Stimulants like Adderall are the standard in ADHD therapy. However, their use is not without risk. 

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD and ADD, is a common medical problem. Although doctors used to think ADHD was only a problem in children, doctors now know that ADHD can be a lifelong challenge in some people. People of all ages can be diagnosed with ADHD. Luckily, treatments are available. The most common treatment for ADHD is stimulants, like the drug Adderall. However, drugs like Adderall can cause dangerous addictions to develop.

Article at a Glance:

  • ADHD is a common disorder, it affects approximately 9% of children in the United States
  • Stimulants like Adderall are the standard for ADHD drug therapy and are used in most patients
  • However, stimulants like Adderall are very addictive because they turn on the brain’s reward pathways
  • The extended-release version of Adderall may be harder to misuse than the immediate-release version
  • People with ADHD are more prone to substance abuse than the general population is
  • Therapy and other medications that are non-addictive may also help people with ADHD

Adderall as an ADHD Treatment

Dopamine is an important brain chemical. When a person has ADHD, their brain does not have enough dopamine. The lack of dopamine leads to symptoms of ADHD that include:

  • Not paying attention
  • Being hyperactive
  • Acting on impulse

Stimulants raise the amount of dopamine in the brain, relaxing the person. Their symptoms of ADHD improve because their brain then has enough dopamine. Adderall, a combination of the drugs amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, is a common stimulant used to treat ADHD. Adderall is sold in immediate-release and extended-release forms. Because it is an addictive drug, doctors prescribe the lowest dose that gets rid of ADHD symptoms. For this reason, different people with ADHD are likely to be on different doses of Adderall. If a person takes too much Adderall, or if they do not have ADHD and use it, their brain gets more dopamine than it needs. This influx has a stimulating effect on the body and can lead to side effects like:

  • High blood pressure
  • Fast pulse
  • Problems with sleep
  • Not being hungry
  • Feeling tired

You can even overdose on stimulants like Adderall, which can be very dangerous and lead to death. Stimulants are addictive because they turn on the brain’s reward pathway. While they have a high potential for abuse, they are helpful for people with ADHD. For this reason, the Drug Enforcement Administration classifies stimulants as Schedule II controlled substances in the United States.

ADHD Children and Adderall

As of 2016, 9.4% of children in the United States were diagnosed with ADHD. Of these, 62% took drugs like Adderall to treat their ADHD. So far, studies showed that the use of stimulants like Adderall in children with ADHD does not increase the risk of substance abuse later in life.

Adderall Abuse Among the ADHD Community

Up to 65% of people diagnosed with ADHD as children continue to have symptoms as adults. As such, they may continue drug therapy with stimulants to treat their symptoms. Studies have shown that up to 25% of adults who are prescribed stimulants like Adderall misuse their medications. The most common type of misuse is taking more of the drug than is prescribed.

Doctors think that misuse like this may be less common in extended-release forms of Adderall because it enters the bloodstream slower than immediate-release Adderall. Therefore, it is harder to get high off the extended-release version. In addition, because of its formulation, the extended-release version is harder to abuse to get high.

People who misuse their ADHD medications are more likely than their peers to be using other drugs like opioids or cocaine. Also, substance abuse, in general, is more common in people with ADHD than in people without ADHD. Overall, people with ADHD are almost three times as likely to have a problem with substance abuse as people without the disorder.

Adderall Addiction and ADHD Treatment

Although stimulants are the standard for treating ADHD, they are not the only treatment option. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends some non-stimulants for ADHD. Although stimulants have the best data behind their use, there is enough data that the group also recommends non-stimulants as alternatives. These ADHD drugs are non-addictive and include:

  • Atomoxetine
  • Extended-release guanfacine
  • Extended-release clonidine

Behavioral therapy can also be utilized. People with ADHD may benefit from therapy in addition to drugs, or even in place of drugs. Therapy may help children and adults with:

  • Helping stay organized
  • Working through emotions
  • Reading social cues
  • Thinking before acting
  • Avoiding risky situations

If you or a loved one live with an addiction to Adderall, contact The Recovery Village today to speak with a representative about what type of addiction treatment can work best with you. By using personalized treatment plans, The Recovery Village works with each patient to ensure they receive the care that works best for them. Call today and take the first step toward a healthier future.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more
Read Next

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Data and Statistics About ADHD.” September 21, 2018. Accessed May 19, 2019.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Adults With Attention Deficit Hyperactiv[…]stance Use Disorders.” Fall 2015. Accessed May 19, 2019.

U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drugs of Abuse.” 2017. Accessed May 19. 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Stimulant ADHD Medications: Methylphenidate and Amphetamines” January 2014. Accessed May 19, 2019.

American Academy of Pediatrics. “ADHD: Clinical Practice Guideline for th[…]dren and Adolescents.” Pediatrics, November 2011. Accessed May 19, 2019.

National Institute of Mental Health. “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” March 2016. Accessed May 19, 2019.

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.