adderall

Much like other CNS stimulants such as cocaine, Adderall produces feelings of euphoria and confidence due to the increased levels of dopamine in the brain, as well as heightened concentration and reduced appetite. The latter two reactions to Adderall mean that it is commonly abused by those looking to improve mental and physical performance. [1, 4]

People commonly abuse Adderall to:

  • Focus, concentrate or study for long periods

  • Improve academic or work performance

  • Lower appetite in order to lose weight

  • Improve athletic performance

  • Stay awake and alert for long periods of time

  • Get high or feel happier or more energized

  • Counteract the effects of alcohol or other drugs

The common misconception is that Adderall is mostly abused by high school and college students who are looking to excel. This isn’t always the case though as many adults and professionals abuse the drug for performance and recreationally. 

Short & long-term effects of Adderall abuse

The physical side effects of Adderall emerge shortly after use as dopamine production is increased. If taken in the recommended dose, users will feel the beneficial effects as intended while those who abuse the drug will feel the full stimulant effect and high.

The immediate effects of Adderall abuse may include: [4]

  • Feelings of wellness

  • An increased need for productivity 

  • Being more sociable/talkative

  • Restlessness

  • Feeling irritable or on edge

  • Intense focus and thinking 

  • Nervousness/anxiety

  • Increased heart rate or palpitations

  • Boosted mood or confidence

  • Being more productive

  • Getting more enjoyment from daily tasks

For those concerned about someone potentially abusing Adderall, the warning signs can be hard to spot after the initial high has worn off. 

Lasting side effects of ongoing Adderall abuse: [4]

  • Sleep difficulties (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep)

  • Headaches or migraines

  • Shaking or experiencing tics or seizure activity

  • Changes in one’s level of sexual interest

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Reduced appetite and weight loss

  • Heart problems or higher blood pressure

  • “Crashing” after the effects wear off and feeling down and tired

  • Developing a physical addiction to Adderall 

  • Developing a psychological addiction to Adderall

  • Changes in behavior 

  • Anxiety, irritability, or other mood issues

  • Building a tolerance and needing to take more to get the same effects

  • Experiencing withdrawals when Adderall leaves the system

  • Trying to enhance the effects with other substances

  • Skin rash or problems with swelling, peeling, or blistering

  • Increased fatigue, trouble concentrating, and brain fog

Adderall addiction

As with almost all forms of drug abuse, continuing to misuse Adderall can be addiction-forming. Addiction through continued Adderall abuse is common. Whether someone is addicted or has an Adderall dependence is assessed through a set of 11 criteria outlined in the DSM-5 that measure the negative impact Adderall abuse is having on the user's life. These criteria include: [5]

  • Hazardous use

  • Social or interpersonal problems related to substance use

  • Neglected major responsibilities to abuse substances

  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping use

  • Developing a tolerance

  • Using larger amounts

  • Repeated attempts to quit or control use and failing

  • Excessive time spent using 

  • Physical or psychological problems related to abuse

  • Activities replaced by substance abuse

  • Cravings

These criteria are measured on a spectrum of mild, moderate, and severe. Meeting 1-2 criteria is defined as mild, 3-5 moderate, and 6+ severe. [5] While it’s important to know the warning signs of addiction, a person can only be diagnosed by a doctor, therapist, or other licensed and trained professional.

Adderall withdrawal symptoms

Once someone has developed a tolerance and dependence on a substance, they will often feel physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it. The same is true with Adderall abuse and if someone has a dependence on the drug they may feel some of the following withdrawal symptoms after a short period of not having it in their system: [5]

  • Insomnia

  • Change in appetite

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability

  • Depression

  • Mood swings

  • Anxiety

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Tremors

  • Headache

  • Drug cravings

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Lack of motivation

  • Seizures

  • Muscle aches

The symptoms of Adderall withdrawal depend on the kind of medication given. People who take extended-release forms of Adderall can experience a more gradual and less intense onset of effects, but also find the drug stays in their system for longer. People who take the instant release form of the medication often report the effects wear off within 4-6 hours. [1] 

The level of dependence and severity of Adderall withdrawal symptoms are directly linked as those with a high dependence will often experience the worst symptoms. Other things can affect withdrawal and dependence, such as method of use (injecting and snorting will create a tolerance faster than swallowing pills), length of time abusing the drug, dosage, and mental health status, and co-occurring disorders.  

Adderall overdose

Adderall overdose is rare but not impossible. If someone were to take a lethal overdose of Adderall on its own, they would need to consume around 20-25mg per kilo of body weight, about 1,800 mg approx for the average American adult male.

The more common cause of Adderall overdose is when the drug is consumed with other substances, such as opioid painkillers and alcohol. This combination of chemicals can cause dangerous reactions in the body and prevent it from being able to cope, meaning they are potentially life-threatening. 

Signs of an Adderall overdose may include:

  • Chest pain

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Fast breathing

  • Uncontrollable shaking

  • Fainting

  • Fever

  • Heart palpitations

Drug combinations with Adderall

People often combine Adderall and other substances in order to boost the effects of both. This may be by mixing it with other stimulants such meth or crack, or taking it when drinking to balance out the depressant aspect of alcohol, making the user able to maintain social aspects and be engaged. The latter can lead to alcohol poisoning as it is harder to gauge the level of intoxication when Adderall is also in the system. This can lead to an increased risk of overdose.  

People will sometimes combine marijuana and Adderall as the mixture reportedly balances the effects of both. This combination, sometimes referred to as ‘weederall’, is said to reduce the negative aspects of Adderall (such as agitation and irritability) as marijuana calms the brain, and counter the fatigue felt from weed smoking due to the stimulant effects of Adderall. 

While this may seem like a harmonious pairing, continued abuse of these substances can exacerbate the negative side effects of both, leading to arrhythmia, high blood pressure, cognitive issues such as memory loss, and in both cases, addiction.

Treatment for Adderall addiction

Like all forms of substance use disorders, abusing Adderall can lead to dependence and addiction. The longer Adderall is abused the harder it becomes to quit, as withdrawal symptoms and cravings keep the user locked in a cycle. Luckily, there are many options for treating Adderall addiction, including detox, therapy, and outpatient rehab.

No one is alone in addiction and by contacting a treatment provider and getting help the chances of beating Adderall addiction and beginning recovery are greatly increased.