Drug Use

What is Adderall?

Adderall® is the trade name for a stimulant prescription drug containing four amphetamine salts. Also referred to as addys (the college student name), bennies, beans, black beauty, and more, this powerful amphetamine is most commonly used to treat symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and narcolepsy. This type of prescription drug is a stimulant and can be highly addictive.

Adderall and similar stimulants have been called ‘the study drugs’. Students will misuse this drug in order to cram for exams. They mistakenly believe that this study drug will enhance their academic performance, however, there is no evidence substantiating this belief. Similar, long-acting drugs include:

  • Dexmethylphenidate
  • Dextroamphetamine (Adderall XR)
  • Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)
  • Methylphenidate
  • Ritalin

How Does Adderall Affect the Body?

Adderall comes in tablet or capsule form and can be swallowed, snorted, smoked, or injected. People who misuse this stimulant drug often crush it and snort or smoke it. Additionally, some individuals crush the tablets or open the capsules, mix the substance with water, and then inject it.

Depending on the method of consumption as well as the type of Adderall (extended-release versus immediate-release), the effects of this drug can be felt within minutes to about half an hour. The length of time the effects last are also dependent on these factors and can last from a few hours to an entire day. Adderall is generally considered a long-acting drug which is part of its appeal to users.

While Adderall is relatively safe if used as prescribed, misuse can quickly lead to dependence and addiction. Prescription stimulants, including Adderall, are central nervous system stimulants and impact the brain by increasing the activity of dopamine and norepinephrine. Adderall’s structure is similar to these naturally occurring brain chemicals which play vital roles in the brain.

Dopamine is connected to the brain’s reward system and norepinephrine is involved in functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. When stimulants are abused, there is a significant risk of overactivity in these areas which can lead to overdose and death.

When doctors prescribe Adderall they start on low doses, slowly increasing dopamine in the brain and gradually build up as needed. However, when the drug is misused and snorted, smoked, or injected, the release of dopamine can be much more intense and lead to serious negative side effects. This intense release can also make the person more likely to become dependent and addicted.

Common Side Effects of Adderall

As mentioned, Adderall increases the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain. When this stimulant is taken, the effects on the body can be immediate and noticeable. If misused, the impact of Adderall can be damaging to the body both short- and long-term. Note that Adderall and similar drugs used to treat ADHD, have serious side effects for people with thyroid issues. So addiction is not the only concern with Adderall. Before taking Adderall, patients, practitioners, and users in general should perform a thyroid test, as the side effects can be really severe. Another side effect of Adderall is that it increases blood pressure. For people with pre-existing heart conditions or high blood pressure, this is especially dangerous.

Short-term side effects can include:

  • Increased alertness

  • Increased attention

  • Impulsivity

  • Dry mouth

  • Sleep disorders

  • Increased energy

  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate

  • Increased blood sugar levels

  • Decreased blood flow

  • Opening of airway passages

  • Increased body temperature

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Decreased sleep

  • Decreased appetite

  • Increased risk of seizures and stroke

  • Headaches

  • Decreased sex drive

  • Stomach issues

Long-term effects can include:

  • Increased risk of heart disease

  • Psychosis

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Intense anger

  • Paranoia

  • Sudden death

When taken in high doses or a lot in a short period of time, the risk for serious side effects increases. This includes the risk of heart issues including heart failure even in adolescents and young adults. It is also important to note that if the person using Adderall is injecting it, there is a risk for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis from sharing needles.

Signs and Symptoms of Adderall Addiction

As with other drug addictions, there are certain signs to look for when it comes to Adderall addiction. This drug is classified as a Schedule II drug meaning that the risk for addiction is high. It’s important to know the warning signs of Adderall addiction.

Physical Symptoms of Adderall Use

  • Loss of appetite that is ongoing

  • Severe weight loss

  • Excessive tiredness and sleeping for long periods

  • Memory loss

  • Neglecting personal appearance and hygiene

  • Manic episodes

Behavioral Symptoms of Adderall Use

  • Talking a lot

  • Having a lot of energy

  • Isolation or changes in friend groups

  • Aggression

  • Problems with relationships
  • Financial issues
  • Hiding things, lying, and secretive behaviors
  • Impulsivity
  • Running out of medication too soon
  • Working too much
  • Appearing confused or disoriented

It’s important to note that not everyone who misuses this drug is addicted. It can be a fine line, however, and often difficult to discern addiction from misuse. Overall, if the individual puts using Adderall in front of everything else and is constantly seeking the drug and using it, that is a telltale sign of addiction.

Signs and Symptoms of Adderall Withdrawal

When an individual stops taking Adderall ‘cold turkey’ they can experience serious withdrawal symptoms. Some substance users find the withdrawal symptoms to be intolerable, and they often relapse. In order to effectively and safely stop substance use, it's recommended the addicted person seek medical advice and enter a treatment program.

Here are some common Adderall withdrawal symptoms:

Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Very slowed heartbeat

  • Lack of energy

  • Long periods of sleeping

  • Strong cravings

Behavioral Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Concentration issues

  • Irritability

  • Inability to feel pleasure

In addition to these withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to look for overdose symptoms in the case that the person trying to quit relapses and takes too much of this dangerous stimulant drug. Watch for a rapid heartbeat, chest pain, shortness of breath, numbness of a limb, faintness, rash, hives, or signs of an allergic reaction. If you see these signs or others that are of concern seek medical help immediately.

Treatment for Adderall Addiction

As mentioned, it is vital to seek professional addiction treatment for an Adderall addiction. This way you or your loved one are safely detoxed and also able to be removed from the temptations and distractions while working on recovery.

Currently, there are no medications specifically used to treat Adderall addiction, however, some of the treatments used for cocaine and methamphetamine abuse are effective in helping to treat Adderall addiction.

Behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other incentive-based treatments are helpful in treating addiction to Adderall. In addition, as with treatment for any kind of addiction, having a strong support system after clinical treatment is vital. 12-Step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous can provide support, guidance, and even comradery for those in recovery from an Adderall addiction.

If you or someone you love is addicted to Adderall, there is help and recovery is possible. No matter how bleak it may seem, many just like you or your loved one have recovered from Adderall addiction and gone on to live happy, fulfilling lives free of Adderall. At Caron, we believe that recovery isn’t just possible, it’s probable. We’re just one call away at 1-800-854-6023 or learn more online.

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