Adderall (amphetamine/dextroamphetamine) is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant used for the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1996 for children aged 3 and older, Adderall is a CNS stimulant mixture. It contains four different amphetamine salts: dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine aspartate, dextroamphetamine sulfate and amphetamine sulfate. Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine) is considered the original ADHD drug, approved by the FDA more than 50 years ago and is similar to Adderall.1 High school and college students are especially prone to abusing this drug.2 The 2016 Monitoring the Future Survey provides one of the most accurate barometers for teen drug use. The survey of 8th, 10th and 12th grade students revealed Adderall abuse decreased from 4.5% in 2015 to 3.9% in 2016. The prevalence rates were highest in 12th graders and declined in all grades in 2016, except 8th grade.3
|Adderall Prevalence in Grades 8, 10 and 12|
Additional Adderall Facts and Stats
- Studies indicate less than 20% of teens obtain Adderall from doctors, meaning those who abuse it are likely getting pills from friends or acquaintances.3
- In the 2016 Monitoring the Future Survey, about 40% of high school seniors reported they thought amphetamines were easy to obtain.3
- Emergency room visits involving ADHD stimulants tripled between 2005 and 2010, highlighting the health burden of nonmedical use of these medications.4
- A study found more than half of nonmedical adolescent ADHD stimulant users reported concurrent problematic substance use, with the most frequently used substances being alcohol (53.3%), marijuana (47.9%) and pain relievers (23.4%).4
- Among college students, as well as medical and dental students, the abuse rate of stimulant ADHD medications ranged from a low of 8.1% to a high of 43%.5
- Nonmedical use of Adderall increased by 67% among young adults between 2006 and 2011.6
Is Adderall Addictive?
Adderall is generally not associated with the severe risks of prescription opioids, although it can be addictive. Adderall, as well as the stimulant Ritalin (methylphenidate), are classified as Schedule II substances under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act due to their high abuse potential.4 At the neurological level, Adderall binds to norepinephrine and dopamine receptors in the brain as well as epinephrine receptors in the adrenal glands. This causes a rapid increased production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which can lead to dependency.6,7 Individuals addicted to Adderall can experience hallucinations, delusions and full-blown psychosis.2
Adderall Side Effects
Some of the most common side effects include increased alertness, attention and energy, insomnia, agitation, anxiety, headache, decreased appetite, upper abdominal pain and vomiting. These side effects can occur even when the medication is taken as prescribed for ADHD. It should be noted that all prescription stimulants can increase blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate and blood sugar levels. Small doses of Adderall can help a person feel more awake and refreshed, although this can be short-lived. When the positive side effects wear off, an Adderall user can be left feeling irritable, depressed and exhausted.7,8,9 High doses can cause dangerously high body temperature and irregular heartbeat, heart failure and seizures. Although experts are not certain about all the health risks over a long duration, it is believed long-term use can cause cardiovascular problems, psychosis, anger and paranoia. When combined with alcohol, Adderall masks the depressant action of alcohol, increasing the risk of alcohol overdose.9
Adderall Overdose Signs
Overdose risks dramatically increase when people abuse Adderall by taking it off-label, in combination with other substances, in excessive doses or by manipulating its administration (e.g. snorting or injecting). The following are potential signs of an Adderall overdose.7
- Cardiovascular problems
- Gastrointestinal problems
If you suspect a loved one is misusing Adderall, seek help right away. Medical detox combined with various types of psychotherapy help address physical and psychological distress associated with addiction and boost the likelihood of long-term recovery.
- Drugs.com website. https://www.drugs.com/adderall.html Updated May 2, 2017. Accessed May 20, 2017.
- Leonard K. Adderall: Still Keeping Teens Up at Night. US News and World Report. December 16, 2015. http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015-12-16/adderall-still-abused-by-many-teens-survey-shows Accessed May 20, 2017.
- Monitoring the Future Survey: High School and Youth Trends. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/monitoring-future-survey-high-school-youth-trends Updated December 2016. Accessed May 20, 2017.
- Chen L-Y, Crum RM, Strain EC, Martins SS, Mojtabai R. Patterns of concurrent substance use among adolescent nonmedical ADHD stimulant users. Addict Behav. 2015;49:1-6. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2015.05.007.
- Hanson CL, Burton SH, Giraud-Carrier C, West JH, Barnes MD, Hansen B. Tweaking and Tweeting: Exploring Twitter for Nonmedical Use of a Psychostimulant Drug (Adderall) Among College Students. Eysenbach G, ed. J Med Internet Res. 2013;15(4):e62. doi:10.2196/jmir.2503.
- Is Adderall Addictive? Dependency.Net website. http://www.dependency.net/learn/adderall/ Accessed May 20, 2017.
- Adderall Addiction and Treatment. American Addiction Centers website. http://americanaddictioncenters.org/adderall/ Accessed May 20, 2017.
- Nonmedical Use of Adderall on the Rise Among Young Adults. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence website. https://www.ncadd.org/blogs/in-the-news/nonmedical-use-of-adderall-on-the-rise-among-young-adults Published February 23, 2016. Accessed May 20, 2017.
- Commonly Abused Drugs Charts. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/commonly-abused-drugs-charts#prescription-stimulants Updated May 2017. Accessed May 20, 2017.