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Adderall Use and Abuse: Is This Stimulant Addictive?

adderall addiction

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Adderall belongs to a class of drugs called amphetamines which are psychostimulants that excite the central nervous system. Adderall is well-known for being prescribed to treat conditions such as ADHD and narcolepsy because this medication improves alertness and concentration. But many people abuse the drug for its euphoric effects. Addicts buy Adderall on the black market to chase an Adderall high.
What does Adderall look like? Who is at risk of developing an addiction to this medication? Let’s find out.

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Table of Contents

What is Adderall?

According to the 2013 study “Amphetamine, past and present – a pharmacological and clinical perspective,” amphetamines were introduced to the American drug market by Smith, Kline, French (SKF) in the 1930s for narcolepsy and depression. They were also used in World War II to improve alertness, concentration, motivation, and memory in servicemen. Once SKF’s patent expired and other pharmaceutical companies began manufacturing these drugs there was a surge in sales.
By the 1950s and 1960s, experts realized amphetamines are habit forming and not merely like caffeine, a common legally available stimulant. A decade or two later, the health consequences of amphetamine addiction emerged more clearly, and legislation was passed to control their use. In 1971, these medicines were classified as schedule II substances with a high potential for addiction. Prescription use for ADHD skyrocketed in the 1990s, as did legal Adderall complications and lawsuits. By 2015, according to Monitoring the Future survey sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, amphetamines were the most abused prescription drugs by high school students. It became increasingly common for students or professionals to pop an illegally obtained prescription stimulant to deal with academic and work pressures.

Is Adderall a narcotic?

From a medical point of view, Adderall is not a narcotic but rather a stimulant, which increases blood pressure and heart rate, boost energy, enhance alertness, and help maintain wakefulness. Stimulants are often called uppers or speed on the street.

What is Adderall Made Of?

The Adderall chemical structure consists of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine mixed salts. Adderall comes in the form of a tablet which are round or elliptical shaped and come in different colors such as blue, orange, and pink. Adderall is available in different strengths ranging from 2.5 mg to 30 mg.

What is the difference between Adderall XR vs IR?

Both formulations of the medication contain the same active ingredients, dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine in a ratio of 3:1. However, Adderall XR, which was introduced by Shire Pharmaceuticals in 2001 is a longer acting formulation that provides prolonged relief of symptoms for up to 12 hours. In contrast, the immediate release IR format is shorter acting, and its effect only lasts 4-6 hours, Adderall pills and bottle lying on the tablewhich means the patient needs to take it 2-3 times every day. This complicates treatment, especially in children with ADHD who require supervision by a parent or school nurse for medication administration. XR capsules are more expensive than IR tablets, but there is no significant difference in efficacy, side effects, or potential for addiction.

Does Adderall Expire?

The medication can maintain its potency for years after the expiry date and is safe to take for the most part, although the effectiveness may decrease over time.

How to take a prescription amphetamine?

It should be taken in the morning with or without food. Late evening doses may result in insomnia. The capsules should not be crushed or chewed, however if a person cannot swallow the capsule whole, it should be carefully opened, and the contents added to a spoonful of applesauce or something similiar. Adderall and breastfeeding are not recommended because the medicine can be pass on to the baby through breast milk. It’s important to be aware of Adderall drug interactions, i.e., medications such as MAOIs (a type of antidepressants) and others that interact with amphetamines and may cause problems.

What Are Amphetamines Used For?

Amphetamines are prescribed to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because they lack normal levels of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain which is naturally released during rewarding experiences. Dopamine regulates a number of important functions in the body, such as cognition, learning, sleep, mood, memory, and attention. This mechanism of action stimulated by amphetamines will increase levels of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in the brain.
In addition to prescribing adults, adolescents, and children with Adderall to treat ADHD it is also prescribed to treat narcolepsy, which helps people with these conditions calm down, maintain attention, and ward off excessive sleepiness for up to 12 hours.
The use of Adderall for anxiety treatment is not approved by the FDA, but some people use it to deal with social anxiety because it increases sociability and confidence and boosts mood and energy. Adderall dosage starts at 2.5 to 5 mg daily and doses of more than 40 mg per day for ADHD are rarely needed. However, it is worth noting that the drug can make a persons situation worse as the Adderall anxiety can also be a common side effect.

Stimulant drugs increase focus, memory, and motivation and can help with studies; however, it is not advisable to use them inappropriately without a prescription. This is not only illegal but also very dangerous because of a high potential for addiction.

There are many similar less addictive drugs; however, they are  all slightly different in the mechanism of action and efficiency. For example, when comparing  Adderall vs Vyvanse they are formed from different amphetamine derivatives, and differ in structure. Vyvanse is also an approved treatment for binge eating disorder, but Adderall use for weight loss is not approved by FDA.

What is Stimulant Addiction?

Certain prescription medications are stimulants and are commonly abused for effects such as elation, energy, confidence, and concentration. Cramming for an exam, boosting physical energy before a sports event, losing weight, are common reasons for misuse . Abuse is dangerous and can lead to tolerance over time, addiction, and serious health problems. It may be far safer to use a natural Adderall substitute.
pyramide from Adderall pills on white background
Many addicts are not aware of the potential tendency for addiction or the Adderall overdose amount. Amphetamine doses of more than 20 to 25 mg per kilogram of body weight can be lethal. To avoid an overdose with large doses of these medicines, addicts have found other ways to abuse amphetamines. Addicts smoke Adderall; also, insufflation or snorting powdered Adderall is another common practice of Adderall abuse leading to a high. Plugging Adderall refers to the insertion of the drug through the anus which although is not a traditional method is still known to be used. abuse. In people with an amphetamine addiction, these methods of abuse are incredibly dangerous. They not only increase the risk of overdose, but can cause damage to the lungs, nasal cavity, and rectum.

Who is Likely to Abuse Stimulants?

Prescription stimulants produce feelings of euphoria. They increase confidence and alertness and suppress appetite. That’s why they are the go-to drugs for people who want to boost physical and mental performance or obtain high. Some people take Adderall IR or some other formulation to deal with social anxiety. People who are most likely to abuse stimulant prescription drugs and develop an addiction include:

  • High school and college students use Adderall to study: to improve focus and concentration and cope with long study sessions before exams.
  • Working professionals in high-stress jobs for improved memory, motivation, attention, and energy.
  • Athletes take Adderall to enhance physical performance, mask fatigue and pain, and increase concentration and aggression.
  • Young people with social anxiety to gain confidence, boost mood, and improve social skills.
  • Individuals with eating disorders for appetite suppression and rapid weight loss.
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What Causes Addiction to Amphetamines?

Many people who misuse Adderall XR and other formulations of the drug assume these medications are safe because they are prescribed to children. The truth is that they are schedule II substances with a serious potential for misuse and addiction. Dependence on these medications has both physical and psychological components.

The physical aspects of the prescription stimulant addiction include tolerance, cravings, and withdrawal symptoms. Non-prescription use of amphetamines leads to tolerance over time where progressively larger doses are needed to get the same effects.

Occasional or recreational use of Adderall can rapidly progress to full-blown addiction. Recreational use of the drug equals abuse and is illegal.

A person with an addiction to prescription stimulants cannot function normally without the drug. Cravings and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms can occur upon abruptly discontinuing or decreasing the drug intake. Individuals with an addiction may continue taking the medicine to avoid or reverse these symptoms. The psychological aspects of addiction to prescription stimulants include panic attacks, anxiety or depression, lack of confidence, and social withdrawal.

What is Stimulant Addiction Statistics and Facts?

Despite the serious physical and psychological consequences, addiction to extended-release Adderall and other formulations of the drug has been increasing in the last few decades. Here are some statistics that indicate the scale of the problem:

  • Full-time college students between the ages of 18 and 22 are twice as likely to be non-medical users of amphetamines compared to students who do not attend college full-time.
  • 7.5 percent of 12th graders admit to the non-medical use of Adderall in the past year.
  • Amphetamine abuse and addiction are on the rise among young adults between ages 18 and 25 who primarily obtain the drug from friends or relatives and use it without a doctor’s recommendation or prescription.
  • Students who abuse prescription stimulants have lower GPAs in high school and college compared to those who don’t use study drugs.

How to Spot Adderall Abuse?

Taking prescription stimulants without a doctor’s prescription is illegal and is considered drug abuse. Here are some Adderall addiction symptoms one should be vigilant for:

  • Taking larger doses or more frequent doses than prescribed
  • Taking an Adderall pill without a prescription for non-medical reasons
  • Unexplained physical symptoms such as headaches, hoarse voice, sleep disturbance, dilated pupils, sweating, restlessness, and hyperactivity
  • Rapid unexplained weight loss
  • Being able to go days without sleep
  • Snorting, smoking or plugging the drug to obtain a faster highyoung businessman snorting drug stimulant on a workplace
  • Searching online for how to make Adderall stronger
  • Buying the drug from dealers or other unlawful sources
  • Spending time figuring out how to get Adderall prescription
  • Continuing use despite being aware of negative consequences

How to Help Someone with Amphetamine Addiction?

People with an addiction to stimulants find it very hard to quit. Overcoming the dependence takes courage and determination. Every recovering addict is unique, but some things are common to nearly everyone with a drug habit. Do not expect the person to immediately agree they have a problem or agree to seek help. Be prepared to deal with emotions such as fear and embarrassment. Here’s a step-by-step guide for helping a friend or relative with an Adderall addiction:

  1. Step 1: Build Trust: Refrain from criticizing, judging, nagging, yelling, or name calling. Do not agree to try the drug. Try to understand the stressors that are driving the addictive behavior. Don’t protect the person from the consequences of their behavior and don’t try to control them.
  2. Step 2: Get Help: Dealing with an Adderall addict is a stressful process. Make sure to help to manage the stress. Seek professional counseling if necessary.
  3. Step 3: Communicate: Be honest, open minded, and non-threatening in communication with the recovering addict. Do not blame or humiliate them. Tell them that the addiction is a problem, and they need to do something about it, but the decision must be theirs.
  4. Step 4: Start Treatment: Talk about how the Adderall addiction has affected the body and mind and discuss treatment goals. Respect their right to privacy and don’t talk to common friends or family about the addiction.

How is Stimulant Addiction Treated?

The first question that comes to mind when seeking treatment for amphetamine dependence is probably how long it takes for Adderall to leave one’s system. And is there a difference between pink, orange, and blue Adderall? The drug leaves the body completely in about three days. The different colored pills are different dosages and formulations (XR or IR) of the medication.
What does the treatment for amphetamine addiction involve? There is currently no FDA-approved drug that specifically targets amphetamine addiction. The mainstay of substance abuse therapies for prescription stimulant addiction is detox and psychotherapy. Don’t hesitate to ask for professional help if you do not know how to come down from Adderall safely or if you are looking for a safe and easy Adderall comedown remedy.
The symptoms of Adderall withdrawal can be rough, and detox should be performed under the supervision of medical professionals. Detoxification at one of the best drug rehab centers can ensure that withdrawal from the drug is as safe and as comfortable as possible. Inpatient and outpatient rehab centers offer programs where recovering addicts can detox safely and develop new coping strategies and life skills to beat addiction forever and remain drug-free.
Treatment involves:

  • Intervention by a trained therapist to help the person realize they have a problem with stimulant addiction.
  • Detoxification at an addiction treatment center for a gradual withdrawal from the medication under supervision.
  • Entry into a formal drug rehab program with evaluation for co-occurring mental health issues and behavioral counseling.
  • Long-term follow-up and relapse prevention strategies.
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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Chinwe Okudo
Isaak Stotts

About Author

Isaak Stotts, LP

Isaak Stotts is an in-house medical writer in AddictionResource. Isaak learned addiction psychology at Aspen University and got a Master's Degree in Arts in Psychology and Addiction Counseling. After graduation, he became a substance abuse counselor, providing individual, group, and family counseling for those who strive to achieve and maintain sobriety and recovery goals.


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