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.
Treating PTSD with Adderall
Adderall treatment for PTSD is not particularly common. However, more clinicians are becoming aware that the popular ADHD medication is an effective treatment option for some people with PTSD.
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.
Can Adderall Use Cause 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. One is that using stimulants, especially in large amounts over a long period of time, can cause people to engage in more high-risk behavior, making it more likely they will encounter life-threatening or other potentially traumatic scenarios.
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.
Key Points: Adderall and PTSD
- 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
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 Adderall use may be progressing to addiction, take The Recovery Village’s Adderall addiction self-assessment quiz. If after reading more, you have more questions or think you may need treatment, contact The Recovery Village today to explore treatment options that may work for you.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.