Adderall Misuse and Addiction
Adderall is a prescription stimulant that contains a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine.1 When used as prescribed by a doctor, Adderall can help manage and treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.2 However, prescription stimulants like Adderall are often misused, which can increase the risk of several health effects, including tolerance, dependence, and the development of a stimulant use disorder.2
Knowing the signs of Adderall misuse and addiction can help you make an informed decision about your health and determine whether you may need professional treatment.
This article will help you learn more about:
- Why people misuse Adderall.
- Signs of Adderall addiction.
- Effects and risks of Adderall misuse and addiction.
- Preventing Adderall misuse.
- Adderall addiction treatment programs.
Why Do People Misuse Adderall?
When taken as prescribed by a doctor, Adderall can help manage ADHD-related symptoms such as inattentiveness, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity.2 Unfortunately, Adderall is frequently misused for nonmedical purposes.3
Prescription stimulants like Adderall are misused in several ways, including:1
- Taking a prescription in a dose or way other than prescribed (e.g., crushing tablets for injecting, snorting, smoking).
- Taking a prescription that is prescribed to someone else.
- Taking a prescription only for its subjective effects (e.g., to get high).
According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 3.7 million people aged 12 and older misused prescription stimulants in the last year.4 Misuse was highest among young adults aged 18-25 (2.1 million people).4
Some instances of prescription stimulant misuse involve teenagers and college students looking to get better grades and increase academic performance.1, 3 However, prescription stimulant misuse is also increasing among other populations, including academic professionals, athletes, and older adults.3
Unfortunately, many people perceive prescription stimulants like Adderall to be safe. However, frequent nonmedical misuse can actually lead to several significant adverse health effects, including addiction.3
Signs of Adderall Addiction
Medical professionals diagnose Adderall addiction as a stimulant use disorder.5 Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite experiencing the harms of such use.2 A person must meet specific criteria from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to receive this diagnosis.5
The criteria for stimulant use disorder include:5
- Using the stimulant in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
- Being unable to cut back or stop using the stimulant despite a desire to do so.
- Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of the stimulant.
- Experiencing cravings, or strong desires to use the stimulant.
- Being unable to fulfill obligations at home, school, or work due to stimulant use.
- Continuing to use the stimulant despite having interpersonal or social problems that are caused or worsened by substance use.
- Giving up occupational, recreational, or social activities to use the stimulant.
- Recurrent stimulant use in situations in which it is physically hazardous to do so (e.g., driving).
- Continuing stimulant use despite knowledge of a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the stimulant.
- Developing tolerance, meaning you need more of the stimulant to achieve previous effects. (Note: For people who take Adderall under medical supervision, experiencing tolerance does not count as meeting diagnostic criteria).
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the stimulant. (Note: For people who take Adderall under medical supervision, experiencing withdrawal symptoms does not count as meeting diagnostic criteria).
You may notice other signs someone may be misusing and abusing Adderall, such as dramatic behavioral changes, including aggressive, chaotic, or violent behavior.5 Though not necessarily specific to Adderall addiction, some other general that might suggest someone is struggling with substance use include:3, 6, 7
- Trouble with the law.
- Lower grades.
- Skipping school.
- Changes in friend group.
- Changes in eating, hygiene, or sleeping habits.
- Problems with family or friends.
- Seeking prescription refills (e.g., “doctor shopping”).
- Drug paraphernalia (e.g., needles or pipes, should alternate routes of use be involved)
While these signs don’t necessarily mean someone has an addiction to Adderall, they can alert you to the potential need for professional treatment intervention.
Health Effects of Adderall Misuse and Addiction
Prescription stimulants like Adderall can impact cardiovascular health by increasing blood pressure and heart rate.2 Adderall may have a range of other side effects, the most common of which include decreased appetite, nervousness, and stomachache. Although rare, Adderall can have serious side effects including seizure and serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition that can occur when Adderall is taken with certain medications.2
The misuse of prescription stimulants like Adderall, especially in high doses, can increase certain health risks and could be associated with certain life-threatening issues.2 Signs and symptoms of misuse may include:2
- Increased blood pressure, breathing rate, and heart rate.
- Dilated pupils.
- Decreased appetite.
- Impaired coordination.
- Abdominal pain and/or vomiting.
The ongoing misuse of prescription stimulants like Adderall may also increase the risk of:1, 2, 3
- Psychiatric issues, including anxiety, aggressive or hostile behavior, psychotic symptoms, and suicidal behavior or ideation.
- Cardiovascular problems, including irregular heartbeat, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and even sudden death in people with pre-existing heart problems.
- Vascular problems, including certain conditions like Raynaud’s phenomenon.
- Increased risk of contracting infectious diseases (e.g., HIV/AIDs), if the drug is injected.
The risk of Adderall dependence, and subsequent withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of the drug, increases the longer a person uses it.2 Adderall withdrawal can be uncomfortable and may include changes in mood, including dysphoria or depression. Stimulant withdrawal may also be associated with suicidal behavior or ideation that may require professional treatment intervention to keep someone safe.2, 5
In addition to the risks above, addiction can have far-reaching consequences. A person who struggles with addiction is more likely to experience accidents and injuries, mental and physical health problems, financial problems, and relationship problems.1, 8
Adderall overdose and toxicity can result in sometimes life-threatening reactions.1 Signs of Adderall overdose may include:2
- Mental confusion.
- Panic attacks.
- Hyperreflexia (e.g., overactive reflexes).
- Hyperpyrexia (e.g., fever above 106.7 degrees).
- Rhabdomyolysis (e.g., a serious medical condition where damaged muscle tissue releases its proteins and electrolytes into the blood).
- Cardiovascular effects (e.g., changes in blood pressure, circulatory collapse, irregular heartbeat).
- Gastrointestinal effects (e.g., abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting).
An overdose can lead to convulsions, coma, and death in severe cases.2
The potential for overdose increases when a person uses Adderall with other substances, a practice known as polysubstance use.9 This includes mixing prescription stimulants like Adderall with alcohol, which can mask the effects of 1 or both substances, and mixing with other stimulants, which can increase blood pressure and heart rate to dangerous levels.9 This also includes over-the-counter (OTC) cold medicines that contain decongestants, which can cause dangerously high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat when combined with prescription stimulants like Adderall.3
Preventing Adderall Misuse
While Adderall misuse is common, there are ways you can help prevent yourself and others from misusing the drug:2, 10, 11
- Use Adderall only as prescribed by your doctor. Follow your prescription precisely and avoid taking Adderall in a dosage or way other than prescribed.
- Keep Adderall in a safe place.
- Do not give Adderall to others or sell it. This is illegal and exposes people to the risks of Adderall misuse.
- Do not use another person’s Adderall prescription.
- Be aware of potential interactions between Adderall and any other medications or substances you may use. Avoid taking Adderall with alcohol, stimulants, or OTC decongestants.
- Properly dispose of expired or unused medication.
- Educate and support youths and young adults who may be at risk of misusing Adderall. Unfortunately, more than 60% of children and young adults report obtaining prescription stimulants through a friend or relative.
Adderall Addiction Treatment Programs
If you or someone you care about are struggling with Adderall misuse or addiction, stimulant addiction treatment is available.1
Though stimulant withdrawal seldom presents significant medical risks, recovery may start with a period of medically supervised detox to help keep people comfortable and address any complications that may arise.12 Following detox, continuing your recovery with ongoing treatment in a residential inpatient rehab or outpatient rehab can help address the underlying issues associated with addiction.13 While there are currently no FDA-approved medications to treat stimulant addiction, behavioral therapy-based treatment has helped many people in recovery.1 Treatment can also offer evaluation and treatment for any co-occurring disorders you may have, such as anxiety or depression.13
If you or someone you care about may be struggling with addiction, American Addiction Centers (AAC) can help. AAC is a leading provider of evidence-based addiction treatment throughout the U.S. You can contact AAC 24 hours a day at for information, resources, and support.