Adderall Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Adderall, a Schedule II drug, is a combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. It’s a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant medication used to treat symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as to treat narcolepsy.1,2 Stimulant use disorders, such as Adderall addiction, are seen in high school and college-aged youth.2,3 Knowing some of the Adderall addiction signs such as delirium, psychosis, and physical exhaustion can help save your life or the life of someone you know.3

Is Adderall Addictive?: Adderall Addiction Signs and Symptoms

Yes, Adderall is addictive because its effects are like cocaine, but the onset is slower with a longer duration.3 Prolonged stimulant effects are experienced because there is a larger percentage of the substance that remains unchanged in the body, therefore remaining in the nervous system longer.3

The pills can be taken orally, smoked, snorted, or injected.2 When misused, it is typically associated with a binge pattern of use where the person sporadically consumes large doses over a short period and causes a sensation referred to as a “rush” or a “flash.”2

Should you or someone you know chronically misuse Adderall, you may notice the development of psychosis that closely resembles schizophrenia and is typically characterized by skin picking, paranoia, a preoccupation with your own thoughts, and visual and auditory hallucinations.3 If you or someone you know does use Adderall at a chronic level, you may even notice an increase in violence and erratic behavior.3

Relatively benign signs and symptoms of Adderall misuse:1

  • Weight loss
  • Nervousness
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Changes in sex drive and/or ability
  • Constipation
  • Painful menstrual cramps
  • Dry mouth
  • constipation

More serious signs and symptoms of Adderall misuse:1,3

  • Hoarseness
  • Slow or difficult speech
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Eyes, face, tongue, or throat may swell
  • Numbness or weakness in an arm or leg
  • Itching
  • Seizures
  • Itching
  • Motor or verbal tics
  • Hives
  • Teeth grinding
  • Skin peeling or blistering
  • Depression
  • Rash
  • Believing things are not true
  • Unexplained wounds on fingers or toes appearing
  • Feeling unusually suspicious of others
  • Hands or feet feeling pain, numb, burning, or tingling sensations
  • Hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that are not there and others cannot see)
  • A paleness or blue color in your fingers or toes
  • Agitation, fever, sweating, confusion, tachycardia, shivering, loss of coordination, vomiting, severe muscle stiffness, or twitching
  • Changes in vision or blurred vision
  • Mania (abnormally excited mood or frenzied)
  • In children, adolescents, or adults with heart defects or serious heart problems, this medication may cause sudden death. If you or your child experience signs of heart problems (e.g., chest pain, shortness of breath, or fainting), discuss the risk of taking this medication with your doctor.
  • Delirium
  • Psychosis
  • Physical exhaustion

Who is at Risk of Being Addicted to Adderall?

As a cohort, high school and undergraduate college-aged youth are at risk for misusing Adderall.2, 3 More specifically, multivariate analysis indicated that white male college students who were a part of a fraternity or sorority earned lower grade point averages, and were more likely to use other substances like alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, exhibited other risky behaviors, and had higher prevalence rates.2 Additionally, colleges that were based in the northeast regions of the United States and had more competitive admissions criteria had higher rates of Adderall use among its students.2

Another subpopulation of college-aged youth that was found to misuse Adderall was dental and dental hygiene students.2 A survey was sent to these students and found that:2

  • 12.4% were using a stimulant without a prescription.
  • 17% felt like obtaining the medication was easy.
  • 17% thought stimulant use was a problem with the institution they were attending.
  • 70% were taking the stimulant to increase their attention and/or concentration.
  • 77% were taking Adderall.
  • 87% got the medication from a friend.
  • 90% started using it in college.

A third sub-population of college-aged youth that was found to misuse Adderall were medical students.2 The same study that detected the Adderall misuse rate in dental and dental hygiene students administered a similar survey to 388 medical students and found:2

  • 10% of the medical students used stimulants to improve their academic performance.
  • 72.2% of students were diagnosed with ADHD after the age of 18.

Risk Factors for Developing an Adderall Addiction

There are many different biological and environmental risk factors that can contribute to your propensity to misuse Adderall and potentially develop a stimulant use disorder including:3-5

  • Low perceived self-efficacy
  • Lack of enjoyment in coursework
  • The school you attend does not appropriately accommodate special needs.
  • Over-reliance on external validation to generate a sense of self-worth (e.g., a professor complimenting you on your analysis of character development in a paper you wrote)
  • Having a lower grade point average. Many that choose to use Adderall that was not prescribed to them believe that using Adderall will correlate with an increase in their GPA.
  • Experiencing a mental health issue
  • Using stimulants such as Adderall increases the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine into the brain and disrupts the normal communication patterns between the brain cells and thus increasing the risk of addiction.
  • Personality characteristics of general deviance (e.g., using Adderall to rebel against authority, awareness of substance use prohibition leads to an increased desire to use)
  • Using a CNS stimulant that was not prescribed to you puts you at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder and/or an eating disorder.
  • Anxiety
  • A lack of social support
  • Not feeling empowered
  • Lack of knowledge about the effects of “study drugs”
  • Previous history of substance use or withdrawal in the last 12 months
  • Being raised in a home where caretakers use substances
  • Living in neighborhoods and going to school where substance use is common
  • Associating with peers who use substances
  • Aggressive behavior in childhood
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • Low peer refusal skills
  • Community poverty
  • Genetics
  • Gender
  • Abuse and/or trauma (sexual, verbal, physical, emotional)
  • Early use
  • How a substance is taken (snorted, inhaled, orally, injected, smoked)

How to Treat Adderall Addiction

Treatment for an Adderall addiction is like treatment for other substances. First, you will undergo an assessment by a mental health professional or certified drug and alcohol counselor who will use the results of the assessment to determine your level of required care at that time, detoxification, inpatient, or various outpatient settings.6

If you are acutely intoxicated, you may be immediately referred to a detoxification facility so that the medical staff can manage your level of intoxication and withdrawal to prevent what would otherwise be life-threatening complications.7 The detoxification process can include three parts:7,8

  • Evaluation: Here, staff seek to answer specific questions related to whether traces of the substance are still in your bloodstream, how concentrated the traces may be, and whether there are any physical or mental health concerns that also need to be addressed.
  • Stabilization: A series of medical and psychosocial interventions are deployed here to help you manage acute withdrawal symptoms until you are medically stable and your system is free of substances. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is used at this stage.
  • Preparation for treatment: Staff will help you manage your treatment expectations, familiarize you with the overall process, and discuss how various interactions contribute to the recovery.

Assessment is ongoing, and as such, you may enter an inpatient (i.e., residential facility) or an outpatient setting (less intensive whereby you attend treatment a couple of times a week) differently from peers. If you are acutely intoxicated, you will more than likely go to detoxification first before going to an inpatient or outpatient setting. Or, because you are not acutely intoxicated, you may be recommended to go to an inpatient or outpatient facility following your assessment.

Your level of care is predicated on what you choose to disclose to your assessor regarding:6

  • Your social functioning, substance use, symptoms, and experienced level of impairment
  • Whether you are currently intoxicated
  • Method of use (e.g., snorting, huffing, intravenous, oral consumption)
  • Frequency of use
  • Dosage
  • Periods of sobriety and their duration
  • Duration of substance use
  • Immediate medical needs such as withdrawal and/or complicated withdrawal histories
  • History of mental health concerns

Aftercare and Ongoing Support

Whether you will be discharged from an inpatient or an outpatient setting, aftercare will be the next step. It will provide you with opportunities to integrate what you learned in treatment to help you more effectively manage triggers to relapse and re-engage in your life.9 Aftercare can take many forms:8

  • Addressing any legal concerns (e.g., meetings with Child and Family Services, requirements of probation or parole, restitution)
  • Making and keeping a structured routine
  • Enrolling in groups that would address other identified areas of concern while in treatment (e.g., parenting classes, co-dependency classes, domestic violence classes)
  • Maintaining, identifying, and establishing boundaries
  • Finding or maintaining meetings with a sponsor
  • Continuing participation in self-help groups

Call 800-662-4357 to find treatment near you if you think you or someone you know is addicted to Adderall. Talk to a treatment specialist at 800-662-4357 to discuss available specialized addiction treatment options.

Resources

  1. MedlinePlus. (2019). Dextroamphetamine and Amphetamine.
  2. Lakhan, S. & Kirchgessner, A. (2012). Prescription Stimulants in Individuals with and without Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Misuse, Cognitive Impact, and Adverse Effects. Brain and Behaviors, 2(5), 661-667.
  3. U.S. Department of Justice: Drug Enforcement Agency. (2017). Drugs of Abuse: A DEA Resource Guide.
  4. Abelman, D.D. (2017). Mitigating Risks of Students’ Use of Study Drugs Through Understanding Motivations for Use and Applying Harm Reduction Theory: A Literature Review. Harm Reduction Journal, 14(68), 1-7.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). What is Drug Addiction?
  6. Stallvik, M., Gastfriend, D.R., & Nordahl, H.M. (2015). Matching Patients with Substance Use Disorder to Optimal Level of Care with the ASAM Criteria SoftwareJournal of Substance Use20(6), 389-398.
  7. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2022). MAT Medications, Counseling, and Related Conditions.
  8. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2015). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.
  9. Carvalho, A.F., Heilig, M., Perez, A., Probst, C., & Rehm, J. (2019). Alcohol Use DisordersThe Lance, 394(10200), 781-792.

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