Adderall is a medication that is best known as an ADHD treatment. It’s a combination of various amphetamine salts that work as a central nervous system stimulant, so it can control the symptoms of ADHD. Doctors also prescribe it for narcolepsy.
Adderall can increase the level of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, alleviating ADHD symptoms. The changes in brain chemistry that occur in children with ADHD can lead to them having trouble focusing in class. This can cause the child to have a worse early education experience than their peers. Adults with ADHD may struggle with symptoms like poor organizational skills, forgetfulness, and mood swings.
While Adderall has a reputation for being a cognitive enhancer, this is not the intended use of the medication. If you use Adderall incorrectly, some of the side effects include addiction and depression. When you use the drug as prescribed, it shouldn’t produce these effects.
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A 2022 meta-analysis noted that few studies record the interaction between depression and Adderall. It also highlighted how children with ADHD are more likely to have an internalizing disorder, such as depression or anxiety. This makes it harder to ascertain how many children are affected by Adderall-related depression.¹
Generally speaking, Adderall does not cause depression. Some children may be at risk of developing depression while using Adderall due to misdiagnosis or an adverse reaction to the medication.
An ADHD diagnosis can sometimes be difficult to determine in early childhood and adulthood, as some symptoms of depression can mimic symptoms of ADHD. This can include difficulty concentrating or struggling at school or work. However, depression tends to be more episodic, whereas ADHD will present continuously or most of the time.
If Adderall is causing depressive symptoms, the dosage may be too high. Stimulants work differently in people with ADHD, so you may seem sedated or lethargic if you’re taking an excessive dosage of Adderall. Feeling lethargic is also a symptom of depression.
Changing the dosage with your doctor could be one way to alleviate depression if you need ADHD medication. Another option is to try a different medication called methylphenidate. This stimulant works differently than Adderall, so it may not have the same side effects.
Unfortunately, amphetamines such as Adderall have a high misuse potential. One of the easiest ways to abuse them is to take them at a higher dosage than your physician recommends.
Psychological dependence can occur if you change the dosage to a much higher dose. If you suddenly stop taking the medication, side effects can include extreme fatigue or depression.
While depression is not a common side effect of Adderall, it is a possible side effect. The Adderall XR prescribing leaflet says that 0.7% of trial participants experienced depression as a side effect of the drug.²
Doctors sometimes tell their patients to reduce or stop taking the medication at regular intervals to see if ADHD behaviors have subsided. This prevents the unnecessary use of amphetamines that can lead to addictive behaviors. However, this isn’t appropriate for everyone, and your doctor will advise whether it’s right for you.
Adderall has a strong non-medical misuse history. Commonly known as a “study drug,” studies have linked it to enhanced cognitive function and academic performance. These benefits have led to Adderall abuse in high school or college populations.
A 2017 study noted how 6.9% of high school seniors reported non-medical Adderall use. However, 28.7% who used Adderall reported no amphetamine use, implying they were unaware that Adderall is an amphetamine.³
Because these students think Adderall will improve their grades, they take it without medical supervision. As Adderall can be highly addictive in non-ADHD brains, they may become addicted to the drug and experience all the issues associated with addiction.
One 2020 study looked at college students in the US, and it found that those with depression were more likely to abuse Adderall, believing it would help their depression.⁴
People with depression may use stimulants to try to gain the motivation to complete a task. Depression causes issues in completing regular everyday tasks, which can be much more likely to occur in high-stress environments like college. The students in this study used Adderall to overcome the symptoms of depression that hindered their school performance.
The study noted that approximately 36% of college students have depression. These students are at high risk of non-medical use of Adderall to fight lethargy and lack of motivation. This highlights the need to educate this population on more effective ways to emotionally regulate to reduce their risk of Adderall addiction.
Although mood disturbances may be a side effect for some people, Adderall does not cause depression for the vast majority.
However, chronic use of Adderall and stopping the drug without slowly reducing the dose can lead to depression. This is most common in cases where someone with an Adderall addiction decides to stop taking it, usually without medical supervision.
Adderall withdrawal can cause depression because of how the drug works. Some people have a chronic lack of dopamine, such as those with ADHD. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that causes high energy and pleasure levels.
Adderall stimulates your brain with dopamine, improving ADHD symptoms. However, depression can occur if Adderall blocks the reabsorption of dopamine in the brain.
In neurotypical brains, stimulation with dopamine can cause euphoria. Over time, the brain adapts to the level of dopamine in the brain, and you will need to continue taking Adderall to function normally. This happens in chronic use and addiction cases.
Once your body adapts to Adderall-induced high dopamine levels, your brain will stop making dopamine as you’re getting it from another source. When you stop taking Adderall, dopamine levels suddenly drop, and it takes a while for your brain to start making its own again. This leads to mood symptoms in Adderall addiction cases after withdrawal.
Research into Adderall’s effect on depression confirms that the drug is unlikely to cause depression directly. In the 2022 review we referenced earlier, researchers found that prescribed amphetamines had no impact on depression symptoms.
These studies largely excluded people with major depressive disorders. The studies that did not exclude people with major depressive disorders still found no effects of amphetamines on depression. However, few study participants fit the criteria for depression, so we would need a larger sample size to be sure.
Other studies have found that amphetamines could have a beneficial effect on depression. This is due to how amphetamines work on neurotransmitter functioning. Increasing some of the neurotransmitters in the brain can indirectly affect serotonin, another chemical messenger that is often lacking if you have depression.⁵
By taking amphetamines, people with depression could increase their serotonin levels and experience more pleasure due to increased dopamine in the brain.
While some doctors have prescribed Adderall as an off-label depression treatment, using amphetamines this way may cause addiction. There is little good-quality scientific evidence supporting Adderall for depression, and some studies found it can worsen symptoms. Therefore, doctors rarely advise Adderall for treating depression.⁶
You should not use Adderall to treat depression. If you have ADHD, you may also have depression. Adderall can treat your ADHD while you take other prescribed medications for depression.
Adderall has some side effects, like all medications. Your doctor will weigh up these side effects against the possible benefits. If your doctor has prescribed Adderall, they likely believe it is safe and beneficial for you to take it.
Because Adderall works on certain neurotransmitters in the brain and is specifically for people with ADHD, side effects may be different in people who do not have ADHD.
These side effects can include:
Feeling strange or abnormal
The most common side effects of Adderall are stomach aches and decreased appetite.
For a drug such as Adderall to be FDA-approved, it has to go through a series of clinical trials to ensure it is safe. It’s important to note that clinical trials do not have to prove the medication caused the side effect. It just means the participant experienced that effect during the time that they took the medication.
Another major consideration is the potential for abuse. Because Adderall can be addictive, particularly without medical supervision, an overdose could occur. Adderall overdose has a wide range of symptoms and can lead to death.
These symptoms include:
Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
Panic or confusion
Low or high blood pressure
These symptoms usually occur at the same time. If you feel you’ve taken too much Adderall, go to your nearest emergency room. Tell them exactly what you have taken and how much.
Some drugs can interact with other drugs, meaning you shouldn’t take them at the same time unless your doctor says otherwise. Adderall has a long list of medications that you shouldn’t take it with. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure about taking drugs together.
Generally, it is a bad idea to mix Adderall with:
Acidifying agents, such as gastrointestinal or urinary acidifying agents
The overall list of drugs is too long to include here, so it’s important to read the leaflet that comes with your medication and ask your doctor if you’re unsure. The side effects of mixing drugs can vary, including reducing the efficacy of one or both of the medications and even death. Always check with a medical professional before combining medications.
Taking Adderall shouldn’t lead to depression for most people. Speak to your doctor if you feel depressed while taking Adderall.
Symptoms of depression can include:
Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless
Angry outbursts or irritability
Loss of pleasure in activities that used to be enjoyable
Sleep changes, such as insomnia or sleeping too much
Lack of energy
Agitation or anxiety
Slowed speech or thinking
Trouble concentrating or making decisions
Unexplained physical problems
If you begin to experience any of these symptoms while taking Adderall, you could be experiencing depression. It is important to remember that Adderall is not an antidepressant and will not regulate your depression.
You should see a doctor and explain that you’re taking Adderall and experiencing symptoms of depression. They will be able to change your prescription or give you a medication that won’t interact with Adderall to treat your depression.
The dangers of self-medicating depression with Adderall You should not self-medicate depression with Adderall; it is not an antidepressant. Although Adderall can induce euphoria if you’re not chronically lacking dopamine, the drug is not a long-term solution for depression.
Self-medication with Adderall can cause addiction because it is a highly addictive substance. You should always have a medical prescription if you intend to take Adderall.
Seeking help for Adderall misuse is essential if you have been taking Adderall without a doctor's supervision. There are many medications you cannot take with Adderall, so it’s vital to alert your medical team if you have been misusing it.
Help can involve notifying your doctor and going to rehab or seeking guidance and counseling from a licensed therapist. Do not attempt to quit Adderall without medical supervision, as it’s chemically addictive, and withdrawal symptoms can be overwhelming.
Adderall is a great medication when you use it properly. Unfortunately, it can lead to chemical addiction if you misuse it, which can lead to depression when you stop taking it. Do not use Adderall to treat depression or for anything other than its intended medical use.
Adderall is a medication to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. It is a central nervous system stimulant, also known as an amphetamine. It can cause addiction in people who are not diagnosed with ADHD due to the difference in brain chemistry between people with ADHD and neurotypical people.
Adderall does not regularly cause depression as a side effect, although some people have noted it. However, people with depression may abuse the drug to increase motivation.
Adderall is a highly addictive medication that can have many unintended side effects, particularly if combined with other medications. You should not take Adderall without a prescription from your doctor.
Adderall XR® (mixed salts of a single-entity amphetamine product) dextroamphetamine sulfate, dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine aspartate monohydrate, amphetamine sulfate capsules, CII initial U.S. approval: 2001 | Access Data
Adderall | RxList
Can Adderall and other drugs used to treat ADHD cause depression? | Child Mind Institute
Adderall side effects, risks & dangers of use | American Addiction Center