For people without ADHD, Adderall is a stimulant similar to cocaine. The drug increases the dopamine levels in the brain, suppressing appetite. Adderall is also attributed to providing feelings of pleasure, which may lead to dependency.

People that are biologically predisposed toward developing eating disorders have an increased potential for abusing Adderall. However, the drug can contribute to the development of an eating disorder in anyone. While Adderall use for weight loss is not considered an eating disorder, it can be a symptom of other eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa or binge eating disorder (BED).

Adderall is classified as a stimulant which means the drug stimulates activity in the brain and central nervous system. The effects of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are neurotransmitters in the brain, speed up metabolic processes in the body. Dopamine is responsible for performing several functions, including sending signals of satisfaction. People with attention deficit disorders may have a dopamine deficiency so when they take Adderall they have higher levels of dopamine and a reduced appetite.

When someone with ADHD takes Adderall, it can be effective for helping them manage their symptoms but when someone abuses Adderall, the severity of side effects increases. If someone uses Adderall for weight loss, they risk the side effects of high blood pressure, changes in heart rate, increased the risk of stroke and heart attack, seizures and sudden death.

Substances can also trigger the part of the brain that is connected to the sensation of satisfaction. This area of the brain is responsible for food cravings or hunger sensations so when someone is using a drug, that part of the brain may send signals that the body is satisfied or has received enough nutrients, even if it’s untrue. Alternatively, people with an existing eating disorder are more likely to develop a pattern of substance use to expedite their eating disorder. According to a 2010 report by SAMHSA, men and women with eating disorders are at a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder.

Eating disorders like BED may develop as a result of using Adderall for weight loss or someone with BED may abuse Adderall for weight loss after they’ve been experiencing BED symptoms. People with BED typically develop the disorder because they want to lose or manage their weight. The fact that Adderall suppresses your appetite can be appealing to them. Adderall may also help with the side effects of BED. Someone with BED may experience low-energy, fatigue and anxiety. Adderall increases energy, heightens alertness and enhances focus so, in addition to suppressing appetite. Adderall can be appealing for several reasons to people with a BED. 
Similar to BED, anorexia can be a co-occurring disorder with substance abuse. People with anorexia share similar side effects to people with BED, and by taking Adderall, it can help them gain more energy and focus while also reducing their appetite. It’s difficult to determine which disorder developed first because the disorder often occurs at the same time.

According to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 14 percent of women who have a substance use disorder develop anorexia. The development of an eating disorder from a substance use disorder can often be unintentional. Adderall and other stimulants typically suppress appetites and as a result, people with a stimulant use disorder may inadvertently develop anorexia or another eating disorder.

Amphetamines have a history of being used for weight loss. The trend of using amphetamines grew in popularity during World War II, when its commercial success as the first antidepressant highlighted its ability to help with weight loss, a medical usage that had yet to be approved by the American Medical Association (AMA).

By 1945, the national consumption rate of amphetamines in the United States was large enough to supply half a million Americans with two tablets daily, which was the standard dosage for depression and weight loss. The AMA approved marketing efforts to push amphetamine for weight loss in 1949 and sales climbed to $7.3 million.

In the late 1950s, the Philadelphia pharmaceutical company Smith, Kline and French introduced a product called Dexamyl as a weight loss remedy that eliminates the emotional causes of overeating. By 1961, it was the most commonly prescribed amphetamine product, with one-third of all amphetamine prescriptions being written for weight loss.

Widespread consumption of amphetamines made their negative health consequences more evident in the 1960s. After decades of amphetamine-related psychosis cases, it was believed that the drug unmasked latent schizophrenia or other preexisting psychiatric issues in the patient. In 1958, British psychologist Philip Connell proved that amphetamine psychosis could happen to anyone if they are given enough of the substance.

Evidence also emerged that amphetamine was a drug with a high potential for addiction, yet the prescription rates for amphetamines did not significantly decline until the 1970s when new laws restricted its prescription.

Although the first amphetamine epidemic was thought to be influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, the current amphetamine epidemic has been induced by the recreational drug fad and a rise in the amount of attention deficit prescriptions that contain amphetamine. In 1995, the consumption of these drugs had more than quintupled. By 2005, it had exceeded the first epidemic’s peak.

When someone has an Adderall use disorder and an eating disorder, it’s referred to as a co-occurring disorder. Co-occurring disorders should be treated simultaneously for effective treatment. The first step of comprehensive treatment for co-occurring disorders often begins with developing a detox plan for the person to quit taking Adderall safely.

Treatment won’t be as effective if the person continues use of Adderall or keeps participating in the same behaviors of their eating disorder. Some of the side effects of withdrawal from Adderall can be dangerous, that’s why it’s important to develop a plan for a medical detox at a treatment facility. After detoxing from Adderall, patients can begin treatment which typically involves therapy for eating disorders. 

The patient engages in therapy for their Adderall use and eating disorder. In addition to therapy, some facilities offer nutrition counseling and treatment programs to teach patients how to address unhealthy behaviors like excessive exercise, binging and purging, or not eating at all.

The type of therapy that is used to address the patient’s addiction and co-occurring disorder is chosen based on their:

  • Mental health diagnosis
  • Overall health and social needs, like family relationships
  • Goals for recovery
  • Potential threats to sobriety like any underlying behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, physical disabilities and chronic disorders

Each patient’s treatment plan should be individualized to best meet that person’s specific disorders. By addressing co-occurring disorders, treatment will likely be more effective for the patient because they’ll learn how to overcome their addiction and manage the urges as well as the symptoms of their eating disorder.

Some important facts to remember about eating disorder and Adderall include:

  • Adderall has a high addiction risk
  • People with an eating disorder like anorexia or BED may be at a higher risk of developing an Adderall addiction
  • Someone with an Adderall addiction can also be at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder
  • It’s important to treat an Adderall use disorder and an eating disorder at the same time to avoid setbacks.

If you or someone you know struggles with Adderall use and an eating disorder, help is available. At The Recovery Village, a team of professionals design individualized treatment plans to suit patients’ specific needs for substance use and eating disorders treatment. Call and speak with a representative to learn which program could work for you.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.