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Side Effects Of Adderall

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

January 15, 2019

Adderall is a prescription medication given to individuals who have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. While this drug can be very effective when taken properly, those who take it improperly or without a prescription may be at risk for serious side effects.

Adderall is a potent central nervous system stimulant medication most typically used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and in certain cases, narcolepsy. Offered in two forms—Adderall and Adderall XR (an extended-release version)—this medication is currently prescribed to countless Americans and abused by many more. It is classified as a Schedule II drug, which the DEA writes “are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous.”

Stimulant medications work by impacting a person’s brain, specifically the neurochemistry, and in the case of ADHD, work by addressing chemical imbalances responsible for creating the symptoms associated with the disorder. What is most interesting, perhaps, and also not fully realized by every individual, is that stimulants actually work by exerting what is actually an opposite impact on individuals without ADHD, versus those who suffer from the disorder. In this capacity, some of the side effects of Adderall abuse may be different from the side effects of an individual truly in need of the medication who uses it within prescribed circumstances.

Why Do People Abuse Adderall?

Adderall has received a lot of press as of late, for its significant role and potential within abuse of all ages, ranging from children to adolescents and teens, college students, and even adult professionals. For these individuals, it is most commonly used as a study or performance-enhancing aid, or as a recreational drug to induce the euphoric state. Many students and professionals abuse it because of its capacity to induce a more alert and wakeful state, decreasing the apparent need for sleep, and granting them both more time and energy to devote to their studies or career endeavors.

Adderall is also commonly, and wrongly, equated to being a “smart drug.” Used as a study aid, or a “study drug,”many students believe that it may increase their capacity to learn. On the contrary, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse cautions, “studies have found that they do not enhance learning or thinking ability when taken by people who do not actually have ADHD.”

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How Do People Abuse These Drugs?

Abuse constitutes patterns of misusing your own personal prescription in a way other than prescribed (such a taking them in a more frequent or higher quantity), or by taking a drug when you do not have a prescription. Using a drug recreationally to obtain a high or sense of pleasure is abuse. Any of these modes of abuse may lead to addiction. When a person abuses Adderall, they may take more of the drug at once, or more often; choose to crush and snort the pill, or dilute it with water and inject it. Individuals with a prescription may unknowingly abuse the drug, altering the dosage of the drug in an attempt to better moderate their symptoms. For those without a script, due to the prevalence of this drug, many obtain the drug illicitly through a friend, family member, or by purchasing it off the streets.

A widespread practice, which is substantiated by many personal accounts and research, is that Adderall abuse is compounded by the fact that the medication may be overprescribed. There are countless reports of individuals who do not truly suffer from ADHD feigning symptoms, in order to receive prescriptions. This is so common, in fact, that the FDA has actually issued a warning on this, within the medication’s prescribing information. The line between abuse and prescribed use becomes fuzzy then, as these individuals may have a prescription, however, they are in fact taking a drug they do not need, likely in a way other than prescribed, with intent to seek results other than the drug is meant to be prescribed for.

Creating A Different Experience

A stimulant works by creating more dopamine within a person’s brain. Individuals who have ADHD have too little of this important neurotransmitter, thusly, this influx works towards restoring their brain to a more balanced and normal state. This change doesn’t occur instantaneously, instead, the levels of dopamine gradually rise, mimicking the way this chemical would be produced in a well-functioning brain.

However, for a person who does not have this disorder, the brain is flooded with an overabundance of dopamine, creating in the short term the pleasurable feelings a recreational drug user may seek, and in the long term, a host of side effects and potential dangers. In situations of abuse, the brain reaches this state far too quickly, due to the altered route or dosage of the drug. Though this decreased time frame is what is responsible for the euphoria, it also negatively alters the way the brain’s cells are communicating and puts a person at a greater risk of addiction.

For a person with ADHD, Adderall, like other stimulant medications used for this disorder, exerts an effect that is in many ways opposite to what the name infers (a stimulating experience), instead, working on the brain in a way that actually creates a more calm, relaxed, and focused state. On the other hand, for an individual without ADHD, while yet creating a more focused state, Adderall does essentially what its name implies, creating a more wakeful, stimulated, and energized state—and foremost in terms of its potential for abuse, a euphoric state or intense feeling of well-being.

What Are The Side Effects Of Adderall Use And Abuse?

As we’ve noted, this use is especially seen in young adults, especially those that are college aged. Live Science reports that this age group is “twice as likely as non-students to have used Adderall non-medically.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released study findings detailing that Adderall abuse is most prevalent in 18- to 25-year-olds, who do not have their own prescription, equating to 60 percent of the abuse for those over age 12. They report that this non-medical use has climbed 67 percent, as well as emergency department visits linked to this abuse, which skyrocketed 156 percent. Though abuse most often occurs in those who do not have a medical need for this drug, it may, as Stanford Medicine notes, cause dependence and/or abuse in those who truly need and use it for a proper medical diagnosis of ADHD.

In prescribed use, this drug may cause:

  • Gastrointestinal upset (nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea)
  • Fever, chills, or flu-like symptoms
  • Difficulties with urinating
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Altered or blurry vision
  • Extremities become numb or cold
  • Difficulty breathing or dizziness
  • No appetite or weight loss
  • Intense bouts of energy
  • Extreme tiredness or difficulty sleeping
  • Restless, agitated, or confused state
  • Changes to thoughts and behavior, including manic tendencies or delusional thinking
  • Visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations
  • Chest pain and/or increased, irregular, or pounding heartbeat
  • Problems with your blood circulation (Peripheral vasculopathy)
  • Complications with your heart or blood vessels, including stroke or heart attack
  • Seizure

Abuse of stimulant may intensify some of the aforementioned side effects, and also lead to:

  • Development of a persistent rash or hives
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Raised temperature
  • Decreased sleep and/or insomnia
  • Irritability or various changes to a person’s personality
  • A sense of hostility or aggression
  • Paranoia or psychosis
  • A suppressed appetite
  • Malnutrition
  • Damage to the brain’s functioning
  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Stroke
  • Addiction
  • Withdrawal
  • Overdose

An Adderall overdose may be fatal or cause severe organ damage. Both kidney and liver failure may occur, due to the toxic accumulations of the drug. Fatalities may be due to a heart attack, stroke, or a condition called hyperthermia, a disorder that may cause a coma and permanent brain damage. Livestrong outlines an additional threat of overdose, “Adderall can also stimulate internal bleeding in the skull, predisposing the patient to one-sided paralysis, confusion and loss of consciousness.”

Adderall may be disruptive to an individual’s well-being in a number of other ways. Contrasting a popular misnomer, Adderall may actually create detrimental effects to a student’s educational pursuits. Reporting on this, NIDA notes that “research has shown that students who abuse prescription stimulants actually have lower GPAs in high school and college than those who don’t.”

Stimulant medications such as Adderall can react with a variety of medications and preexisting health conditions, including various mental health disorders and medications used to treat them, and cardiac conditions.

In regards to this, Live Science warns that “Stimulants can also cause sudden death in patients with congenital heart defects or serious heart problems.” This abuse may also create a heightened risk of developing certain mental health disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder.

Side effects and risks may vary depending on the route of administration. Individuals who choose to snort Adderall experience increased risks of damage to their nasal and sinus tissues, damage to lung tissue and respiratory issues and toxic shock. Individuals who inject the drug face heightened risks of skin infections at the injection site and transmissible diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C.

Lastly, Adderall may be involved in polydrug abuse. According to Live Science, some individuals attempt to use Adderall to counteract the effects of alcohol, a venture that could be very dangerous. Claiming that the drug partially inhibits intoxication, these people feel they can drink more alcohol. This increased use can lead to alcohol poisoning, including that which is fatal.

Counteracting The Damage By Treatment

Fortunately, there is help. If you’re facing Adderall abuse or addiction, various treatment options exist. Depending on the scope of these things, both outpatient and inpatient drug rehab programs are offered. In severe cases, the latter form may be more beneficial. Though there is not currently an approved medication for stimulant addiction, various other medications may be used within treatment to alleviate or stop various symptoms of withdrawal during the detoxification process.

After a person successfully detoxes, treatment will begin. Behavioral therapy may be especially useful, teaching an individual coping skills and to release negative thought patterns and behaviors and replace them with more positive and productive ones. A good program will also prepare you for your time after treatment, by teaching you valuable relapse prevention skills and connecting you to aftercare support. Family therapy and support may be integrated, so that your family can also heal and learn better ways to help you during your recovery journey.

Let Us Help You Take Better Care Of You

If you’ve found yourself in a situation regarding Adderall abuse or addiction, you may struggle to comprehend a life without it. Despite this, the potential of a new, and fulfilling, life does exist, one which does not entail abusing this harmful drug. Our expert staff at can help you to better understand how this is possible and help you to examine your treatment options. Contact us today.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Stimulant ADHD Medications: Methylphenidate and Amphetamines

U.S. National Library of Medicine - Prescription stimulants in individuals with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: misuse, cognitive impact, and adverse effects

Live Science - Adderall: Uses, Abuses & Side Effects

HUB - Adderall abuse on the rise among young adults, Johns Hopkins study suggests

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