Adderall is a prescription stimulant drug commonly prescribed to children and teenagers suffering from ADHD. However, because of the drug’s powerful effects on the central nervous system, it has also become the most commonly abused prescription stimulant. The side effects of Adderall addiction and withdrawal can be extremely dangerous. If you or someone you know is struggling with Adderall abuse, Adderall addiction treatment can be life-saving.
Spotting an Adderall Addiction
As of 2011, 11 percent of children and adolescents between the ages of 4 and 17 were diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD. The number of ADHD diagnoses continues to grow every year and, with it, the number of prescriptions written for ADHD medications. One of the most popular ADHD medications is Adderall, an amphetamine stimulant that is being abused by children, teens, college students, and adults alike.
Stimulant drugs like Adderall are the most frequently abused central nervous system stimulants, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Many people abuse Adderall because the drug creates a calming effect and allows the user to focus on intellectual tasks. When used as directed for the treatment of ADHD, Adderall can be extremely beneficial. However, when used without a prescription or not as directed, Adderall abuse can lead to addiction.
If an individual abuses Adderall, it can quickly lead to dependence. Adderall causes an increase in dopamine levels in the brain. Because dopamine is associated with feelings of pleasure, movement and coordination, and attention, many people use and abuse Adderall. However, over time, the brain will stop producing dopamine naturally and will rely on Adderall as the sole source of this important chemical. This is called Adderall dependence.
If a person who has become dependent on Adderall suddenly stops taking the drug or starts using less of the drug, it can result in Adderall withdrawal. Going through withdrawal is an extremely unpleasant experience that causes many people to relapse in order to relieve the discomfort. Everyone’s withdrawal experience and duration is different and depends on a number of factors. Adderall withdrawal can also cause or exacerbate serious psychological or physical conditions.
In order to overcome Adderall addiction, enrolling in an Adderall addiction treatment program can provide the best support, care, and resources to maintain long-term recovery.
Facts & Statistics
Adderall abuse can quickly lead to tolerance and dependence. When Adderall is consumed, the pleasure center in the brain releases a chemical called dopamine, which creates feelings of pleasure. Repeated Adderall use causes the brain to adjust to these high levels of dopamine, and the brain eventually stops producing dopamine on its own.
When dopamine production slows or stops, the user begins to feel sad or depressed without the drug. Eventually, someone who is abusing Adderall may require more of the drug to achieve the original pleasurable effects. This is referred to as tolerance. Tolerance of the drug leads to greater and more frequent use, which can quickly spiral into dependence and addiction.
- Adderall abuse is the highest among men and women between the ages of 18 and 25.
- From 2006 to 2011, non-prescribed use of Adderall increased by 67 percent.
- From 2006 to 2011, emergency room visits associated with Adderall increased by 156 percent.
- Most people who abuse Adderall obtain their supply from a friend or family member who has a prescription.
Symptoms & Diagnosis of Adderall Addiction
A common misconception is that prescription medications are safe to use (or even abuse) because they come from a doctor. However, prescription medications can be just as harmful as illicit drugs.
Signs and side effects of Adderall abuse include:
- Digestive issues
- Diminished appetite
- Diminished sex drive
- Dry mouth
- Irregular heartbeat
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Gruff or hoarse voice
- Shortness of breath
- Sleep disturbance such as insomnia
Over time, continued Adderall abuse can develop into Adderall addiction. Prolonged Adderall abuse or consuming Adderall in large quantities can cause:
- Manic behavior
- Chest pain
- Difficulty speaking or slurred speech
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased body temperature
- Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the limbs
- Skin blisters or peeling
- Skin rash or hives
- Vision changes
Overdose is extremely common with extended Adderall abuse. Because a person struggling with Adderall addiction will feel the need to take more and more of the drug over time to experience the same effects, many individuals accidentally take too much of the drug and experience an overdose.
Overdose is also common when someone has stopped taking the drug after building up a tolerance, then resumes abusing the drug at the same level. During the time one abstains from the drug, tolerance levels drop. Resuming Adderall abuse after a period of abstinence can lead to a dangerous overdose.
Signs and symptoms of Adderall overdose include:
- Abnormal heartbeat
- Extreme anxiety or panic attacks
- Losing consciousness
- Severe confusion
Adderall Withdrawal & Detox
If someone who is abusing Adderall abruptly stops taking the drug, he or she will experience Adderall withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are a sign that you have become addicted to the medication. To get through Adderall withdrawal and achieve recovery from Adderall abuse, it is important to understand the effects of Adderall withdrawal and the best treatment options available.
Withdrawing from Adderall abuse can be an extremely uncomfortable and distressing experience. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), withdrawal from stimulants like Adderall occurs when a person stops taking the drug or reduces the amount of the drug he or she is consuming. Withdrawal is a sign of addiction and should be taken very seriously.
In addition, many people who go through detoxification and withdrawal from Adderall and other stimulant drug abuse experience symptoms such as:
- Increased appetite
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Intense drug cravings
- Poor concentration
- Profoundly slowed movement or lack of coordination
If you or someone you know may be suffering from any of these symptoms of Adderall withdrawal, it may be time to consider a formal detox and Adderall addiction treatment program.
Because Adderall is an amphetamine, it has a longer half-life than other stimulants, which means that it remains in the body for a longer period of time. Drug detox from Adderall usually lasts anywhere from six to 36 hours, which is then followed by the acute withdrawal phase. For most stimulants, acute withdrawal lasts one to two weeks. However, stimulants like Adderall affect everyone differently, so everyone’s detoxification period is different.
There are also several factors that will affect an individual’s unique drug detox and addiction treatment process, including:
- The length of time someone has been using Adderall
- The dosage that’s been consumed
- Whether one has been using Adderall in conjunction with other drugs or alcohol (referred to as polysubstance abuse or polydrug abuse)
- If medical conditions are present
- If a person has any mental health disorders
- One’s age
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It is extremely common for individuals who suffer from Adderall addiction to also suffer from mental health conditions. However, it’s unclear if there is a causal relationship between mental health issues and Adderall addiction. In other words, it’s possible that Adderall addiction may cause mental health issues, but it’s also possible that individuals with mental health issues are more likely to experience substance use disorders.
Individuals who have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at increased risk of developing a substance use disorder, including Adderall addiction. According to a 2007 study, 15.2 percent of adults with ADHD also suffer from substance use disorders. Compared to adults without ADHD, adults with ADHD are almost three times as likely to experience substance use disorders.
Furthermore, Adderall addiction can cause symptoms of several mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, and panic disorder. Whether these symptoms will develop into a diagnosable condition depends on the individual, the length of Adderall abuse, and one’s experience with Adderall addiction treatment.
Adderall Addiction Treatment & Prognosis
Behavioral therapies have been shown to be the most effective treatment option for addiction to prescription stimulants like Adderall. There are currently no medication-based treatment options for Adderall addiction.
The first step in prescription drug abuse treatment often includes weaning off of the drug. This means that the individual will continue to take Adderall, but at gradually lower doses and with more time between doses. This can dramatically reduce withdrawal symptoms and help increase the chances of success.
Next, an individual recovering from Adderall addiction will go through the detox phase. While some people choose to do this at home, it’s recommended that individuals who have been abusing Adderall long-term or at high doses go through detox in a medically supervised setting.
Following detox, behavioral treatment may include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Contingency Management Interventions/Motivational Incentives
- The Matrix Model
- 12-Step Groups
- Family Behavior Therapy
Relapse prevention is about maximizing one’s strength and minimizing any factors that may threaten sobriety. In order to do that, a relapse prevention plan is necessary. A relapse prevention plan is a list of options or steps one can take if they feel themselves weakening to the possibility of relapse.
Everyone goes through periods of self-doubt or difficult days when they think about using again. A relapse prevention plan is a guide to dealing with those thoughts and feelings in a way that does not derail an individual’s goals and helps them become stronger. An effective relapse prevention plan includes:
- A list of an individual’s triggers, such as people and places to avoid or specific emotions
- Options for managing cravings
- Activities and tools for protecting mental, emotional, and physical well-being
- A list of people someone in recovery can call in case he or she feels an urge to relapse
- A list of nearby 12-step meetings one can attend in case of an urge to relapse
- A person’s favorite tools, such as exercise, yoga, meditation, hobbies, or worksheets, that can be used to help cope with stress and everyday problems
- A list of one’s passions, things that are important to that person, and loved ones to remind them of why they are fighting for sobriety
Over time, an individual’s relapse prevention plan may change as they meet new people, learn more about themselves, discover new interests, and find new ways to stay strong.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Stimulant ADHD Medications: Methylphenidate and Amphetamines.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment: A Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP 45).
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
- Department of Health. (2004). The amphetamine withdrawal syndrome.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2010). Protracted withdrawal. Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory, 9(1), 1-8.
- Johns Hopkins University. (2016). Adderall abuse on the rise among young adults, Johns Hopkins study suggests.
- Mariani, J. J. & Levin, F. R. (2007). Treatment Strategies for Co-Occurring ADHD and Substance Use Disorders. American Journal of Addiction, 16(Suppl 1), 45-56.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Misuse of Prescription Drugs: How can prescription drug addiction be treated?