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Adderall addiction: symptoms, signs, withdrawal, and treatment

Reading time: 13 mins
Adderall addiction

Adderall addiction is the compulsive and dangerous overuse of the prescription amphetamine Adderall, which is frequently prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. When taken outside of the prescribed limitations, this stimulant becomes a substance of abuse, resulting in dependence and negative consequences. 

The symptoms of Adderall addiction are categorized as physical and psychological, with physical symptoms including lack of appetite, increased heart rate, insomnia, restlessness, and nausea and vomiting. On the other hand, psychological symptoms include lack of motivation, nervousness, mood swings, anxiety, and psychosis. 

The signs of Adderall addiction are dry mouth, intense cravings, abdominal pain, headache, tremors, doctor shopping, and withdrawal symptoms.

The symptoms of Adderall withdrawal include fatigue, increased appetite, disrupted sleep patterns, depression, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating.

The available treatments for Adderall addiction are detoxification, medications, contingency management (CM), 12-Step programs, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and continued care.

Is Adderall addictive?

Yes, Adderall is addictive. The medicine’s stimulant ingredients, amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, influence brain neurotransmitters, making the user more attentive and focused. 

Addiction and misuse are possible outcomes of using Adderall for reasons other than medical necessity or in excess of recommended dosages, which cause users to experience euphoria. 

The addictive nature of the drug is amplified when tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal symptoms are developed by repeated overuse. It’s crucial for individuals to use Adderall only as prescribed by a medical professional to minimize the risk of addiction and associated health consequences.

How addictive is Adderall?

Adderall is highly addictive, because the higher concentration of dextroamphetamine in the drug combination amphetamine and dextroamphetamine results in stronger central nervous system (CNS) effects than racemic amphetamine, according to a 2020 paper by Kerna et al., published in EC Psychology and Psychiatry

The study further stated that Adderall has a strong potential for abuse and addiction despite its medical applications. Students frequently abuse it as a recreational drug and as “smart pills” to improve their academic performance. Tolerance and both physical and psychological dependence occur with prolonged use.

Why do people abuse Adderall?

People abuse Adderall for the purpose of improving their cognitive performance, concentration, and alertness. Others abuse Adderall by confusing it for a concentration and productivity enhancer or a study or work aid. 

Professionals with strict deadlines or students aiming to maintain alertness for prolonged durations are likely to find the drug’s capacity to enhance energy and motivation to be an attractive attribute. Additionally, certain individuals misuse Adderall for recreational purposes, seeking the euphoric effects associated with stimulant drugs.

Athletes have an increased likelihood of abusing Adderall for its performance-enhancing effects. In fact, results of a 2022 review by Berezanskaya et al., published in Sports Medicine – Open revealed that medications including amphetamine, which is an active ingredient in Adderall, improved athletic performance. Specifically, amphetamine induced improvements in knee extension strength, acceleration, and time to exhaustion.

What is Adderall addiction?

Adderall addiction refers to the compulsive and harmful usage of the prescription amphetamine drug Adderall. Amphetamine and dextroamphetamine are stimulant chemicals found in the medication, which is usually prescribed to treat ADHD. 

Since the stimulant increases focus and alertness by acting on neurotransmitters in the brain, it has the potential to become addictive. Typically prescribed to manage ADHD symptoms, Adderall helps individuals with attention and concentration difficulties. 

However, when used outside the prescribed parameters, it becomes a substance sought for its stimulant properties, contributing to the development of dependence and addiction. Addiction to Adderall is recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as stimulant use disorder.

How common is Adderall addiction?

white pills

Adderall addiction is incredibly common, as it is estimated that between 5% and 10% of high school students and 5% to 35% of college students misuse ADHD medications, according to a 2014 study by David B. Clemow and Daniel J. Walker published in the journal Postgraduate Medicine.

Furthermore, results from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health published in December 2022 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration revealed that in 2021, 9.2 million individuals, or 3.3% of those who were 12 years of age or older, reported abusing CNS stimulants in the previous year. Of them, approximately one-fourth only utilized prescription stimulants for abuse, such as Adderall (or 2.5 million people, or 27.7% of CNS stimulant abusers).

What are the symptoms of Adderall addiction?

The symptoms of Adderall addiction involve a variety of physical and psychological indications that suggest the obsessive and hazardous abuse of the prescription amphetamine. The symptoms of Adderall addiction are listed below. 

The physical symptoms of Adderall addiction are listed below. 

  • Lack of appetite: Adderall, as a stimulant, often suppresses appetite. Addicts show a marked decrease in appetite, which over time causes them to lose weight and develop nutritional deficiencies. 
  • Increased heart rate: A 2009 study by Tangu Sichilima and Michael J. Rieder published in Paediatrics Child Health indicated that high blood pressure and increased heart rate are the most frequently reported adverse cardiovascular effects of Adderall. However, these symptoms are typically not of clinical significance. Nevertheless, persistently elevated heart rate and blood pressure could raise the likelihood of developing cardiovascular morbidity later in life.
  • Insomnia: Adderall promotes wakefulness and increased alertness by raising the brain’s concentrations of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. People find it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep as a result of these stimulant effects, which disrupt the regular sleep-wake cycle.
  • Restlessness: The heightened levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain caused by Adderall contribute to an overall state of increased activity and energy. This heightened arousal is likely to manifest as restlessness, making individuals feel agitated, fidgety, and unable to stay still. 
  • Nausea and vomiting: The ability of Adderall to cause nausea and vomiting is linked to its effect on the gastrointestinal tract. The medicine affects the natural functioning of the digestive tract due to its stimulant characteristics. This alteration in gut function leads to feelings of queasiness and progresses to vomiting in certain cases. 

The psychological symptoms of Adderall addiction are listed below.

  • Lack of motivation: Pervasive lack of motivation is a result of Adderall addiction, as users grow more dependent on the medication to increase focus and productivity. Overall life satisfaction is negatively impacted as this reduced motivation spreads to numerous areas of life, such as academic or occupational endeavors, interpersonal connections, and personal aspirations.
  • Nervousness: The stimulant effects of Adderall lead to heightened nervousness or a constant state of unease. Affected individuals feel jittery, excessively alert, or on edge, creating a sense of restlessness that interferes with daily activities and contributes to difficulty in relaxation or concentration.
  • Mood swings: Addiction to Adderall causes severe and erratic mood swings. Individuals experience euphoria during the drug’s effects, followed by periods of irritability, frustration, or even depression as the drug’s effects wear off. Emotional instability and the burden on relationships are common outcomes of these mood swings.
  • Anxiety: Persistent Adderall misuse leads to heightened anxiety, characterized by excessive worry and fear. In one four-week placebo-controlled research, adults with ADHD were given Adderall dosages ranging from 20 to 60 mg. Anxiety was one of the most common side effects that resulted in stopping Adderall XR treatment in at least 1% of patients, according to the drug label information titled, “ADDERALL XR- dextroamphetamine sulfate, dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine sulfate and amphetamine aspartate capsule, extended release” last updated in October 2023 by DailyMed.
  • Psychosis: A 2022 case report by Desai et al., published in Cureus described the case of a 29-year-old male with ADHD who exceeded the recommended therapeutic dose of Adderall given by his psychiatrist. He later appeared with ongoing psychotic symptoms. The study further stated that while acute amphetamine intoxication can manifest as a substance-induced psychotic condition, some cases can progress to a chronic psychotic disease.

What are the signs of Adderall addiction?

The signs of Adderall addiction are behavioral, physical, and mental signs that show someone is using this pharmaceutical amphetamine in a harmful and compulsive way. The signs of Adderall addiction are listed below. 

  • Dry mouth: A common physical sign of Adderall addiction is persistent dry mouth, resulting from the drug’s stimulant effects on the salivary glands. This causes discomfort, makes swallowing harder, and raises the possibility of dental problems. A weekly-dose titration study that resulted in the approval of Adderall XR by the FDA documented that approximately 35% of participants experienced dry mouth, according to a publication titled, “Highlights of Prescribing Information” on Adderall XR last revised in February 2022 by the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Intense cravings: Individuals addicted to Adderall often experience strong and persistent cravings for the drug. These urges contribute to the addiction cycle by promoting persistent and obsessive usage despite unfavorable consequences.
  • Abdominal pain: Adderall misuse leads to abdominal pain, which stems from the drug’s impact on gastrointestinal function. Disruptions in the digestive system result in discomfort, bloating, and pain in the abdominal region.
  • Headache: The stimulant effects of Adderall cause muscles to tense up and blood vessels to narrow, both of which lead to headaches. Lack of appetite is a side effect of stimulants such as Adderall that occurs in certain people, which subsequently increases the frequency of migraine headaches brought on by hunger.
  • Tremors: Tremors, which are rhythmic shaking and involuntary muscle contractions, are the consequence of the medication’s effect on motor control. These tremors are often more pronounced at higher doses or with prolonged use, reflecting the dose-dependent nature of this side effect.
  • Doctor shopping: Individuals addicted to Adderall are likely to engage in “doctor shopping,” seeking multiple healthcare providers to obtain additional prescriptions. This suggests an attempt to keep the medicine above the prescribed limits, indicating a worrying habit of overuse.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: When individuals consistently use Adderall beyond prescribed limits, the brain adjusts to the presence of the drug, leading to neuroadaptation and dependence. Upon abrupt cessation or a significant reduction in consumption, the brain struggles to maintain normal neurotransmitter balance, giving rise to withdrawal symptoms.

What are the causes of Adderall addiction?

The causes of Adderall addiction are commonly attributed to a complex interplay of biological, psychological, and environmental determinants. The causes of Adderall addiction are listed below. 

  • Genetics: Certain individuals are more predisposed to addiction than others due to variations in genes that control the levels of neurotransmitters, such as those that involve dopamine and its transporters. As per the study titled, “Genetic Factors Modulating the Response to Stimulant Drugs in Humans” published in the 2012 issue of the Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences, a major contributing component to the individual differences in stimulant drug responses is genetic variation. This encompasses both behavioral and subjective effects such as heightened attention, energy, vigilance, and euphoria. Strong evidence for the heritability of acute responses to stimulant medications is provided by twin studies listed in the review, suggesting a major genetic component underlying these features.
  • Changes in brain chemistry: The stimulant characteristics of Adderall modify brain chemistry, raising levels of  neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, which increase concentration and a sensation of well-being. Increased focus and alertness result from this, which hasten the onset of dependence, particularly in those with ADHD who are trying to manage their symptoms.
  • Psychological influences: The desire for improved academic performance, increased productivity, or weight loss drive individuals to misuse Adderall. Those looking for an advantage in challenging or competitive circumstances find the drug’s purported potential to improve cognitive function appealing, which leads to dependence on its effects. 
  • Environmental pressures: Addiction is largely influenced by external factors including peer pressure, the demands of school, and the accessibility of Adderall. Social pressures and expectations have a role in the decision to abuse drugs as a performance enhancer or coping method, particularly in high-stress academic or professional environments.
  • Misuse patterns: The way individuals use Adderall, whether exceeding prescribed dosages, engaging in doctor shopping, or obtaining the drug without a legitimate medical need, contribute to the development of addictive behaviors. Misuse patterns, combined with a lack of awareness of the potential risks, lead to a cycle of dependency and addiction.

What are the effects of Adderall addiction?

The effects of Adderall addiction are characterized by a variety of physical, psychological, and social repercussions that result from the detrimental and compulsive misuse of this prescription amphetamine. The effects of Adderall addiction are listed below. 

  • Cardiovascular problems: Long-term stimulant use raises the risk of cardiac issues. For instance, a 2016 study by Sinha et al., published in Case Reports in Cardiology revealed that compared to the pediatric population, adults with ADHD on CNS stimulant therapy may be more vulnerable to adverse cardiovascular events, including stroke, myocardial infarction, and sudden death. Although the precise processes by which stimulants may lead to severe cardiovascular events remain unclear, they could involve increased heart rate and blood pressure, raised levels of catecholamines in the blood that cause vasospasm, and other factors.
  • Gastrointestinal issues: Abdominal pain and discomfort are among the symptoms caused by changes in gut motility and sensitivity brought on by the medication’s effects like increased activity and changed neurotransmitter balance. In a 2016 case study by Ragesh Panikkath and Deepa Panikkath published in Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, a 43-year-old woman needed a blood transfusion due to acute lower gastrointestinal hemorrhage. Later, a colonoscopy revealed characteristics that pointed to ischemic colitis. Amphetamine use was acknowledged by the patient. She received cautious care and was counseled against using amphetamines ever again.
  • Psychosis: A 2019 paper by Moran et al., published in The New England Journal of Medicine stated that methylphenidate and amphetamine are two stimulants that are increasingly being used to treat ADHD. The United States Food & Drug Administration required modifications to stimulant medication labels in 2007 due to discoveries of new-onset psychosis. The study evaluated 221,846 patients and discovered that 1 in 660 of the adolescents and young adults with ADHD who were prescribed prescription stimulants experienced new-onset psychosis. The usage of amphetamines was linked to a higher risk of psychosis compared to methylphenidate.
  • Seizures: The overstimulation resulting from prolonged and excessive Adderall use disrupts the delicate balance of neurotransmitters and triggers abnormal electrical activity in the brain, potentially leading to seizures. The risk of seizures is further elevated when Adderall is taken in high doses or when individuals with a predisposition to seizures misuse the medication. Seizures manifest as uncontrolled convulsions or episodes of altered consciousness. 
  • Sexual dysfunction: Anxiety and stress, brought on by the drug’s stimulant effects, are known to play a role in erectile dysfunction. Additionally, Adderall’s vasoconstrictive properties, which narrow blood vessels, affect blood flow to genital areas, resulting in difficulties achieving or maintaining arousal. In a study by Smith et al., published in the March 2017 issue of Substance Use & Misuse, loss of sex drive was noted by people who used stimulants that weren’t prescribed. Reports of this side effect were more common among males than females.

Does Adderall addiction affect personality?

Yes, Adderall addiction affects personality. Adderall’s stimulant qualities, especially how it affects neurotransmitters like dopamine, cause modifications to mood, behavior, and personality traits as a whole. 

When Adderall is taking effect, people who are addicted to it show signs of increased energy, improved focus, and heightened awareness. However, as the addiction worsens, people additionally grow more irritable, moody, and anxious, which leads to changes in their personality traits. 

An individual’s overall personality is further influenced by the compulsive and dangerous tendencies linked to Adderall addiction, which cause a shift in priorities that impact relationships, job, and personal duties.

What are Adderall overdose symptoms?

Symptoms of an Adderall overdose include a variety of severe and potentially life-threatening manifestations caused by intake of an excessive amount of the substance. The most common Adderall overdose symptoms are listed below. 

  • Restlessness: Overdosing on Adderall leads to heightened restlessness, where individuals experience an uncontrollable and agitated state. Restlessness is a common physical manifestation of the excessive stimulant effects impacting the CNS, contributing to a state of hyperactivity.
  • Confusion: Confusion, in the context of Adderall toxicity, is where individuals struggle with cognitive processes, have difficulty concentrating, and experience a lack of mental clarity. Dopaminergic effects of the medication cause cognitive disturbances that impair judgment and cause confusion.
  • Aggression: People experiencing Adderall overdose display heightened aggression and irritability. The overstimulation of the central nervous system, coupled with altered neurotransmitter balance, contribute to aggressive behavior and emotional volatility.
  • Hallucinations: Hallucinations are extremely distressing sensory disturbances that serve as clear indications of the detrimental effects that excessive stimulant consumption has on the brain’s ability to perceive and interpret reality. In a 2009 study by Mosholder et al., published in Pediatrics, instances in which children experienced visual and/or tactile hallucinations involving snakes, insects, or worms were frequent.
  • Panic: An overdose leads to intense feelings of panic and anxiety. The stimulant properties of Adderall, when taken in excess, exacerbate existing anxiety or induce a state of heightened panic, contributing to a sense of impending doom and extreme emotional distress.
  • Rapid breathing: Increased respiratory rate or fast breathing is a common physiological response to an Adderall overdose. The CNS effects of the drug activate the brain’s respiratory centers, resulting in fast breathing, which is a vital symptom of a significant overdose.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and vomiting are prevalent in an Adderall overdose. The excessive stimulation of the digestive system, coupled with the overall physiological stress, lead to discomfort and the expulsion of stomach contents.
  • Coma: In severe cases, a drug overdose results in a coma, where individuals become unconscious and unresponsive. Excessive stimulant consumption causes profound unconsciousness, necessitating immediate medical intervention to avoid potential consequences.

What are the symptoms of Adderall withdrawal?

open packs of tablets

The symptoms of Adderall withdrawal include fatigue, increased appetite, disrupted sleep patterns, depression, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating. This range of physical and psychological manifestations occur when an individual dependent on the drug ceases or reduces its use.

Individuals additionally experience intense cravings for Adderall, as the body undergoes the process of readjusting to the absence of the drug. These symptoms reflect the body’s attempts to adapt to Adderall’s absence. To manage withdrawal and encourage recovery, a careful tapering method under medical supervision is necessary.

How long does Adderall withdrawal last?

Adderall withdrawal lasts between one and three weeks. According to a 2009 paper titled, “Treatment for amphetamine withdrawal” published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, the “crash,” which is the initial stage, ends in about a week. Increases in sleep, hunger, and a decrease in depressive complaints are among the symptoms that occur during this phase. 

A prolonged, subacute set of withdrawal symptoms, which include persistent sleep difficulties and increased appetite, usually goes away after three weeks. Moreover, withdrawal symptoms are prolonged for those who have used Adderall for an extended period of time or at a high dosage.

What are the available treatments for Adderall addiction?

Available treatments for Adderall addiction take a holistic approach to treating the behavioral, psychological, and physical elements of the problem. The available treatments for Adderall addiction are listed below. 

  • Detoxification: A critical preliminary measure in the treatment of Adderall addiction, detoxification consists of a progressive and supervised withdrawal of the substance from the body. An easier and safer transition to abstinence is possible with this method, which additionally helps in managing withdrawal symptoms. In order to handle any difficulties and offer supportive treatment, medical specialists supervise the detoxification process.
  • Medications: Certain medications are likely to be prescribed during the recovery process to help manage withdrawal symptoms or address co-occurring mental health conditions. While there are currently no specific FDA-approved medications for Adderall addiction, medications to alleviate certain symptoms or address underlying issues, such as anxiety or depression, are considered based on individual needs.
  • Contingency management (CM): As an approach to behavioral therapy, contingency management entails offering rewards or incentives to individuals who maintain their abstinence from Adderall. Furthermore, it is regarded as the most successful course of treatment for problems involving the use of stimulants, such as Adderall addiction, according to a 2023 publication titled, “Contingency Management for the Treatment of Substance Use Disorders: Enhancing Access, Quality, and Program Integrity for an Evidence-Based Intervention” from the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
  • 12-Step programs: Individuals recovering from Adderall addiction are able to benefit from 12-Step organizations such as Narcotics Anonymous, which provide a structured and supportive atmosphere. These programs are based on a set of guidelines and procedures that promote introspection, responsibility, and continued assistance from peers who have had comparable difficulties. 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): One popular therapy method for Adderall addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It emphasizes on recognizing and changing maladaptive cognitive processes and behaviors related to substance abuse. CBT provides individuals with effective coping mechanisms, abilities to manage stress, and resources to confront the triggers and root causes that contribute to addiction. 
  • Continued care: Continued care involves ongoing support and treatment after the initial recovery phase. This includes aftercare programs such as support groups or outpatient therapy to assist people in regaining abstinence, overcoming obstacles, and adjusting to life again. Sustaining long-term healing and avoiding relapse requires ongoing care.

When is Adderall addiction counseling necessary?

Adderall addiction counseling is necessary when individuals exhibit signs of dependence, misuse, or compulsive behavior related to the drug. If an individual finds it challenging to control their use of Adderall, experiences cravings, neglects responsibilities, and continues use despite negative consequences, counseling becomes crucial. 

Professional counseling additionally becomes necessary when Adderall usage affects daily life, relationships, or health. When stress, scholastic obligations, or co-occurring mental health concerns make it hard to address the root causes of addiction, counseling is essential. 

The goal of Adderall addiction therapy is to provide tailored support, treat the underlying reasons of addiction, and teach coping skills for long-term recovery. Substance abuse problems are less likely to worsen and more amenable to treatment when caught early through counseling.

What is the difference between Adderall and Ritalin addiction?

different tablets

The difference between Adderall and Ritalin addiction is rooted in the distinct pharmacological properties of these prescription stimulants. Compared to Adderall, Ritalin starts working earlier and reaches its peak performance sooner. 

However, Adderall remains active in the body for a longer period of time than Ritalin. Different people will experience distinct side effects and react uniquely to each medicine because of this difference. 

The primary components of the two drugs differ from one another. According to a drug label information titled, “ADDERALL- dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine aspartate, dextroamphetamine sulfate, and amphetamine sulfate tablet” last updated in September 2023 by DailyMed, Adderall is a mixture of four amphetamine salts (Dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine aspartate, dextroamphetamine sulfate and amphetamine sulfate), whereas Ritalin’s primary constituent is methylphenidate hydrochloride (MPH).

On the other hand, Adderall and Ritalin addiction share the commonality of increasing neurotransmitter levels in the brain, particularly dopamine and norepinephrine. Additionally, both medications are used for the treatment of ADHD and narcolepsy. 

Lastly, being classified as Schedule II controlled substances, there is a substantial likelihood of abuse or addiction to either medicine. When these drugs are not used properly or taken outside of the recommended guidelines, the risk of addiction or misuse increases.