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What is Adderall & What Does it Treat?

Adderall, also known as dextroamphetamine-amphetamine, is a combination of the two drugs that is used to help people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) focus. ADHD is a neurobehavioral disorder that is defined by persistent and maladaptive hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention symptoms. Adderall is also used to treat the chronic sleep disorder narcolepsy, which is characterized by overwhelming drowsiness during the day and sudden sleep attacks. 

Adderall has been in use since 1996. It is a stimulant, which is the most widely prescribed and most effective type of drug to treat ADHD. However, while the drug has been approved for the treatment of ADHD and narcolepsy, as well as for some other uses, some people abuse Adderall. And substance abuse of any kind, including prescription stimulants like Adderall, can have dangerous effects.

The side effects of Adderall include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Nervousness, fear, and anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Excitability
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Tremor
  • Weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Sleep problems (insomnia)
  • Dry mouth
  • Unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Fever
  • Hair loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Low libido
  • High blood pressure
  • Fast heart rate
  • Heart palpitations

When abused, the side effects of Adderall can become amplified. Abusing Adderall can take a serious toll on your physical and mental health, and overdosing can even lead to death. Still, some people — even those without ADHD or narcolepsy — abuse Adderall to experience feelings of euphoria and increased energy due to the excessive levels of dopamine.

How Adderall Works

Adderall works by increasing the user’s dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger) that sends signals throughout the central nervous system (CNS) to regulate moods, movement, memory, and cognitive functioning.

Therefore, Adderall can help many children and adults manage their ADHD symptoms. While some children may grow out of their symptoms as their brains change with development, some adults still suffer from ADHD symptoms that Adderall can help relieve.

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How Long Does Adderall Stay in Your System?

Adderall can still be detected in your system long after you’ve taken it. It usually lasts a few hours, depending on the dosage you consume. Your metabolism and weight will also play a role in how long Adderall stays in your system.

Oral Drug Test

Adderall can be detected with an oral swab of the saliva within a few minutes, but it can last in the saliva for up to about 72 hours.

Urine Drug Test

The detection window for testing a urine sample is up to 72 hours since the last use.

Hair Drug Test

Adderall can be identified in the hair for up to three months after use.

Blood Drug Test

Adderall can show up in blood tests for upwards of 46 hours.

How Long Do The Effects of Adderall Last?

The effects of immediate-release Adderall last for about four to six hours. Of course, higher doses will last longer. Again, metabolism and weight can also play roles in how long the effects of Adderall last.

Adderall also comes in an extended-release form known as Adderall XR, which is released into the body throughout the day. This can last up to 10 or 12 hours since it releases at a slower rate.

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How to Get Adderall Out of Your System

An individual’s metabolism, body weight, and frequency of drug use affect how long Adderall remains in the body. While several products claim to flush drugs from the body, the best way to remove Adderall from your system is to wait for the body to clear it naturally.

Many people have tried to use masking agents to pass a drug test. It is a myth that vitamin B3 (niacin) can cleanse toxins from the body. No evidence of its effectiveness exists.

Most products claiming to clear drugs from your body system or interfere with drug tests do not work, and they can be expensive. Labs can easily pick up masking agents in test samples.

What Happens When You Stop Using Adderall?

Withdrawal symptoms may occur in individuals who have chronically misused Adderall and developed significant physiological dependence.

Withdrawal symptoms from using Adderall include:

  • Cravings
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Lack of pleasure
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia or sleeping more than usual
  • Vivid dreams
  • Increased appetite
  • Reduced movements
  • Slowed heart rate

Adderall withdrawal symptoms typically develop within a few hours to several days after stopping Adderall. They can last up to two to three weeks. In people with high stimulant dependence, a supervised medical detox may be necessary.

A supervised medical detox may include close patient monitoring and medicines to help ease and reduce withdrawal effects, manage any medical or mental health problems, and lessen the likelihood of relapse.

Studies have shown that relapse is common in amphetamine users and typically occurs within four weeks of quitting.7

Treatment for Adderall Abuse & Addiction

When taken as prescribed, Adderall is not considered to be addictive and it typically doesn’t increase the user’s risk of substance abuse. The prescribed dose of Adderall is considered safe. Still, drug abuse is common, and it can happen with Adderall, too. Amphetamine-based ADHD medications are commonly misused and abused.

Adderall abuse can severely harm users’ physical and mental health. When taken in high doses, Adderall can have neurotoxic effects that damage the nervous system. High levels of dopamine can cause neuron and nerve damage. Side effects of Adderall abuse include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Weight loss
  • Impulse control issues
  • Heart problems
  • Increased heart rate
  • Difficulties thinking and concentrating
  • Learning complications
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Sleeping problems
  • Stunted growth (for children)
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Kidney failure
  • Organ damage
  • Restlessness
  • Mania
  • Seizures
  • Blurred or impaired vision
  • Hyperactivity
  • Dry mouth
  • Skin issues like Itching, rash, and sores
  • Teeth clenching
  • Dizziness
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you or a loved one is struggling with abuse of stimulant medications or other prescription medications, seek medical advice immediately. Treatment options are available. You may choose to undergo a medically-monitored detox process. Detoxing from a controlled substance is safest under the supervision of a healthcare professional who can help you manage any withdrawal symptoms during this time to minimize the risk of relapsing and overdosing.

Adderall addiction treatment is also available in the form of inpatient and outpatient rehab, traditional talk therapy, group addiction counseling, psychiatric services, and holistic therapies that incorporate everything from art to religion.

If you are still battling ADHD, your doctor may be able to prescribe you a different ADHD treatment that’s safer for you. For example, brand drugs such as Strattera and Wellbutrin may be effective options to treat ADHD. Because they are non-stimulant medications, they have a lower potential for abuse. However, they may take longer to work (four to eight weeks to reach maximum effectiveness, compared to 30 minutes to an hour with Adderall). It’s worth talking to your healthcare provider about other treatment options that are available to you.

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(1) “Adderall Neurotoxicity: How Dangerous Is It? - Oxford Treatment.” Oxford Treatment Center

(2) Kelly, Kate. “What You Need to Know.” Adderall, Understood, 22 Oct. 2020

(3) “Narcolepsy.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Nov. 2020

(4) “NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms.” National Cancer Institute

(5) “Side Effects of Adderall (Amphetamine, Dextroamphetamine Mixed Salts), Warnings, Uses.” RxList, RxList, 27 Oct. 2020

(6) “What Is Adderall?: Adderall Side Effects and Treatment: Arrow Passage.” Arrow Passage Recovery Center, 9 Oct. 2020

(7) The amphetamine withdrawal syndrome, Models of Intervention and Care For Psychostimulant Users, 2nd Edition - Monograph Series No. 51, Australian Government Department of Health, April 2004

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