Adderall Addiction: What It Is, Signs, & How To Recover

Adderall misuse is most common among young adults ages eighteen to twenty-five years old. Although prescriptions for Adderall have not increased, abuse and emergency visits involving young adults have.1 In this article, we will explore how Adderall works, Adderall addiction, and how to access treatment for stimulant abuse.

A prescription bottle is spilled over with blue Adderall pills laid out representing the signs of addiction and how to recover.

What Is Adderall?

Adderall, the combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, is a commonly prescribed medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Adderall falls under a classification of drugs known as central nervous system stimulants. Since this medication is a controlled substance and is prone to abuse, it is not refillable and only available with a prescription from a doctor.2

How Does Adderall Work In The Brain?

Amphetamine, the active ingredient in Adderall, stimulates the central nervous system. People with ADHD generally have lower dopamine levels, which is a critical chemical in the brain’s reward system. Therefore, people with ADHD are constantly in search of stimulation. The amphetamine in Adderall triggers the brain to release more dopamine and other transmitters. Once this occurs, a person isn’t as susceptible to minor distractions that cause them to lose focus.3

Adderall Misuse and Diversion

On average, approximately seventeen percent of college students report participating in stimulant medication misuse. An example of Adderall misuse is taking more of the medication than the prescription indicates. Adderall diversion happens when a person uses someone else’s Adderall without a prescription. For instance, buying Adderall from a dealer or accepting Adderall from an acquaintance.4

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“Study Drugs” and Adderall Misuse

Every year, about 2.5 million people in America receive a prescription for stimulants such as Adderall or Ritalin for their ADHD. Studies have shown that high school and college students are using stimulants for non-medical purposes. For instance, someone with an Adderall prescription might sell their pills to a college friend struggling to accomplish their schoolwork. Drugs like Adderall are referred to as study drugs and misused to stay awake, focus, or study for longer periods. Some students also reported misusing Adderall to relieve social anxiety or lose weight (5).

Why Are “Study Drugs” A Problem?

There is a misconception that because Adderall is a prescription drug it is safe and less dangerous than street drugs. Some students believe they are safely self-medicating their undiagnosed ADHD. Adderall is a schedule II drug and potentially just as dangerous as cocaine or opioids. When a doctor prescribes Adderall to treat a patient’s ADHD, they review their complete medical history to reduce the risk of severe side effects. If an individual is not prescribed Adderall but uses it as a study drug, the risk is significant and potentially life-threatening. For example, if a college student has a heart condition, Adderall misuse could lead to heart failure.5

Can You Get Addicted to Adderall?

For people without ADHD, taking a stimulant increases dopamine and results in a feeling of euphoria. A person can get addicted or become dependent upon Adderall as with any other drug. What is the difference between addiction and dependence? Addiction is continued drug use or inability to stop using despite negative consequences. Physical dependence occurs when a person’s body needs the drug and begins requiring more of the substance to achieve the same effect (tolerance to the drug). Physical dependence does not necessarily equal addiction. A person can develop dependence when taking medication as prescribed.7

Risk Factors for Adderall Addiction

Individuals ranging from eighteen to twenty-five years old are at higher risk of developing an Adderall addiction. Studies have also shown that males are more likely to misuse Adderall than females. Research shows that the following variables increase a person’s risk of developing an Adderall addiction:4

  • Caucasian
  • Sorority or fraternity member in the United States
  • Students with a low-grade point average
  • Individuals with a history of substance abuse (including alcohol) or mixing Adderall
  • Symptoms of inattention, depression, anxiety, stress
  • Individuals with a psychiatric disorder, including ADHD

Sadly, adolescents and young adults who abuse prescription medication like Adderall are more likely to use other drugs.6

Health Effects of Adderall Addiction

Stimulates like Adderall can increase blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. Adderall misuse can result in heart failure, seizures, and other health conditions. In some situations, death is a health effect of stimulant use disorder. Additionally, if a person is coming down from using Adderall, they could struggle with insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness. Paranoia, organ damage, and anxiety are all effects of chronic stimulant misuse. If a person is abusing Adderall, they are also at an increased risk of suicide.8

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Adderall Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Licensed professionals use the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to diagnose stimulant use disorders. For a client to be diagnosed with stimulant use disorder, they must meet particular criteria.8 The following section will explore what DSM-5 criteria a person must meet to have a stimulant use disorder.

Criteria for Substance Use Disorder

Stimulant use disorders fall into three categories of severity: mild, moderate, or severe. Mild stimulant use disorder is diagnosed with the presence of two to three symptoms. If a client has four to five symptoms, they receive a moderate stimulant use disorder diagnosis. A severe stimulant use disorder diagnosis includes the presence of six or more symptoms. Here are the substance use disorder signs a treatment center would assess:9

  • The substance is taken in higher quantities or for a longer period than intended
  • Continuous failed attempts to cut back or control use
  • Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from substance use
  • Cravings and urges to use the substance
  • Unfulfilled professional or personal obligations due to use
  • Continued use despite social or interpersonal consequences
  • Giving up or missing essential activities or hobbies due to the use
  • Using a substance even with the knowledge that it exacerbates an existing physical or psychological problem
  • Tolerance to the drug
  • Withdrawal

If you or a loved one are diagnosed with a substance use disorder, the next step is learning about overdose, addiction centers, and recovery tools.

Can A Person Overdose On Adderall?

People can overdose when using prescribed and non-prescribed Adderall. Symptoms of an Adderall overdose can include tremors, restlessness, rapid breathing, aggression, confusion, hallucination, panic, abnormally high fever, weakness, and muscle pain. Unfortunately, it is typical for a stimulant overdose to result in a heart attack or seizure. Therefore, if a person is experiencing possible overdose symptoms, it’s critical to contact 911 and seek professional medical assistance immediately.10

Treatment for Adderall Addiction and Stimulant Abuse

Addiction is a chronic but treatable disease that requires an individualized approach to meet the client’s specific needs. Every person’s treatment plan looks different, but most care plans include some form of detoxification, behavioral treatment, and sober support11 In the following few sections, we will discuss the different levels of care in substance use disorder treatment.

Detoxification or Withdrawal Process

A medically assisted detox is generally the first step when it comes to addiction treatment and is often a form of inpatient prescription drug treatment. This process alleviates uncomfortable or unwanted withdrawal symptoms. It’s critical for clients to receive further treatment after overcoming withdrawals. Clients who discontinue treatment after detox are more likely to resume their drug use.11

Inpatient or Residential Treatment

An inpatient or residential treatment facility may be an excellent resource for people with substance use or co-occurring (substance use and mental health) disorders or who require a higher level of care. Programs in this category include therapeutic communities, short-term residential programs, and recovery housing. The structure and accountability a person receives while in these settings can be invaluable.11

Outpatient Behavioral Treatment

Outpatient treatment programs vary based on intensity and duration. Many outpatient programs utilize a combination of group and individual therapies. At Hotel California by the Sea, clinicians use a variety of individual and group therapies, including Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), to treat substance abuse issues and other co-occurring mental health conditions CBT is an evidence-based treatment modality commonly used in outpatient settings. CBT teaches clients how to recognize, avoid, and cope with situations that are triggering. Motivational Interviewing is another tool used to help clients change their behavior.11

Medication Therapy

Currently, there are no medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat Adderall addiction and stimulant abuse. Researchers continue to look for an effective medicine to help individuals struggling to overcome stimulant addiction.12

Long-Term Sober Support

Substance abuse professionals recommend 12-step programs and peer support groups for continued abstinence. 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) publish in-person and virtual meetings on their websites. It’s critical to have a sober support network in place after treatment at a rehab center ends.13

Find Adderall Addiction Rehab

Hotel California by the Sea offers inpatient and outpatient substance abuse treatment for those struggling with adderall addiction and addiction to other stimulant drugs (both illegal and legal). Young adults and college students are especially vulnerable to Adderall addiction and stimulant abuse. In fact, a study conducted at Bates College found that one out of three students had abused Adderall at least once.5  No matter your age, Hotel California by the Sea can help you recover from substance abuse issues and other mental health conditions