Adderall can be a game-changer for people with ADHD, but it can be risky, especially for those who do not take it for an approved medical reason.

Adderall is one of the most commonly prescribed stimulants and is most often used to treat cases of ADHD. It’s also recreationally popular among people who don’t have ADHD, making it notorious for widespread abuse and addiction. It’s important to be aware of how Adderall works, what it’s used for and how it affects those with and without ADHD.

Article at a Glance

  • Adderall is a commonly prescribed drug to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.
  • Adderall increases neurotransmitter activity in the brain and attempts to compensate for deficits in dopamine common in people with ADHD.
  • Adderall is frequently abused by people wanting to lose weight or improve their focus and concentration.
  • As a Schedule II drug, Adderall carries a high risk of abuse, dependence and addiction.

Adderall Uses

Adderall is a stimulant medication that comes in short-acting (Adderall) and long-acting (Adderall XR) dosage forms. The short-acting form is FDA-approved to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, while the long-acting form is approved for ADHD only. Both forms are classified as Schedule II controlled substances, meaning they have a high potential for abuse, dependence and addiction. People who are not prescribed Adderall sometimes abuse the drug, wanting to use it for weight loss or increased focus and attention.

How Does Adderall Work?

Adderall increases the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. In people with ADHD, this can improve alertness and attention. However, the chemical changes that Adderall makes in the brain can cause people using it to feel high, especially when too much is used. 

In addition to feelings of euphoria, a person can experience dangerous physical and emotional side effects. These effects of Adderall can affect anyone, even those who are taking Adderall as prescribed.

What Does Adderall Do to Your Body?

As a stimulant, Adderall can rev up systems in your body. This may feel similar to when the fight-or-flight reaction is triggered, leading to effects such as:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Tremor
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Wide pupils and blurry vision

Adderall Effects on ADHD

Adderall affects ADHD by reducing impulsivity and improving a person’s attention and focus. Adderall helps people with ADHD by enhancing the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which increases activity in the central nervous system.

People with clinical ADHD have brains with low dopamine function. Stimulants like Adderall increase the amount of dopamine in the brain, which can help alleviate symptoms of ADHD. ADHD symptoms may include problems with:

  • Organization
  • Task completion
  • Concentration and focus
  • Listening and following directions
  • Hyperactive behaviors
  • Short attention span

How Does Adderall Feel if You Have ADHD?

If you have ADHD, using Adderall will help you feel “normal” and allow you to slow down and focus. People with ADHD using Adderall will feel more focused and clear-headed, and they’ll be able to concentrate more thoroughly and for longer. 

Adderall for Narcolepsy

Short-acting Adderall is also FDA-approved to treat the sleep disorder narcolepsy. Someone with narcolepsy may feel very sleepy during the day and may involuntarily fall asleep at odd times. Adderall may help increase their wakefulness and regulate their sleep-wake cycle.

Related Topic: Narcolepsy cure

Taking Adderall Without ADHD

Doctors may sometimes prescribe Adderall for medical conditions other than ADHD or narcolepsy, such as to help with treatment-resistant depression.

Adderall is also frequently abused or obtained illegally without a prescription. It’s one of the most widely abused prescription drugs in the U.S., often misused to help people study, accomplish more or feel more sociable. On campuses across the U.S., it’s not uncommon for students to use the drug around exam time or to perform well in school. Young professionals may do the same thing to get ahead in their careers. Adderall is also sometimes used illicitly to help people lose weight since the drug is an appetite suppressant.

What Does Adderall Do If You Don’t Have ADHD?

Adderall is not a performance-enhancing drug. Rather, it works to balance attention deficits. A person without ADHD lacks these deficits, as they have appropriate amounts of neurotransmitters and a normal prefrontal cortex. When a person without ADHD takes Adderall, the body is overloaded with dopamine and norepinephrine. Excess dopamine can disturb brain communication and cause euphoria instead of having the calming effect it would typically have on a person with ADHD.

When people become dependent on Adderall, they will feel like they need to continue using the drug to be productive and attentive. Individuals may: 

  • Take Adderall in higher doses or more frequently than prescribed
  • Crush and snort the drug
  • Purchase from an illegal source
  • Consume it for recreational use

A person may continuously chase feelings of euphoria, causing them to take higher amounts of Adderall as their brain chemistry changes. Long-term use and taking high doses of Adderall can result in more severe effects, including cardiovascular issues. When a person who is dependent on Adderall stops taking it, they can feel lethargic, hazy and sad.

Side Effects of Taking Adderall Without ADHD

Because Adderall is designed to help the brains of people with ADHD, misusing the drug may increase the risk of side effects. Physical and psychological side effects may include:

  • Headaches
  • Decreased or non-existent appetite
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Insomnia or diminished sleep
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Hostility and aggression
  • Paranoia and anxiety
  • Sadness and mood swings

If you take Adderall, it is important not to quit cold turkey. People may experience Adderall withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly stop taking the drug.

Know the Risks

Adderall can be an extremely helpful drug for people with ADHD and narcolepsy. However, as a Schedule II controlled substance, the drug can also increase your risk of addiction. If you struggle with taking more Adderall than prescribed, or if you rely on Adderall even though your doctor has not prescribed the drug, you may be at risk for Adderall addiction.

If you or someone you love is struggling with Adderall abuse or addiction, help is available at The Recovery Village. We offer a full continuum of care that guides you through each step of the recovery process, from detox and inpatient care to outpatient treatment and long-term aftercare. Contact us today to learn more about Adderall addiction treatment programs that can work well for your needs.

Jonathan Strum
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Benjamin Caleb Williams
Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more
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Bellum, Sara. “Prescription Stimulants Affect People With ADHD Differently.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, November 1, 2012. Accessed April 7, 2022.
Lakhan, Shaheen E.; Kirchgessner, Annette. “Prescription stimulants in individuals with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: misuse, cognitive impact, and adverse effects.” Brain and Behavior, September 2021. Accessed April 7, 2022.

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.