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.
Table of Contents
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, which means 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.
Adderall has different effects on people with ADHD and people without ADHD. Adderall improves alertness and attention in individuals with ADHD, as it increases the amount of dopamine available in the brain. Adderall use in a person without ADHD releases an excess amount of dopamine in the brain, causing them to feel high. In addition to feelings of euphoria, a person can experience dangerous physical and emotional side effects.
How Does Adderall Affect 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
- 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 ADHD have brains with low dopamine function. Taking stimulants like Adderall (which increase the amount of dopamine in the brain) can helpful alleviate symptoms of ADHD, which may include problems with:
- Task completion
- Concentration and focus
- Listening and following directions
- Hyperactive behaviors
- Short attention span
Adderall for Narcolepsy
Short-acting Adderall is FDA-approved to treat the sleep disorder narcolepsy. Someone with narcolepsy may feel very sleepy during the day, and they may involuntarily fall asleep at odd times. Adderall may help increase their wakefulness and regulate their sleep-wake cycle.
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 used 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. It instead works to balance attention deficits. A person without ADHD lacks these deficits; 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, may crush and snort the drug, may purchase from an illegal source or may 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
- Decreased, or non-existent, appetite
- High blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Insomnia or diminished sleep
- 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 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.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Adderall.” April 28, 2020. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Adderall XR.” December 10, 2020. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drugs of Abuse.” 2020. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
Gold, Mark S.; Blum, Kenneth; Oscar-Berman, Marlene; Braverman, Eric R. “Low Dopamine Function in Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Should Genotyping Signify Early Diagnosis in Children?” Postgraduate Medical Journal, January 2014. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD.” September 21, 2020. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. “Dealing with ADHD: What You Need to Know.” October 12, 2016. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
Bellum, Sara. “Prescription Stimulants Affect People With ADHD Differently.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, November 1, 2012. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
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.