Adderall and Paranoia

Adderall is intended to treat people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. ADHD is a brain disorder that makes it hard for diagnosed individuals to focus. People affected by ADHD often exhibit inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity that interfere with daily life and development.

Adderall contains a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine that works to stimulate the central nervous system. It targets chemicals in the brain and nerves in the central nervous system that contribute to and control hyperactivity and impulses.

But when Adderall is misused — taken without a prescription or more often than needed — one of its adverse effects can include paranoia. Paranoia is especially found to occur in women between the ages of 20 to 29 who have taken Adderall for one to six months and who also have stress and anxiety, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports.

woman experiencing Adderall-induced psychosis

Paranoia involves intense feelings of fear or anxiety. A person’s thoughts are consumed with perceived impending threats or conspiracies. People with paranoia believe that persecution is imminent and that these attacks are directed at them or that they are at the center of others’ hostile or aggressive motives.

Their suspicion or mistrust is often misguided, exaggerated and not reality-based. Also, the scenarios that they believe they are central to often have very little relation, if any, to them at all.

When these thoughts and feelings persist or become chronic, a person may be diagnosed with a paranoid personality disorder, or delusional disorder.

Paranoia impacts only the thoughts of a person. A person with paranoia does not have full-blown psychosis, or a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia not only impacts a person’s thoughts, but their feelings, behaviors and experiences as well. People with schizophrenia might see or hear things that aren’t there. They might also believe that people are plotting to harm them or are controlling their thoughts.

They can experience delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech or behavior, agitation, and impaired cognitive ability, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. They can also sit very still and very quiet for a long time or may engage in repetitive movements.

Sometimes, they may seem fine until they speak their thoughts, which are typically full of strange, unusual and even disturbing ideas.

Minor feelings of paranoia with or without medication or mental illness are common for most people. Likewise, when paranoia is mild, most people can continue to function, work and act somewhat normally, or at least appear that way, in everyday life because only their thoughts are affected.

But chronic or severe paranoia can cause significant anxiety. A person’s fear of others can affect one’s ability to socialize and thereby function in social settings. Likewise, people with severe paranoia may become isolated and limited in their school or work settings and relationships.

Treatment of paranoia often involves medication such as antipsychotics and cognitive behavioral therapy or talk therapy.

It can be difficult to treat a person with paranoia because the condition causes them to be guarded emotionally and socially. They may also experience increased irritability or hostility, and some may be suspicious of doctors’ intentions.

Additionally, paranoia and delusions are predicated upon the person’s belief that a fantasy is reality. The person will hold on to their version of the truth, no matter how bizarre or impossible it seems, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. Attempting to convince them otherwise can destroy any element of trust, which is imperative for recovery.

Unlike paranoia triggered by mental illness, paranoia caused by Adderall use is often temporary and stops when the drug use is discontinued.

People with ADHD typically have lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is one of the chemicals that control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. It plays an important role in motivation and behavior. When people lack this chemical, they are in a constant search for stimuli.

Adderall stimulates the release of dopamine to keep the brain distracted from seeking external rewards. Maintaining adequate dopamine levels can also enhance a person’s concentration, boost mood and improve social interaction.

The neurotransmitter not only offers benefits to the mind but to the body as well. Dopamine widens the blood vessels, reduces insulin levels, helps to excrete sodium, protects the gastrointestinal tract and improves immune system functions.

But when people misuse Adderall, their dopamine levels surge. This is what is thought to contribute to addiction. Additionally, high dopamine levels can cause adverse symptoms. One of the negative side effects of increased dopamine levels includes paranoia. Even people without preexisting psychiatric disorders can experience paranoia as a side effect of using drugs that boost dopamine levels in the brain.

Other adverse reactions of heightened dopamine levels can include delusions, hallucinations, suspicious thinking, depression and aggression.

Dopamine can also initiate the production of adrenaline. This hormone contributes to the rush a person feels when using amphetamine drugs such as Adderall. A sudden release of adrenaline can further cause a person to feel anxious and unsettled.

Any person who takes Adderall or other amphetamines can develop drug-induced psychosis or paranoia. But some people may be more likely to experience this adverse reaction.

A family history of mood and psychotic disorders can increase the risk of stimulant-induced symptoms in children and adolescents, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A 2016 study assessed psychotic symptoms and experiences in 141 children and youth ages 6 to 21 years. These participants were taking stimulant medications such as Adderall, and they also at least one parent who had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

The results showed that more than 62 percent of youth who had taken stimulants presented with psychotic symptoms, as compared with more than 27 percent of participants who had never taken the medications.

Controversial evidence also exists to show that, in some instances, the use of Adderall or other amphetamines might trigger a primary psychotic or delusional disorder in people with existing mental illness or those prone to the development of mental illness. These individuals may be at a greater risk for developing more severe paranoia or chronic psychosis.

This also means that, depending on a person’s vulnerability to developing psychosis, stopping the drug that caused the paranoia or psychosis does not always provide a complete recovery from its resulting mental effects.

People who are suspected of misusing drugs or who take Adderall in the course of ADHD treatment and have a susceptibility to drug-induced psychosis or paranoia should be monitored closely.

If these individuals start to experience signs and symptoms of paranoia, it is important to get them help right away because they may become a danger to themselves or others.

Signs and symptoms of paranoia

  • Being suspicious of other people
  • Believing that others have hidden motives
  • Suspecting danger and seeking evidence to confirm these suspicions
  • Preferring social isolation
  • Becoming detached and/or hostile toward others
  • Failing to see that suspicions and distrust are far-fetched, inaccurate or not based in reality

You should also speak with their doctor about stopping Adderall medication. When drug abuse is involved, an appropriate detoxification program may be needed. With rehab centers across the United States, The Recovery Village can help you find effective treatment options for Adderall addiction and co-occurring mental health issues. To learn more about how treatment can help you heal, contact a representative at The Recovery Village today.

Bramness, J.G. et al. (2012, December 5). Amphetamine-induced psychosis – a separate diagnostic entity or primary psychosis triggered in the vulnerable? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3554477/

Cooper, A. (2011, September 1). College students take ADHD drugs for better grades. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2011/09/01/health/drugs-adderall-concentration/

eHealthMe. (2018, November 14). Adderall and Paranoia – from FDA reports. Retrieved from https://www.ehealthme.com/ds/adderall/paranoia/

Mackenzie, L.E. et al. (2016, January). Stimulant Medication and Psychotic Symptoms in Offspring of Parents With Mental Illness. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/137/1/e20152486?panels_ajax_tab_tab=jnl_aap_top_topics&panels_ajax_tab_trigger=

Mental Health Daily. (n.d.). High Dopamine Levels: Symptoms & Adverse Reactions. Retrieved from https://mentalhealthdaily.com/2015/04/01/high-dopamine-levels-symptoms-adverse-reactions/

National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Schizophrenia. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/schizophrenia/index.shtml

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2018, July 8). Paranoid personality disorder. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000938.htm

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