MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY: Kelli Whitmire
WRITTEN BY: Mark Shandrow
ARTICLE UPDATED: 06/29/2021
NUMBER OF REFERENCES: 1 Source
Adderall is readily available in schools and on college campuses across the country. It is widely prescribed and, when taken as prescribed, is considered both safe and useful for treating ADHD. Unfortunately, the prevalence of the drug, coupled with its appeal to those without ADHD as a “study drug” can often lead to addiction. It is important to understand the physical impact of Adderall use as well as the warning signs of addiction. It is equally important to understand how difficult it can be for an Adderall user to seek treatment and what form that treatment will take once they do decide to ask for help. Adderall addiction is more prevalent in teens and young adults than in older adults, so parents and family members often play a larger role in the recovery process.
Adderall is the brand name for the medication that is a blend of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. It serves as a stimulant to the central nervous system and triggers the brain to release dopamine (just like cocaine does) and norepinephrine. For people suffering from ADHD, the release of these chemicals in the brain increases focus and concentration. With the proper dosage, Adderall can provide much needed calm and focus for people with ADHD.
For individuals who don’t suffer from ADHD, Adderall stimulates the central nervous system and causes the user to experience a “high.” It is often used by college students who use it to stay up longer to study.
With Adderall, once the high wears off, the user is transported back to their “normal” mental state and often with a heightened sense of depression. In many cases, users of Adderall are attempting to escape reality or take a shortcut to success. That rapid change in mental state from euphoria to reality is jarring and leaves the user craving that euphoric feeling. Even if the user’s current reality isn’t unpleasant, it can rarely compete with the manic happiness that accompanies the high. The ability to escape reality to a world without pain, anxiety or fear is a powerful attraction. It is easy to see why users choose to spend more and more time in the high state, avoiding their reality as often as possible.
Because many abusers of Adderall are kids or young adults, they often don’t give much thought to the long-term effects of Adderall on their body and their brain. The reality is, Adderall addiction can have a severe mental and physical impact on the user. Since Adderall use increases the heart rate, it has been associated with heart failure. Snorting Adderall causes damage to the lining of the nose, leading to nosebleeds, loss of smell and even destruction of the nasal cartilage. Injecting Adderall puts the user at risk for HIV or hepatitis from shared and unsterile needles.
Adderall has a profound impact on the mind of the user. For people who do not suffer from ADHD, the chemicals in Adderall produce increased energy and focus on a manic level. The high can cause rapid thoughts and talkativeness, a feeling of fearlessness or invincibility, and the ability to go long periods without sleep. Prolonged Adderall use can also cause paranoia, insomnia, and even hallucinations.
As with all drugs, once Adderall wears off, the individual “crashes,” experiencing severe fatigue and depression over time. The human brain is remarkably adaptable so the more Adderall a user ingests, the more the brain adapts to the increased dopamine and norepinephrine. This adaptation requires the user to increase their Adderall intake over time to maintain their high, which can lead to addiction.
Addicted youth tend to try to keep their addiction a secret. They may recognize that they are powerless to stop using Adderall on their own, but they fear getting in trouble at home or at school and are hesitant to speak up. For those around the user, there are signs to look for that should clue them in that something isn’t right with the user. An individual who is abusing Adderall might suddenly become more secretive and less social or outgoing. They may also show bursts of manic energy or activity, going all night without sleep.
Conversely, they may also show signs of depression or anxiety during the times they are not using Adderall. Physical symptoms to look for include dilated pupils, a loss of appetite, and a fast or irregular heartbeat. If the individual addicted to Adderall is under the age of 18, their parents or other responsible adults should step in and offer to get them help for their addiction.
With many addictions, the individual can make the decision to seek treatment on their own. In the case of addicted teenagers or young adults, it is often family members that make the decision to get treatment for their loved one. The biggest barrier to seeking Adderall rehab is the belief that the addiction cannot be cured, however, this depiction is inaccurate, as those in recovery from addiction tend to remain in the recovery phase for the rest of their lives. Conversely, it is more accurate to note that addiction can be managed successfully, allowing the person to lead a stable, healthy, and productive life.
The decision to seek Adderall rehab can be even more difficult if the user has been to a treatment program in the past, has not been successful and relapsed. If this is the case, it’s easy to feel like treatment does not work for you. Relapse doesn’t mean that a person has failed. It simply means that the treatment approach was not the right fit. A person with cancer doesn’t give up because one approach failed. They approach the situation with another form of treatment. Addiction is complex and treatment for addiction must be individualized to that person. It’s not uncommon for a relapse to occur and several different options to be tried before finding the right treatment for that person.
If individual has a severe addiction, it may get to the point for the individual’s friends and family to help them realize that need help to manage their addiction. While Adderall rehab is proven to be more effective when an individual enters voluntarily, in the case of a severe addiction, the most important thing is to get them treatment, regardless of how they get there. However, if it is possible to convince the individual to enter voluntarily, Adderall rehab will typically be more effective in the long-term.
A common hesitation to seek out treatment is fear of the withdrawal process. Withdrawal can be unpleasant for many, however it will look different for each person that goes through it. While each person’s recovery is different, so is each person’s experience with withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms and the person’s individual detox will depend on a variety of factors, including the severity of the addiction, the state of mind of the person, and the individual’s tolerance for discomfort. It’s also crucial to remember, although the detox process can be uncomfortable, withdrawal is temporary.
Detox and withdrawal is the process of the body ridding itself of chemical substances. When an individual is addicted to substances or chemicals, the body begins to adapt to the presence of the chemical in their body. When the substance is withheld, the body experiences withdrawal symptoms. A common example is caffeine. If a daily coffee drinker suddenly gives up their coffee routine, they may begin to feel fatigue, tiredness, and headaches. The body adapted to the daily influx of caffeine. The absence creates signals in the brain to restore what it considers to be balance. This uncomfortable feeling and process of returning to a normal state is withdrawal.
In the case of Adderall use, withdrawal symptoms can include fatigue, panic attacks, insomnia and depression. dizziness, and even seizures. Just like with cocaine, the brain of the Adderall user has become adapted to the regular influx of dopamine. Once that regular dopamine “fix” is removed, the brain will begin to send the body signals in an attempt to restore that balance. The detoxification process is the process of teaching the body to recognize a new, healthier balance, without dependence on external chemicals.
During the withdrawal process, another common experience is feeling a not only mental, but physical and emotional symptoms. Oftentimes, the most difficult symptom to manage can be the craving for Adderall. While the body will crave Adderall as a way to minimize symptoms of withdrawal, it will also crave the “high” that it brought-forth. In addition, since Adderall impacts the user’s heart rate, those going through withdrawal may experience an irregular heart rate as the heart works without the artificial influence of amphetamines. Withdrawal from Adderall can also cause changes in your mood. Due to the decrease in dopamine in the brain, depression is a common withdrawal symptom. This depression can become serious, even leading to suicidal thoughts.
Depending on the addiction, withdrawal can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Even though the body may have completed the process of ridding the body and brain with the substance, the individual will likely need to undergo further treatment to learn how to shed maladaptive coping mechanisms and learn new skills and strategies to live sober. The first step to recovery from Adderall addiction is the withdrawal and detox process.
Individuals with a mild dependence on Adderall might be able to wean themselves off the drug without residential treatment. However, even people who detox at home should do so under the care and supervision of a physician. It’s crucial that whoever is monitoring the individual be aware for warning signs that may require further medical attention. For those with a severe Adderall addiction, it may be the best option to enter a hospital or residential treatment center. Here, the process can be monitored by doctors and medical professionals to ensure detox is a smooth process.
A inpatient or residential treatment program can offer a number of benefits for those who are undergoing detox. The facility is employed with professionals who are trained to monitor the process. While there are no medications to treat Adderall addiction, oftentimes, there are medications that can be provided to alleviate severe withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety or depression.
An important factor in going through the detox process is not only physical support but also psychological support. Therapists and counselors on staff can help facilitate healing and begin to show the individual how to navigate the world without Adderall. Typically, counselors or therapists talk the individual through feelings of withdrawal, emotions around detox, and begin to process these feelings.
Once detox is over and the individual is no longer having extreme physical withdrawal symptoms, it’s recommended that they start working with therapists, counselors, or transition to residential treatment. While the detox process rids the brain’s need to have a reliance on Adderall, a residential treatment program helps individuals process feelings and function in daily life with the absence of the drug. Mental health counseling can help those who used Adderall as a way to cope find new skills and coping mechanisms. Counselors and therapists can also help navigate any guilt, or shame the person may feel about their addiction and repair relationships.
Adderall rehab facilities can additionally provide a number of modalities to help guide those struggling through the recovery process. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is a common tool used to challenge thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and actions that may have led to drug addiction. CBT helps determine the problem and is solution-focused to help formulate strategies to handle issues. Another commonly used approach is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT. DBT uses techniques combined with mindfulness to enrich distress tolerance skills that may be useful during an emotional reaction that could potentially lead to relapse.
Another reason residential treatment is invaluable is that the ability to relate and connect with others is paramount. Group therapy can help individuals begin to hear inspiring stories about others’ journeys and come to the understanding that they’re not alone. Group therapy also allows a feeling of purpose and the opportunity to support others that have walked the same path.
One additional type of group therapy comes in the form of 12-step programming such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Coupled with counseling and individual therapy, 12-step programming and the ability to connect with other Adderall addicts can help provide a new perspective and insight into what a life in recovery may look like.
There are also residential treatment centers that provide alternative treatments or holistic therapies. These can take on many different forms but may be viewed to some clients as exta-curricular activities. While these can be fun, they are also therapeutic. One example may be art therapy. During art therapy an individual may be able to express emotions they don’t feel safe verbalizing. An art therapist can then work with the individual to help them process the feelings behind the art.
Another useful type of holistic or alternative therapy is equine therapy. Typically, animals are seen as non-judgmental and horses have the ability to mirror emotions and attitudes of those that care for them. If a person is scared or frustrated, the horse can reflect that frustration. Equine therapy helps individuals stay in a calm and relaxed state while caring for the animal.
After a person has been in treatment there comes a time when they need to re-integrate into daily living and put their new skills to use. During residential programming, the treatment team or continuing care coordinator helps prepare for this critical transition. Relapse prevention plans are created to help prepare for potential downfalls, triggers, and slip ups. Options of work, home life, and social obligations are also discussed. Aftercare is also coordinated. While treatment may come to an end, recovery does not. Finding structure and continuing to attend regular therapy or outpatient programming is crucial in continuing the recovery process.
Individuals who abuse Adderall often do so in response to external pressures to succeed, get good grades, or achieve professionally. For people recovering from Adderall addiction, it is important that they learn to minimize these pressures moving forward. If they experience the same level of pressure that led to their addiction, there is a potential for relapse. It’s important to remember that just because a person has relapsed, it doesn’t mean that they have failed. It simply means they may need to try an alternate approach to recovery. Some warning signs of Adderall relapse include not keeping regular meetings with counselors, spending time with friends who are using drugs, isolating themselves, and romanticizing past drug use.
Adderall addiction is prevalent among high school and college students. Individuals with valid ADHD prescriptions sell the pills to classmates, which makes it seem more legitimate. Cocaine deals in a back alley are obviously wrong but buying a $5 pill in the locker room after gym class can easily be justified by the individual. However, Adderall is an amphetamine and is classed by the government in the same classification as cocaine.