Adderall Abuse and Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on August 25, 2022
3 min read

Adderall is the brand name of a medication that doctors prescribe for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and for narcolepsy, a condition that makes you drowsy or fall asleep suddenly.

Adderall is a stimulant, like caffeine, but much more powerful. Some people, especially younger adults and teens, misuse the drug to get high or to feel alert and energetic. Most of them get prescription Adderall from a friend or a relative.

These terms generally mean that that you’re using a medication for something other than its original purpose. Many people who don’t have ADHD mistakenly think that taking Adderall and similar medication such as Concerta, Dexedrine, Modafinil, and Ritalin is no more dangerous than drinking a lot of coffee or caffeinated beverages.

Abusing or misusing a drug harms you or your loved ones. You are misusing Adderall if you:

  • Take someone else’s prescription
  • Use a higher dose than prescribed
  • Inject, snort, or smoke the pills
  • Mix the pills with other drugs or alcohol
  • Use them to get high or to keep up with school studies

Some older Americans may take Adderall to ward off memory loss. But doing so without a doctor’s OK can lead to physical and mental problems.

The federal government classifies Adderall as a Schedule II drug, the same as cocaine. That means the potential for abuse is high.

Adderall activates your brain’s “reward” center by boosting the chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine. That can make you euphoric, a feeling of pleasure and happiness. If you misuse Adderall, taking it for a long time may lead to tolerance or dependency. That means you need to use more and more Adderall to get the same effect. Or if you stop or cut back suddenly, you may get withdrawal symptoms such as trouble sleeping, extreme tiredness, or depression.

You can cross from misusing Adderall to being addicted to it without realizing it. Addiction means you can’t control your urge to take it. Another name for addiction is severe substance use disorder.

Signs of addiction may include:

  • Intense craving for the drug
  • You can’t quit using even though it hurts your relationships, job, or money.
  • You take dangerous risks to get or use the drug.
  • Feeling agitated, anxious, or paranoid
  • Lack of appetite
  • Irregular heartbeat

You can die of an Adderall overdose.

Even when you use Adderall and other prescription stimulants as directed by a doctor, you still can have side effects and other problems. Misusing or taking too much Adderall can be even more harmful. Possible problems include:

Talk to your doctor or contact your public health department if you think you have a problem with Adderall. Or call a helpline. 800-662-HELP (4357) is a free and confidential government service that provides information and refers you to treatment centers. The sooner you get help, the better your chances of getting your drug use under control.