Research published in 2015 shows that Adderall, a stimulant medication originally developed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may also work for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Results of a 12-week double-blind study show that Adderall for PTSD can address most PTSD symptoms, especially cognitive symptoms.
However, Adderall and PTSD do not combine well for everyone. People with co-occurring disorders, especially anxiety, personality, and substance use disorders, can be negatively affected by the side effects of Adderall. For some individuals, these side effects can which can worsen the symptoms of PTSD and may also cause addiction.
Article at a Glance:
- For some people, Adderall is an effective medication for ADHD, PTSD, or other mental health conditions.
- However, for many others, it causes as many problems as it fixes.
- In addition to intensifying symptoms of anxiety and PTSD, Adderall can be addictive.
- Using Adderall or other stimulants at the time of a traumatic event occurs makes it more likely a person will develop PTSD.
Table of Contents
Treating PTSD with Adderall
Prescription stimulant medications were formulated to improve cognitive functions like attention, concentration, and memory. Cognitive impairments in these areas are prominent in ADHD and are common across a range of other psychiatric conditions, including depression and PTSD.
Stimulants work to improve cognitive function in two different ways. First, they increase the levels of important neurotransmitters in the brain, especially norepinephrine and dopamine. Second, they activate the sympathetic nervous system and the fight-or-flight response.
In addition to changing brain chemistry, substances that activate the sympathetic nervous system increase heart rate, blood flow, and perspiration. These effects help people focus on a threat and tap into elevated energy levels to quickly respond. They also help with other high-pressure cognitive tasks like concentrating on a test.
Adderall prescribed for PTSD can help people recover traumatic memories or remember other information linked to the trauma in their minds, including facts pertinent to day-to-day tasks. It can clear the mental fog associated with both depression and PTSD. It may also make it easier for people with PTSD to shift their attention from intrusive memories to other tasks, helping them feel more grounded in their immediate environments.
However, using Adderall to treat PTSD comes with many risks. The sympathetic nervous response can be beneficial but can also worsen anxiety or the hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD. Anxiety and arousal are natural responses to threatening stimuli and usually taper off after the threat is passed. However, for people with PTSD and anxiety disorders, these psychological states persist even in the absence of a threat, and stimulants can intensify them.
The Link Between Adderall Use & The Development of PTSD
In rare cases, the effects of Adderall or other drugs can trigger such negative reactions that people are traumatized by them. This is more common with hallucinogenic drugs that alter the perception of reality. Hallucinations or delusions can cause people to fear that their lives are at risk or that they are losing control of their minds. In high doses, stimulants can also trigger these frightening states. Substance-induced psychosis is relatively rare, and PTSD that follows from it is even rarer.
However, there are other ways that using Adderall increases the risk a person will develop PTSD.
Using Adderall or other stimulants at the time of a traumatic event occurs makes it more likely a person will develop PTSD in response to it. In 2012, clinical psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman wrote a New York Times article explaining his concerns that prescribing stimulant medications to soldiers could be increasing their rates of PTSD.
Friedman explains that Adderall enhances attention and memory in ways that make it more likely a person will retain traumatic memories and learn to associate particular sights, sounds, and smells with trauma. This “fear conditioning” can cause people to develop symptoms of PTSD like exaggerated startle responses and flashbacks, which can then progress to the full disorder. A 2015 Pentagon study confirmed Friedman’s theory, showing that soldiers prescribed Adderall or other stimulant medications had higher rates of PTSD.
Getting Help for Adderall Misuse & PTSD
If you are concerned that you may have PTSD and that Adderall may be worsening your symptoms, you can read more about the relationship between PTSD and substance use disorders here.
If you believe that your drug use may be progressing to addiction, take The Recovery Village’s Adderall addiction self-assessment quiz. If you have more questions or think you may need treatment, contact The Recovery Village today to explore treatment options that may work for you.
LeBano, L. (2015, November 16). “ADHD Drug Shows Promise in Treating PTSD, TBI.” Accessed July 14, 2020.
McAllister TW, Zafonte R, Jain S, et al. (2015, September 11). “Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial of Methylphenidate or Galantamine for Persistent Emotional and Cognitive Symptoms Associated with PTSD and/or Traumatic Brain Injury.” Accessed July 14, 2020.
Friedman, R. (2012, April 21). “Why Are We Drugging Our Soldiers?” Accessed July 14, 2020.
Zarembo, A. (2015, November 19). “Pentagon study links prescription stimulants to military PTSD risk.” Accessed July 14, 2020.
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