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Top Warning Signs of Adderall Abuse and Addiction

Last Updated on February 9, 2024 by Carol Gillette

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

Adderall abuse and addiction are not uncommon in today’s world. Adderall is a stimulant that physicians frequently prescribe for symptoms of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The effects of amphetamines on alertness and overall focus are promoted heavily as a treatment for anyone diagnosed with ADD and ADHD. Unfortunately, these same characteristics make Adderall a very commonly abused drug.
Beware! This drug has a
BLACK BOX warning.


adderall abuse
Alternative to Meds Center has focused on ADHD medication withdrawal and recovery for just about 20 years. Our success, which you can see here, in independently collated evidence gathered over many years. Our aim is focused on getting to the root causes of unwanted conditions. The center is equipped to provide natural sustainable ways to achieve well-being, despite past previous misdiagnoses, and imperfect labels.
What does Adderall do and why is it so frequently misused? What are the signs of addiction and abuse you should be watching out for? Perhaps most importantly, how is Adderall addiction treated? Read on for an overview of Adderall addiction, abuse, and solutions.
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Understanding Adderall Abuse and Addiction

adderall black box warningAdderall combines 4 amphetamines into one tablet. Stimulant medications such as Adderall increase the active levels of dopamine. Increased dopamine levels cause an initial boost in mood, focus, energy, and concentration.

The population of recreational users takes Adderall with or without a prescription to experience the pleasurable effects of dopamine release. After a short period of time, neuroadaptation occurs. A person develops a tolerance or lessening of the drug’s effects, and they must take the drug more frequently, or in higher doses to get the same effects. It is unfortunate that this abuse so easily spirals into addiction. The NHS defines addiction as losing control of taking a substance, even if doing so harms you.1

The FDA put a black box warning on Adderall (and all other ADHD drugs) for their high potential for abuse, and because they can cause sudden death and cardiac adverse events.2

Signs and Symptoms of Adderall Abuse

ADHD medications were reviewed for their abuse and misuse potential back in 2014. Between 5 and 10% of high school students, and 35% of college students were found to be abusing (defined as not for medicinal reasons) stimulant ADHD drugs.

These drugs are commonly prescribed not only to the student population but to “treat” the soaring rates of ADHD diagnoses in the adult population. These drugs are widely accessible, and easily diverted for recreational purposes. The review showed that people taking ADHD drugs like the stimulant feel of them, and other pleasurable effects, at least until tolerance and other adverse reactions come about.3

Perhaps paradoxically, behavioral signs of Adderall abuse and addiction often mirror the symptoms of ADHD. Here is a summary, followed by an expanded description of some signs and symptoms that happen as a result of abusing Adderall, that are often overlooked.

Symptoms of Adderall abuse and addiction can include:
  • Memory Impairment
  • Mania and psychosis
  • Overworking oneself to exhaustion
  • Sleep disruption
  • Skin Disorders
  • Appetite changes
  • Prescriptions “running out early”
  • Adverse reactions when the drug is stopped or a dose is delayed

Memory Impairment

The daily use of psycho-stimulant drugs such as Adderall was found to impair working memory, despite the prevalent myth that these drugs can improve cognitive memory. Stimulant drugs also disrupt sleep which is another factor found to negatively impact memory, as discussed in more detail below.4

Sometimes we get into a trap of low energy or mood and are relieved to find something that makes that all go away, at least for a while. However, these are short-lived benefits of drug-based therapy or the perceived benefits of abuse alike. After a while, it is the drug that is itself that is worsening the unwanted conditions, and that is a sort of trap. However, there have been many studies showing that improving the diet, including supplementing with Omega-3 oils, avoiding sugar, food additives, and refined carbs, as well as improving sleep, and removing exposure to toxins all are effective ways to improve cognitive functioning, energy, mood, and many other benefits. These can take time and effort, but the rewards are unmistakable.13

Mania and Psychosis

adderall psychosisMania displays an over-the-top or over-excited emotional state that is out of character for the person. Adderall can cause episodes of psychosis which entails hallucinations, and other disturbed perceptions and thinking, often indistinguishable from schizophrenia. Though rare, the FDA acknowledges that Adderall can cause such episodes in persons who have never experienced such symptoms prior to taking Adderall. A person experiencing mania could manifest rapid speech, extreme talkativeness, hyper-elevated mood, shifting moods, impulsive actions, decreased need for sleep, and psychomotor agitation. An example might be the person suddenly deciding to marry a complete stranger or to drive a motorcycle for the first time in a place they have never been before. Symptoms can also present as hostility and aggression, and the person may engage in actions that harm themselves, or others, or inflict property damage while in such a state.2,5,6

These extreme hyper reactions are thought related to excessive dopamine, and the opposite response has also been reported in clinical literature. In this case, stopping ADHD medication may induce a severe drop in mood from a condition known as paradoxical decompensation. This is described as the effect that long-term or chronic use of stimulants causes, resulting in a worsening of symptoms over time. The dopamine “downregulation” or disabled response of receptors is what is likely behind the prevalence of addiction developing with continued use or abuse of stimulant-based medications.12

Overworking Oneself to Exhaustion

A stimulant drug can boost energy within minutes and also reduce the need for sleep. Over time, this can lead to a dangerous situation of staying awake and active for longer hours but not being able to recoup one’s energy with adequate sleep.2,6,7

Sleep Disruptions

A person addicted to or frequently abusing stimulants like Adderall can become sleep deficient and may develop extreme chronic insomnia. According to the FDA, this is a marked sign that indicates Adderall abuse and addiction. Insufficient sleep contributes to cognitive decline, reduced memory, and impaired learning. A study published in the Journal of Neurotherapeutics reported that more than 60% of the trial participants taking ADHD drugs experienced insomnia.2,6,7

Skin Disorders

According to the FDA, addiction to Adderall as well as abusing the drug in high volume can cause extreme skin disorders. These can include severe rashes that can be life-threatening, as in Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Other skin disorders include delusional infestations, lesions, and abscesses which are documented as being consequences of Adderall addiction and abuse.8,10

Appetite Changes

ADHD drugs, being stimulants, can profoundly decrease appetite, and weight over time. In addiction or abuse of Adderall, nutrition can become neglected due to a disinterest in eating. Sometimes gastrointestinal issues may cause pain in the stomach and abdomen, causing additional discomfort to digestion. These and other drug reactions are reported to fade once the drug use stops.2

Prescriptions Running Out Early

In regular medically monitored use, ADHD drugs such as Adderall appear to become less effective over time. This is referred to as “tolerance.” In addiction or misuse, tolerance also occurs and as a result, the person will tend to increase the dose or frequency. The person may be trying to get the same intensity of pleasure, energy, etc., which typically wains over time. Therefore as dependence or addiction develops, the dose or frequency of taking it tends to be increased, and the prescription may not last for the whole period of time it was intended to cover.9

Adverse Reactions When the Drug is Stopped or a Dose is Delayed

Adverse reactions to stopping a drug or when a dose is delayed are indicators that dependence has developed. Some of these reactions may inflict physical reactions, and some may cause psychological symptoms. The subject of ADHD drug cessation has not been thoroughly studied. In fact, no studies could be found except one which briefly suggested the withdrawal phenomena of ADHD drugs would be similar to that of cocaine, or other stimulant drugs. Such reactions could include sleep disturbances, mood swings, depression, dysphoria, appetite disturbance, stomach discomfort, and drug cravings.

Help for Adderall Addiction at Alternative to Meds Center

get off adderall sedona drug rehabDue to the nature of the drug, Adderall abuse and dependence is not an uncommon problem and help is available for it at Alternative to Meds Center.

Orthomolecular medicine provides a fundamental basis for the correction of diet and restoration of vitamin and mineral deficiencies that may have developed over time. Much nutritional research has been published on the impacts of diet on correcting unwanted symptoms that drugs just did not and could not resolve. Drugs mask symptoms very well. For at least a time. But they do not and cannot get at the root causes of unwanted conditions. You cannot call a band-aid a cure. Alternative to Meds is focused on finding and addressing the root causes of unwanted conditions.

Recovery at Alternative to Meds utilizes many other therapies designed to put the client back in control of the parts of life that have spiraled in a negative direction. Lab testing gives a snapshot and clear pathway of what needs to be addressed. The use of exercise, including Equine-assisted therapy, cleansing regimens, IV treatments, and psychological counseling are some of the protocols we use and our clients find highly effective to reach their recovery goals. Of supreme interest is the neurotransmitter rehabilitation tools we use to help the body normalize after disruption or impairments have occurred. Safe cessation of medication is our specialty.

The center is located in a pristine facility at the foot of the Red Rock mountains of Sedona Arizona, providing a wealth of opportunities for outdoor activities, serenity, beautiful natural surroundings, and a healing atmosphere. These factors make Alternative to Meds a well-loved place to center your healing journey. But the therapies and professional care provided are at the root of our client success. Please feel free to contact us for more information about how we can help you or your loved one recover your natural mental health and wellness after suffering from lingering negative outcomes after Adderall abuse, dependence, or addiction.

Sources:


1. NHS Addiction Definition, [published online 2021 June 9] [cited 2023 April 26]

2. FDA Drug Label Adderall (Dextroamphetamine Saccharate, Amphetamine Aspartate, Dextroamphetamine Sulfate tablets) Revised 2017 [cited 2023 April 26]

3. Clemow DB, Walker DJ. The potential for misuse and abuse of medications in ADHD: a review. Postgrad Med. 2014 Sep;126(5):64-81. doi: 10.3810/pgm.2014.09.2801. PMID: 25295651. [cited 2023 April 26]

4. Tselha T, Whitehurst LN, Yetton BD, Vo TT, Mednick SC. Morning stimulant administration reduces sleep and overnight working memory improvement. Behav Brain Res. 2019 Sep 16;370:111940. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2019.111940. Epub 2019 May 9. PMID: 31078618. [cited 2023 April 26]

5. Dailey MW, Saadabadi A. Mania. 2022 Jul 19. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan–. PMID: 29630220. [cited 2023 April 26]

6. Berman, S. M., Kuczenski, R., McCracken, J. T., & London, E. D. (2009). Potential adverse effects of amphetamine treatment on brain and behavior: a review. Molecular psychiatry14(2), 123–142. https://doi.org/10.1038/mp.2008.90 [cited 2023 April 26]

7. Stein, M. A., Weiss, M., & Hlavaty, L. (2012). ADHD treatments, sleep, and sleep problems: complex associationsNeurotherapeutics : the journal of the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics9(3), 509–517. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13311-012-0130- [cited 2023 April 26]

8. Moattari C, Franca K,; Adverse psychocutaneous effects of prescription stimulant use and abuse: A systematic review German Journal of Dermatology, [first published 6 Jan 2022] retrieved from Wyley Online Library, [cited 2023 April 26]

9. Handelman K, Sumiya F. Tolerance to Stimulant Medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Literature Review and Case Report. Brain Sci. 2022 Jul 22;12(8):959. doi: 10.3390/brainsci12080959. PMID: 35892400; PMCID: PMC9332474. [cited 2023 April 26]

10. Oakley AM, Krishnamurthy K. Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. [Updated 2022 Aug 21]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459323/ [cited 2023 April 26]

11. Lago JA, Kosten TR. Stimulant withdrawal. Addiction. 1994 Nov;89(11):1477-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.1994.tb03746.x. PMID: 7841859. [cited 2023 April 26]

12. Yanofski J. The Dopamine Dilemma-Part II: Could Stimulants Cause Tolerance, Dependence, and Paradoxical Decompensation?Innov Clin Neurosci. 2011;8(1):47-53. [cited 2023 April 26]

13. Martínez García RM, Jiménez Ortega AI, López Sobaler AM, Ortega RM. Estrategias nutricionales que mejoran la función cognitiva [Nutrition strategies that improve cognitive function]. Nutr Hosp. 2018 Sep 7;35(Spec No6):16-19. Spanish. doi: 10.20960/nh.2281. PMID: 30351155. [cited 2023 April 26]


Originally Published May 22, 2019 by Lyle Murphy


This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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