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Why Is Adderall Addictive?

By Kyle Kirkland
Adderall can be helpful, but it can also lead to addiction. Here is what the experts say on why Adderall can be addictive and the dangers of abusing it.

Adderall is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine that is commonly used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to a 2018 study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, over 6% of adults in the United States have used prescription stimulants like Adderall. With such a large number of people using it and the potential for abuse, we wanted to know what makes Adderall so addictive.  

What Makes Adderall Addictive?

“Adderall is addictive largely because of its stimulant qualities,” Jenna Liphart Rhoads, PhD and nurse educator, tells WebMD Connect to Care. People often take Adderall for help with focus and academic performance. It is also used to elevate mood and decrease appetite.

“The medication works by increasing dopamine—a ‘feel-good’ hormone—and norepinephrine levels in the central nervous system—the brain,” Rhoads says. People can get used to these high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine over time and feel dependent on the drug.

“With increasing pressures to perform and availability of stimulant medications,” Lauren Madden, licensed clinical professional counselor and clinical supervisor of the Gateway Foundation, tells WebMD Connect to Care, “Adderall provides an opportunity for substance abuse due to its popularity and perceived minimal risk among those with—or without—a formal diagnosis.”

Signs of Adderall abuse can include: 

  • Taking more than the recommended dose
  • Mixing the drug with other substances, like alcohol
  • Injecting the drug

Dangers of Adderall Abuse

Madden says the potential side effects of Adderall abuse include:

  • Headaches
  • Poor sleep
  • Increased anxiety and depression
  • Seizures
  • Stimulant-induced psychosis

But taking Adderall can affect you in other ways. Rhoads says the dangers of Adderall abuse include:

  • Depression when not using the medication because the person’s brain has become used to the high levels of dopamine
  • Experimenting with other drugs because the “high” of Adderall is no longer enough
  • The possibility of the drug being mixed with dangerous chemicals (if it is not medically prescribed)

Some of these side effects and dangers may not seem like much, but identifying them early is critical to preventing further issues or addiction.

A drug people may start using to replicate the “high” from Adderall is methamphetamine. Although methamphetamine is illegal, according to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 1.6 million people who responded had used methamphetamine in the past year.

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.

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