Adderall

Adderall is one of the most commonly abused prescription medications in high school and college students. It is prescribed to people with ADHD or insomnia, however it is often used as a "study drug" by students. It is also used recreationally to get high.
Evidence Based
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What is Adderall?

Adderall is a prescription stimulant made of a combination of levoamphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Adderall is proven to improve focus, attention, and alertness when prescribed to people with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) or narcolepsy.

Adderall is also one of the most frequently misused drugs, especially in teens and young adults. It is the most popular “study drug” abused by students all over the country.

Adderall is a Schedule II drug, meaning it has known medical uses, but also a high potential for abuse, and can cause psychological or physical dependency if misused.

Street names for Adderall include:

  • Addies
  • Beans
  • Black beauties
  • Dexies
  • Pep pills
  • Speed
  • Uppers
Samhsa

Adderall Dosage

Adderall dosage will depend on several factors, including the type and severity of the patient’s condition, their age, pre-existing conditions, and any other prescriptions you may be taking.

Adderall comes in two forms:

  • Immediate-release tablets
    • 5 mg, 7.5 mg, 10 mg, 12.5 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, and 30 mg
  • Extended-release tablets (XR)
    • 5 mg, 10 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, 25 mg, and 30 mg

Doses range from 2.5 mg for children to 30 mg daily for adults. A typical starting dose for adults is 5 mg once or twice daily. Doctors will adjust your prescription to find the smallest dosage that achieves the desired effect.

Graphic human body showing symptoms.

Adderall Effects

Adderall is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. It helps individuals with ADHD maintain focus, pay attention, remain calm, and gain control over impulsive behaviors. It also helps people with narcolepsy stay awake.

Adderall Side Effects

There are potential side effects of Adderall usage. If you experience any of these, contact your doctor. Short term side effects include:

  • Nervousness or restlessness
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Slowed speech
  • Blurred vision
  • Trouble sleeping

There is also the potential for severe side effects. If you experience any of these, you need to contact your doctor or go to the hospital right away. These include:

  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Seizures
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Circulation problems (numbness, pain, cold extremities, unexplained wounds, skin color changes)
  • Heart problems (chest pain, trouble breathing, faintness)

Adderall also has the potential to slow a child’s growth and development. In adults, it can cause changes in your sex drive or sexual performance.

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Ritalin vs. Adderall

Ritalin and Adderall have a lot in common. They are both CNS stimulants used to treat ADHD. These medications produce very similar results and side effects. For example, they both increase wakefulness and focus, and many people experience loss of appetite and trouble sleeping.

Ritalin’s main ingredient is methylphenidate hydrochloride (the same ingredient in Concerta, Contempla, Metadate, Methylin, and Quillivant). Adderall’s main ingredients are dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine. One of the commonly cited differences is that Ritalin is usually shorter-acting, meaning it’s easier to manage specific symptoms like loss of appetite or trouble sleeping.

Graphic of four pills to display party drugs.

Adderall Misuse and Abuse

Adderall abuse is a serious problem, especially among young adults. It is commonly believed by high school and college students that using Adderall will give them an educational advantage and help them get better grades. That’s why Adderall and other stimulants have earned the nickname “study drugs.”

However, studies actually show that the opposite is true. Students who do not misuse prescription stimulants actually have better grades than those that do.

A study from John Hopkins University found that 60 percent of Adderall abuse is among young adults aged 18 to 25. The same study found that the majority of pills misused came from friends or family members with prescriptions.

“The number of prescriptions for Adderall has fallen and yet we are seeing more medical problems from its use. This suggests that the main driver of misuse…is the result of diversion, people taking medication that is legitimately prescribed to someone else.”

Lian-Yu Chen, M.D., PhD

This practice of sharing prescriptions is hazardous, as proven by the increase in medical problems doctors are seeing. Only those with prescriptions should take Adderall. The misuse or abuse of Adderall comes with serious risks.

Short term risks of Adderall misuse include:

  • Restlessness
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Shaking
  • Constipation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Seizures
  • Convulsions
  • Weakness or numbing of the extremities
  • Blurred vision
  • Fever
  • Swelling of the face, eyes or throat
  • Hives

Users who snort Adderall may also develop nasal issues and have trouble breathing through their nose.

In addition to short term health effects, sustained Adderall misuse can lead to several long term effects.

Long term risks of Adderall misuse include:

  • Paranoia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lack or loss of strength
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Lower back or side pain
  • Twitching
  • Seizures
Icon of pill with warning sign

Adderall Overdose

An overdose is what happens to the body when a toxic amount of a drug enters it. It can occur anytime someone takes more than their prescribed dose of Adderall. Therefore, it is crucial that you take the medication only as prescribed and never share your prescription.

Adderall overdose symptoms include:

  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Blurry vision
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Rapid breathing
  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fever
  • Fainting
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
Graphic of woman going through withdrawal.

Adderall Addiction & Withdrawal

Users of Adderall develop a tolerance quickly, so they will require a higher dose of the drug to achieve the desired effects. This can lead to addiction or dependency.

Adderall addiction symptoms may include:

  • Increasing doses
  • Inability to reduce or stop using
  • Using the drug regardless of negative consequences
  • Relying on Adderall to do work
  • Spending a lot of time and money getting and using Adderall
  • Neglecting previous hobbies in favor of using
  • Inability to meet social, work, or educational responsibilities

If someone has developed a psychological or physical addiction to Adderall, they will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the medication.

Adderall withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Extreme hunger
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
Graphic of bottle and pill

Adderall and Alcohol

Mixing Adderall and alcohol is a very dangerous combination. Adderall may mask the symptoms of drunkenness and cause you to drink more than you usually would. Drinking alcohol with Adderall can also increase your chances of developing high blood pressure, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, and other heart-related side effects.

Other drugs that can have adverse reactions with Adderall include blood pressure medications, seizure medications, heart medications, beta-blockers, and certain medications used to treat schizophrenia. This is not a complete list of drugs that interact with Adderall. Speak with your doctor to see if any of the medications you take can potentially interact with Adderall before taking it.

Graphic of hospital.

Adderall AddictionTreatment

If you or someone you know is showing signs of an Adderall addiction, it’s best to get help right away. Talk with a school counselor or parent to figure out the appropriate actions to take.

There are several resources available for anyone addicted to stimulants, including:


Ready to Make a Change?

Resources

Chen, Lian-Yu et al. “Prescriptions, nonmedical use, and emergency department visits involving prescription stimulants.” The Journal of clinical psychiatry vol. 77,3 (2016): e297-304. doi:10.4088/JCP.14m09291 

Benham, Barbara, and JH Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Adderall Misuse Rising Among Young Adults.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 17 Feb. 2016, www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/2016/adderall-misuse-rising-among-young-adults.html

NIDA. "Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 14 Jan. 2014, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-adolescent-substance-use-disorder-treatment-research-based-guide

NIDA. "Prescription Stimulants." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 6 Jun. 2018, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-stimulants.

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Updated on: June 24, 2020
Author
Michael Bayba
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