Adderall XR may be a prescription drug, but abusing it can be just as dangerous as abusing an illicit drug.

Adderall XR is a formulation of the well-known drug Adderall. The “XR” stands for extended-release because it is released slowly throughout the day.

Article at a Glance:

  • Adderall XR is a stimulant medication, the generic name is amphetamine, which is similar in structure and effects to the street drug methamphetamine.
  • It can be prescribed by doctors to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or sometimes narcolepsy.
  • Both Adderall IR & XR are abused because they produce feelings of wakefulness, euphoria and energy.
  • Tampering with Adderall XR to bypass the time-release mechanism is extremely dangerous.
  • Both formulations of the drug are Schedule II medications, which means they carry a high potential for abuse and addiction.

Comparing Adderall XR & IR

Adderall XR is usually prescribed for people with ADHD who need treatment for their symptoms all day. After taking Adderall XR, it is designed to release slowly into the blood, over 12-16 hours. For people with ADHD, Adderall XR is convenient because it can be dosed once per day, rather than several times throughout the day.

Not all forms of Adderall are designed to last this long. Adderall IR (immediate-release) has no special formulation and works for about 4-6 hours in most people.

When people abuse Adderall, they often prefer Adderall IR because it gives a bigger “rush” since the dose is absorbed all at once. When people abuse Adderall XR, they may first tamper with it to break the “extended-release” so that the drug is absorbed faster. Common methods of tampering include dissolving it in water, chewing, snorting or crushing it.

What Does Adderall XR Look Like?

Adderall pills that are extended-release are usually capsule-shaped, and one end may be clear so you can see what looks like tiny balls or pellets inside. They are usually printed with the name of the drug and the strength. The colors of Adderall pills that are XR include blue and orange primarily.

Snorting Adderall is Dangerous

Some forms of the medication, like the extended-release formulation, can deliver extremely high doses when snorted because the time-release action is bypassed. Tampering with Adderall XR is dangerous because the stimulant can cause toxic effects at higher doses. Tampering with Adderall XR can also increase the risk of physical dependence and addiction.

When abused at high doses, serious side may include:
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Hyperthermia
  • Movement disorders
  • Psychosis
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Stroke

Adderall XR Is Improperly Used

Adderall is often abused for recreational and performance-enhancing purposes. Sometimes high school and college students abuse Adderall as a study aid to help them prepare for an exam or to help them focus during class when they are sleep-deprived. They may obtain Adderall XR from a classmate with a valid prescription, often without knowing that doing so is a criminal offense.

Sometimes Adderall XR is used as a performance-enhancer in sports. Athletes, both amateur and professional, have used Adderall XR to increase their athletic performance since the drug helps them feel sharp and alert. Amphetamines like Adderall XR are often banned in competitive sports and using them can have career-ending consequences for athletes.

Adderall XR is a prescription drug because it is dangerous to use it without medical supervision from your doctor. In addition to Adderall’s common side effects for a normal dose, people who take Adderall and don’t have ADHD or narcolepsy can experience paranoia, mania and malnutrition. People with pre-existing conditions like seizure disorders and heart disease are at particularly high risk.

Abusing Adderall XR often can also lead to developing a tolerance, where you need more and more of the drug to have the same effect. This increases the risk for overdose and fatal side effects. Adderall also has a risk for dependence, where the body experiences withdrawal symptoms if the person stops taking Adderall.

Both Formulations are Addictive

Regardless of which formulation is taken (Adderall IR or Adderall XR), they contain the same active drug: amphetamine. Amphetamine is addictive and can change the behavior of people who use it.

Symptoms of Adderall XR addiction include:
  • Continuing to use it even when it causes physical or mental harm
  • Continuing to use it even when it causes problems in relationships
  • Developing a tolerance
  • Giving up things that you’d normally find enjoyable to use Adderall XR instead
  • Neglecting work, home, or school to use Adderall XR
  • Spending a lot of time using or getting Adderall XR
  • Taking Adderall XR in higher amounts than you want to
  • Trying to cut down usage but not being able to
  • Urges and cravings to use it
  • Using Adderall XR even if it puts you in dangerous situations
  • Withdrawal symptoms

Addiction is also called a substance use disorder (SUD). According to the DSM-V, two or more of the above symptoms may mean the person has SUD.

Health Risks & Side Effects

Even when used at normal doses under the supervision of a doctor, Adderall XR can cause serious physical and mental side effects.

Short-term effects may include:
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased blood flow
  • Depression
  • Eyesight changes
  • Faster breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Hypersomnia
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Increased heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Serotonin syndrome
  • Stomach upset
Long-term abuse of Adderall XR can cause:
  • Anger
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Personality changes
  • Psychosis (delusions, hallucinations, intrusive thoughts)
  • Overdose

Other Commonly Prescribed Stimulants

Prescription stimulants all have a high potential for abuse and addiction. The following commonly prescribed stimulants are Schedule II controlled substances. People with ADHD, narcolepsy and other conditions that can benefit from prescription stimulants can discuss their benefits and risks with their doctor.

  • Adderall (IR) Generic name: Dextroamphetamine/amphetamine salts
  • Concerta Generic name: Methylphenidate
  • Dexedrine Generic name: Dextroamphetamine
  • Ritalin Generic name: Methylphenidate
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Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Dr. Sheehy completed his BS in Molecular Biology at the University of Idaho and went on to complete his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Read more

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Adderall XR [Package Insert].” Wayne, PA: Shire, 2013. Accessed August 2, 2020.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Adderall [Package Insert].” Horsham, PA: Teva, 2017. Accessed August 2, 2020.

Hasin, Debor‌ah, et. al. “DSM-5 Criteria for Substance Use Disorde[…]tions and Rationale.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 2013. Accessed August 2, 2020.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Prescription Stimulants DrugFacts.” June 2018. Accessed August 2, 2020.

Vasan, Sarayu; Olango, Garth. “Amphetamine Toxicity.” StatPearls, National Institute of Health, April 20, 2020. Accessed August 2, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.