Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.
A combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, Adderall is the brand name of a medication prescribed to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. A powerful stimulant, Adderall helps people with ADHD focus, but it has a high potential for abuse.
How Adderall Works
Adderall increases dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Dopamine improves a person’s mental outlook, which is why it is often referred to as the “feel-good” hormone. Individuals become used to this effect and become dependent on Adderall. Tolerance to the drug can happen and results in the user needing to take Adderall more often or in larger amounts to achieve the same effect.
Adderall is most commonly abused by students who feel higher pressure to perform academically. The drug is not perceived as dangerous because it is popular and thought to be low risk. However, it is an amphetamine and is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the same classification as cocaine. This means that the risk of addiction or potential for abuse is high.
Signs of Adderall Abuse
Someone prescribed Adderall by a doctor will be monitored and their dosage adjusted as needed. This can help minimize the risk of addiction. While it is still possible to become addicted to Adderall even under medical supervision, those who take the drug without a prescription are at a greater risk.
Signs that someone may be abusing Adderall include:
- Taking more than the recommended or prescribed dose of Adderall
- Mixing the drug with other substances, like alcohol
- Injecting or snorting the drug
- Feeling unable to meet deadlines or complete work without taking the drug
- Persistently spending time and energy seeking out the drug
- Withdrawing from professional, academic, or social obligations
- Mood swings, aggression, mania, restlessness, or excessive tiredness
Additionally, someone who is abusing Adderall may experience a range of side effects. Some potential problems associated with Adderall abuse are:
- A rise in blood pressure and blood sugar
- Fast breathing and heart rate
- Muscle pain and weakness
- Tremors and restlessness
- Intense anger
- Psychosis (believing, seeing, or hearing things that aren’t real)
Overdose on Adderall
While it is possible to overdose on Adderall, it is unlikely. That is because a typical prescription for Adderall is five to 60 milligrams per day. A dose large enough to cause death is 20 to 25 milligrams per kilogram of the person’s weight. That means for someone around 155 pounds to overdose, they would need to take about 1,400 milligrams of Adderall — a dose 25 times higher than prescribed.
The possibility of overdose on Adderall increases if someone takes the amphetamine with other drugs or alcohol. For instance, Adderall can interact badly with a host of medications, such as prescriptions used to treat blood pressure or cold and allergy medicines. Interactions between some antidepressants and Adderall could also be life-threatening. Even some antacids may cause problems if taken with Adderall. Finally, mixing Adderall with alcohol is never a good idea, as it can cause alcohol poisoning, coma, or overdose.
Potential signs of an Adderall overdose include:
- Rapid breathing
- Stomach pain
- Heart attack
- Fever of 106.7 or higher
When someone stops taking Adderall, they will experience a reduction in dopamine levels throughout their body and brain. If the person was prescribed Adderall and has taken the medication as prescribed, their withdrawal symptoms should be mild or nonexistent. Talk to a doctor before stopping the medication. They may advise the person to reduce their dosage rather than completely stop using Adderall to help manage potential withdrawal symptoms.
However, someone that has abused Adderall can experience some significant side effects because the medication is a stimulant. The withdrawal experience will vary from person to person but typically begins within one to two days of stopping the drug and can last for anywhere from a few days to several weeks.
Symptoms of Adderall withdrawal include:
- Low energy
- Inability to focus
- Dry mouth
- Body aches
- Mood swings
- Overwhelming anxiety/panic attacks
- Uncontrollable crying
- Short-term memory loss
- Intense cravings
If someone has been abusing Adderall, a medically supervised detox is often the safest way to start their recovery. Treatment may include psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, and support groups, depending on the extent of the person’s addiction.
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