Adderall addiction, abuse, and overdose are growing concerns in the United States. A recent study by Johns Hopkins showed that, while the number of prescriptions has remained the same for years, misuse and emergency department visits associated with the drug have risen dramatically. “The number of prescriptions for Adderall has fallen and yet we are seeing more medical problems from its use,” says first author Lian-Yu Chen, MD.

“The growing problem is among young adults,” says study co-author Ramin Mojtabai, MD, MPH, Ph.D. “In college, especially, these drugs are used as a study-aid medication to help students stay up all night and cram. Our sense is that a sizeable proportion of those who use them believe these medications make them smarter and more capable of studying. We need to educate this group that there could be serious adverse effects from taking these drugs and we don’t know much at all about their long-term health effects.”


What is Adderall?

Adderall is a moderately-priced prescription drug intended to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The pill is an off-white, orange, or blue round pill with AD imprinted on one side and the dose on the other. Adderall is scored to make it easier to split the pill in half. It comes in doses ranging from 5 mg to 30 mg.

Adderall, an amphetamine, is a “study drug” that is a type of prescription stimulant medication.

Adderall enhances certain aspects of the consumer’s mental function, such as:

  • Memory
  • Concentration
  • Alertness
  • Motivation
  • Attention

Some medical professionals loosely define Adderall as a nootropic, which is a type of drug that improves cognitive function. Other terms for nootropics include smart drugs, neuro-enhancers, and cognitive enhancers.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) classifies substances according to the drug’s acceptable medical use and its potential for abuse or physical dependence. Adderall is a Schedule II drug, according to the DEA, which means the medication has a “high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” Addiction is another word for psychological dependence.

Who Is Most Likely To Abuse Adderall?

The most common Adderall abusers seem the most unlikely to use drugs – ambitious college students. In fact, full-time college students ages 18 to 22 were twice as likely to misuse Adderall than were people of the same age who did not attend college, according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). In that survey, 6.4 percent of college students said they had misused Adderall within the previous year.


Adderall As A Party Drug

Some people even use Adderall as a party drug. Since it is an amphetamine, Adderall helps people stay awake longer. Many combine Adderall with marijuana and other substances. In fact, the full-time college students abusing Adderall in the NSDUH survey were nearly three times as likely to have used marijuana, eight times more likely to have used cocaine, eight times more likely to misuse prescription tranquilizers, and five times more likely to abuse prescription painkillers within the previous year than are students who do not misuse Adderall.

Alcohol frequently accompanies Adderall abuse. Nearly 90 percent of students in the NSDUH study who misused Adderall were binge alcohol users within the prior month; more than half of the Adderall-abusing college students were heavy alcohol users.

Short-term And Long-term Effects Of Adderall Abuse

Adderall can cause minor side effects. Short-term abuse of Adderall increases the risk of experiencing these side effects. Long-term Adderall abuse puts the individual at risk of physical dependence, addiction, and overdose.

The drug can also cause a number of serious side effects, including:

  • Fast, pounding heartbeats or an uneven heart rate
  • Painful or burning urination
  • Unusual behavior
  • Talking more than usual
  • Hallucinations
  • Feelings of extreme happiness or sadness
  • Muscle twitches, tremors
  • Dangerously high blood pressure

Signs And Symptoms Of Adderall Abuse

All medications, including Adderall, cause side effects. In cases of abuse, where the individual takes large doses of Adderall or takes it more frequently than prescribed, side effects can be more severe. These severe side effects serve as signs and symptoms of Adderall abuse.

Signs and symptoms of Adderall abuse include:

  • a headache
  • dry mouth and hoarseness
  • nausea, upset stomach
  • loss of appetite
  • constipation, diarrhea
  • anxiety, restlessness
  • difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
  • excessive fatigue
  • pounding or rapid heartbeat
  • shortness of breath
  • changes in sex drive

Long-term abuse of Adderall, or using exceptionally high doses, can cause the following signs and symptoms:

  • weakness, numbness in arms or legs
  • slowed speech
  • dizziness
  • chest pain
  • peeling or blistering skin
  • rash, hives
  • vision changes
  • aggressive behavior
  • mania—excessive enthusiasm, obsession
  • paranoia—fearful thoughts and feelings of persecution
  • seizures

Dangers Of Abusing Adderall

Medical professionals prescribe precise doses at exact administration schedules to treat a specific problem a patient may have. Abuse is the use of a drug outside of its prescribed use and dosage. Abusing any prescription drug is dangerous; this is particularly true with Adderall.

Using Adderall outside of its prescribed dose or purpose can cause unintended results.

Some people abuse Adderall because it creates a sense of euphoria—it makes them feel good. This makes Adderall an attractive drug for recreational use, which increases the risk of using the drug more often, as the consumer wants to experience euphoria frequently. The drug motivates other people, and they begin to use Adderall more frequently than prescribed when they need to get things done.

As someone uses Adderall over time, especially for non-medical or recreational uses, he or she can build a tolerance to the drug.

That means the individual’s body becomes accustomed to the effects of the amphetamine, so the person has to take stronger doses to achieve the same euphoric or motivational results.

With continued use, a person can become physically dependent on Adderall. That means the individual must maintain a certain amount of Adderall in his body to feel “normal.” If he stops taking Adderall, he experiences a long period of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Continued use of Adderall can also cause addiction, which is the compulsive use of a substance despite knowing that it could cause harmful consequences. Signs of addiction include the inability to quit using Adderall and failure to meet one’s obligations because of the harmful effects of the drug.

Addiction to Adderall or other illicit substances is expensive. Financial difficulty is a common problem among people struggling with addiction. Addiction can interfere with a person’s ability to work, interact with others, maintain stable relationships, and take care of responsibilities. Increased drug use puts the individual at greater risk for arrest while trying to purchase more Adderall. Drug abuse also increases the risk of overdose and death—this is especially true for those who have built up a tolerance to Adderall and therefore take excessively high doses.

Signs Of Adderall Addiction

Signs of Adderall addiction include:

  • Spending significant time looking for Adderall, and spending lots of money on the drug
  • Being fearful of running out of the drug
  • Needing an increasingly higher dose to achieve the same results
  • Taking a higher dose than recommended
  • Using Adderall more frequently than prescribed
  • Taking Adderall for reasons other than medical need, such as to stay awake for a long time
  • Consuming Adderall in an unapproved method, such as snorting
  • Taking someone else’s medication
  • Buying Adderall for recreational use from an illicit source
  • “Doctor shopping” for prescriptions

Adderall Withdrawal And Detox

Quitting Adderall can cause withdrawal symptoms in people who have used the drug for a long time. The withdrawal process, also known as detoxification, causes uncomfortable symptoms that typically begin a few hours after the last dose.

Symptoms of Adderall withdrawal include:

  • intense cravings for Adderall
  • sleep problems, such as insomnia and sleeping too much
  • intense hunger
  • anxiety, irritability
  • panic attacks
  • fatigue
  • unhappiness or depression
  • phobias or panic attacks
  • suicidal thoughts

These symptoms can persist for several days to a few weeks, depending on the amount of Adderall the individual was taking and the duration of Adderall abuse. These withdrawal symptoms make quitting Adderall “cold turkey” nearly impossible for many people.

Treatment For Adderall Addiction

Inpatient and outpatient treatment is available for those who need help overcoming Adderall abuse and addiction. Standard treatment involves the use of medications to ease withdrawal symptoms. Aftercare helps patients learn the skills they need to improve recovery.

Recovery professionals can help people overcome Adderall addiction with less discomfort than quitting cold turkey; reducing the discomfort of withdrawal can improve the chances of quitting Adderall successfully.

During recovery, medical professionals administer medications to reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. While the specific medications may vary according to patient needs, detoxification drugs often include:

  • Antidepressants to manage depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Mood stabilizers to soothe stress, panic attacks, and anxiety
  • Sleep aides to provide some much-needed rest

Addiction recovery can help anyone break free from the bonds of Adderall abuse.


Johns Hopkins – Adderall Misuse Rising Among Young Adults

DEA – Drug Info

NSDUH – Adderall Among Full-Time College Students