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Modafinil Abuse, Addiction, And Treatment Options

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

March 8, 2019

Modafinil is a stimulant prescription drug designed to keep people alert and awake. Used for treating narcolepsy and other excessive sleep disorders, modafinil has the potential for abuse and addiction, especially for those seeking to improve cognitive performance and mental concentration.

What Is Modafinil?

Modafinil, brand name Provigil, is used to promote wakefulness and alertness. The drug is typically prescribed for narcolepsy or other disorders that involve irregular sleeping patterns, like shift work disorder or obstructive sleep apnea.

A person is likely prescribed modafinil to treat excessive sleepiness. The drug does not act as a cure or treatment to the medical condition that may cause sleepiness, but simply works to keep a person awake and functional.

Modafinil has also been prescribed to treat attention deficit disorder and schizophrenia, and has been experimentally used for treatment of cocaine addiction. Like cocaine, modafinil is a stimulant. However, it’s a different kind of stimulant. The drug does not affect the brain in the same way as other stimulants, like methamphetamine and cocaine.

This has led people to believe modafinil isn’t addictive because it does not directly affect the reward circuit in the brain (like cocaine or meth). But, research shows modafinil does affect areas in the brain related to dopamine and pleasure, the same parts of the brain that affect development of addiction.

Many people have turned to modafinil for nonmedical reasons. Students, writers, and working professionals wanting to stay attentive and focused have abused modafinil to increase mental alertness and concentration, believing the drug can improve cognitive performance.

While more research is needed, abusing modafinil for nonmedical reasons may lead to dependence and addiction. Modafinil is a DEA schedule IV controlled substance. Schedule IV drugs have a lower potential for abuse than other drugs, but are still considered addictive. Due to the stimulating effects of the drug, there will likely be signs and symptoms of modafinil abuse and addiction.

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Signs And Symptoms Of Modafinil Abuse And Addiction

If a person abuses modafinil, they may show signs of typical drug-seeking behavior. They may prioritize using modafinil first, while other responsibilities, like work or school, get pushed away or neglected. A person suffering from modafinil abuse and addiction may compulsively use the drug despite obvious harm to themselves or others.

Abusing modafinil is likely to increase the onset of side effects.

Side effects of modafinil may include:

  • back pain
  • confusion
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle tightness
  • nausea
  • sleeping problems
  • sweating

Misusing modafinil may also produce more dangerous side effects. Excessive use of modafinil may cause a person to become frenzied, or abnormally excited. Abnormal excitement can lead to an irregular heartbeat, itching, and difficulty breathing.

People abusing modafinil may also appear intoxicated or euphoric. Modafinil may produce effects similar to other stimulants, such as euphoria (feeling high), over-confidence, increased energy, and mental alertness.

A person suffering from modafinil abuse and addiction may seem more energetic than usual, and may show interest in things they typically don’t find interesting. They may show signs of having trouble sleeping or staying asleep.

People who work demanding hours may be at risk of developing modafinil addiction because they require more energy to keep going and get the job done. They may work into the night and and be extremely focused, while potentially neglecting relationships or family.

Spotting the signs and symptoms of modafinil abuse is important to avoid the dangers that come with excessive use and abuse.

The Dangers Of Modafinil Abuse And Addiction

Abusing modafinil is likely to increase the risk of experiencing severe side effects.

Many serious side effects of modafinil are psychological, and may include feelings of anxiety and depression, hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there), mania (extreme talkativeness and activity), aggressive behavior, and suicidal thoughts.

Stimulants like modafinil are dangerous to use in excess because they may cause a person to behave in risky and unpredictable ways. This can include driving under the influence, having unprotected sex, and engaging in unlawful activities.

Overdose may occur as a result of excessive modafinil use. By taking too much modafinil, a person may experience:

  • chest pain
  • confusion
  • disorientation
  • excitedness
  • fast or slow heartbeat
  • hallucinations
  • increased blood pressure
  • restlessness
  • trouble sleeping

An overdose must be treated as a medical emergency, and 9-1-1 should be contacted immediately.

Another potential danger of modafinil abuse and addiction is a severe disruption to sleep. By promoting wakefulness, modafinil may cause a person to remain awake when they need sleep, severely affecting healthy patterns of sleep and rest. When a person never falls into a deep sleep, their body may never feel refreshed.

People abusing modafinil may find themselves in a strange state halfway between sleepiness and wakefulness; they’re conscious, but not fully awake. After a period of modafinil abuse, a person may experience withdrawal symptoms after stopping use.

Modafinil Withdrawal And Detox

Withdrawal occurs after a person develops a physical or psychological dependence to a drug. For modafinil, psychological dependence is likely to occur after long-term abuse.

Because of how modafinil interacts with the brain, a person may experience depression, anxiety, and a general lack of motivation or inactivity after stopping use. Since modafinil produces feelings of increased concentration, mental alertness, and energy, the person may feel lethargic and confused once the drug is discontinued.

Other symptoms of modafinil withdrawal may include:

  • breathing problems
  • concentration problems
  • depression
  • fatigue
  • lack of energy
  • sleepiness

The length and severity of modafinil withdrawal is unknown, but likely depends on how often a person took modafinil and how much of the drug they abused. Withdrawal happens when a person got so used to having the drug in their system that not having it throws the body and mind out of its normal cycle.

In the case of severe addiction and withdrawal, a person’s day-to-day functioning may be affected. If so, a medically-supervised detox may be necessary for a person to safely manage symptoms and avoid relapse.

Detoxification is the process by which the body rids itself of harmful toxins, and medical supervision allows professionals to closely monitor a person’s progress, administer medications when necessary, and provide a supportive environment.

Undergoing a medically-supervised detox program does not cure addiction to modafinil. Other treatment options should follow to give a person the best chances for recovery.

Modafinil Abuse And Addiction Treatment Options

Effective treatment for any substance use disorder (SUD) typically involves a combination of medication and behavioral therapies. Currently, there are no government-approved medications to treat addiction to stimulants like modafinil. The best course of treatment is likely a variety of behavioral therapies.

Behavioral therapy aims to change a person’s thinking and attitudes towards drugs. Therapy can include one-on-one sessions, peer support groups, and other, more intensive therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). Other comprehensive treatment options for modafinil abuse and addiction may include a combination of individualized counseling, drug testing, and 12-step peer support.

For a severe addiction, the likely best course of action is a stay at an inpatient treatment center. Inpatient treatment centers provide a host of behavioral therapies, access to medications, and round-the-clock care. Inpatient treatment programs are effective for treating addiction because they provide professional and peer support, careful monitoring and observation, and a stable environment for recovery.

Call now for more information on treatment options for modafinil abuse and addiction.

Mental Health Daily - Provigil (Modafinil) Withdrawal Symptoms

TIME - Safety Concerns Raised Over Popular Wakefulness Drug

U.S. Food and Drug Administration - Provigil Drug Label

U.S. National Library of Medicine - Effects of Modafinil on Dopamine

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