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Is Adderall Addictive

Is Adderall Addictive?

Adderall is in the news more and more as of late. The reasons for this vary, including soaring ADHD diagnoses, widespread Adderall abuse on college campuses where it’s known as the study drug, and the ongoing Adderall shortage.

Regardless of the reasons behind all of the attention, behind all this coverage lies a variety of questions regarding the drug: whether it’s safe, whether it’s addictive – whether it’s even necessary.

While psychiatry overwhelmingly supports using stimulant drugs like Adderall to treat conditions like ADHD, many remain suspicious. They argue that Adderall is addictive, likening it to methamphetamine. Some go so far as to claim ADHD was “invented” by unscrupulous doctors looking for excuses to prescribe expensive stimulants.

In this article, we’ll cut through the controversy by explaining exactly what Adderall is, its purpose, whether it’s addictive, and if treatment centers can help. Read on.

What Is Adderall?

Adderall is a prescription stimulant comprised of a 3-to-1 ratio of dextroamphetamine to levoamphetamine. It treats ADHD and narcolepsy. When used as prescribed, it can be effective and safe.

However, its abuse potential is high, especially among young adults in college. Adderall abuse is rampant on college campuses, with one study indicating that up to 20% of all college students abuse Adderall at some point.

Frequent and long-term abuse of Adderall can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Addiction to Adderall can have serious consequences, including legal troubles, financial problems, and health issues. As a result, Adderall is classified as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act.

Is Adderall Meth?

Adderall is not meth.

Some have taken to calling Adderall “legal meth,” due to the fact both methamphetamine and Adderall are powerful stimulants.

There are some similarities. They belong to the same class of drugs, known as amphetamines, and are chemically similar. They also both substances act as central nervous system stimulants and affect the levels of certain neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine and norepinephrine, in the brain.

But there are some important differences as well.

At the same concentration and dosing, methamphetamine causes the brain to release dopamine at five times the rate as Adderall.

Moreover, the dopamine released by methamphetamine takes longer to clear out of the brain, causing levels to build up faster than with Adderall. This leads to methamphetamine having much higher euphoric effects, and thus addictive potential, than Adderall.

Methamphetamine is usually consumed as a street drug, commonly known as crystal meth. This means it often contains various impurities – some of them very dangerous, such as fentanyl. Adderall, on the other hand, is legal and regulated, meaning you know exactly what you are getting.

What Does Adderall Do?

Adderall increases levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. These are neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) that govern things like attention, alertness, and feelings of well-being.

The brains of people with ADHD often don’t release enough of these neurotransmitters. This causes those with the condition to feel bored and restless when trying to focus on something or sit still.

When someone takes Adderall, they can expect effects like:

  • Enhanced focus and concentration
  • Increased alertness and wakefulness
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Higher energy
  • Feelings of euphoria

The energy and euphoria people feel on Adderall are major reasons why some people abuse Adderall. These effects are often sought after due to Adderall’s positive impact on focus and alertness.

Common negative Adderall effects include:

  • Suppressed appetite and potential weight loss
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Dehydration; dry mouth and increased sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia

The duration of Adderall’s effects depends on the formulation and dosage. Adderall tablets and capsules are immediately released into the body, lasting a few hours. Extended-release Adderall is formulated to release throughout the day, which lasts longer.

There are two main formulations of Adderall:

  • Adderall Immediate Release (IR) — Immediate-release Adderall typically starts working within 20 to 60 minutes after ingestion, with its peak effects occurring around 1.5 to 3 hours after administration. The overall effects can last approximately 4 to 6 hours.
  • Adderall Extended Release (XR) — Extended-release Adderall releases the medication gradually over time. The effects usually begin within 30 to 60 minutes after ingestion, with peak effects occurring around 4 to 7 hours after administration. The overall effects can last approximately 10 to 12 hours.

It is important to note that the duration and intensity of Adderall’s effects can vary based on individual factors such as metabolism, weight, age, and drug tolerance.

Is Adderall Addictive?

When used as prescribed and under the supervision of a medical professional, the risk of Adderall addiction is low. However, some have reported developing a tolerance for Adderall, needing to take progressively increase dosages to achieve the same effects. The potential for addiction is particularly high when Adderall is abused or taken in higher doses than prescribed.

Adderall withdrawal effects can include:

  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances: Both Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) may occur as the body adjusts to the absence of the stimulant.
  • Increased appetite
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Craving
  • Mood swings
  • Vivid dreams: Some individuals report having vivid or unusual dreams during the withdrawal process

These withdrawal symptoms typically peak within the first week after discontinuing Adderall and then gradually decrease over time. However, the duration and severity of withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the individual, their usage history, and other factors. To minimize withdrawal symptoms, a healthcare professional may recommend a gradual tapering of the medication instead of abrupt discontinuation.

It should be noted that those who take Adderall at therapeutic doses may not be at risk of addiction. This is because people with ADHD lack the appropriate levels of dopamine in their brains at a chemical level. In simple terms, Adderall treats ADHD by providing normal (“neurotypical”) levels of dopamine in the person’s brain.

For this reason, many people with ADHD use Adderall for the rest of their lives without displaying any signs of addiction. In fact, evidence indicates that those with ADHD who take Adderall under the supervision of a medical professional have an overall lower risk of developing substance use disorders.

Adderall Abuse Treatment

Adderall is a very helpful medication for many but it is easily abused. If you or someone you know is abusing Adderall, it’s time to get help from addiction treatment professionals. South Coast Behavioral Health offers a range of treatment options, including medical detox, behavioral counseling, inpatient and outpatient treatment, and more. The treatment programs found in drug and alcohol rehab provide a road to recovery and sober living. Personalized treatment plans made with help from substance abuse counselors are the best way to end addiction to stimulants like Adderall.

To learn more about the Adderall treatment options a substance abuse recovery center can provide, please call us at 886-881-1184. Our addiction specialists are available 24/7 to take your call. All calls are confidential. We can help. Call today!


Pierce Willans
Kelly McIntyre
Medically Reviewed by Kelly McIntyre, MS, LMFT