Adderall is a prescription medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. It contains a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine salts.

The drug works by increasing the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control movement and emotional response, and norepinephrine is responsible for activating the body's "fight or flight" response.

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What is Adderall used to treat?

Adderall contains a mixture of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine¹, two central nervous system stimulants that increase dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain, improving attention and decreasing impulsivity.

As a direct central nervous system stimulant, Adderall benefits people with ADHD by increasing attention and concentration levels. The drug has the same impact on people who don’t have ADHD but may cause anxiousness, restlessness, headaches, and difficulty sleeping.

Withdrawal from Adderall may cause severe side effects, so you should always use the medication under the guidance of a physician.

How do you take Adderall?

Take this medication orally with or without food, generally one to three times daily as advised by your doctor. The first dose is usually taken when you wake up in the morning.

If more doses are required, they should be taken as suggested by your doctor, often four to six hours apart.

Adderall comes in two forms:

  • Adderall oral tablet (immediate release)

  • Adderall XR oral capsule (extended release)

Immediate release (IR) means the drug is released into your body straight after taking a dose. Extended release (ER) means the drug is released into your body gradually.

Seeing results

Adderall relaxes people with ADHD and increases their ability to concentrate.

Because Adderall causes an overabundance of dopamine in people without ADHD, users may experience the exhilaration and high energy levels, as well as potentially harmful physical and emotional adverse effects.

When used at the recommended dosage for ADHD, Adderall doesn’t usually create a sense of euphoria — but it can on occasion. Some individuals who use Adderall report feeling energized, focussed, excited, or self-confident.

Potential Adderall side effects

Taking Adderall incorrectly — by exceeding the recommended amount, for example — could cause serious side effects.

Stimulants can cause an increase in heart rate and anxiety. You should see your doctor before using any stimulant, especially if you have high blood pressure, seizures, heart illness, glaucoma, liver or kidney disease, or an anxiety problem.

Appetite loss, weight loss, dry mouth, upset/painful stomach, nausea/vomiting, dizziness, headache, fever, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping are all possible side effects. Notify your doctor immediately if any of these problems continue or worsen.

Long-term use of Adderall

Weight loss, stunted growth in youngsters, and potential issues from high blood pressure are all possible long-term adverse effects of Adderall. These adverse effects typically subside when you stop taking the medication.

According to research², long-term Adderall use may have a negative psychological impact and cause brain alterations.

Other long-term Adderall side effects include:

  • Aggression

  • Changes in mood and behavior

  • Dependency and addiction

  • Erectile dysfunction and other sexual problems

  • Hallucinations

  • Heart problems and stroke

  • Irritability

  • Lack of motivation

  • Problems sleeping

  • Weight loss

According to research³, long-term use of ADHD drugs like Adderall may cause damage to part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This area of the brain is important for motivation and drive, but its activity might decrease following prolonged stimulant usage.

Researchers found that young people — primarily males — lost desire and drive after taking these medicines for a long time.

Missed doses

If you miss a morning dose, take it as soon as possible. If there are only a few hours until your next dose, skip the missed dose and continue with your regular schedule. Avoid taking a missed dose in the late afternoon or evening if possible, since it may cause trouble falling asleep.

Never attempt to make up for missed doses by taking two doses at the same time. This can result in potentially serious adverse effects.

Adderall overdose

Excessive Adderall use can raise your risk of experiencing severe side effects.

Both medications enhance the body’s production of norepinephrine and other neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are substances that communicate between cells through messages or signals. Increased levels of these messengers in the brain have been associated with increased concentration and attention.

It may also have a soothing impact on those with ADHD and aid inattentiveness and wakefulness in people with narcolepsy.

Adderall overdose symptoms can include:

  • Confusion

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Trouble breathing

  • High blood pressure

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Stroke

  • Seizures

  • Heart attack

In some cases, taking too much Adderall can be fatal.

What to do if an overdose occurs

If you believe you or someone else has taken too much Adderall, speak to your doctor as soon as possible. If your symptoms are severe, seek emergency medical help.

What to discuss with your doctor before taking Adderall

Before you start taking Adderall, you should discuss the medication’s potential risks and benefits with your doctor. Some of the potential risks associated with Adderall use⁴ include:

  • Cardiovascular problems

  • Psychiatric problems

  • Liver damage

  • Dependence or abuse

  • Glaucoma

It is also important to let your doctor know if you have any pre-existing medical conditions, as Adderall may not be suitable for you.

Your doctor can advise you on whether or not Adderall is safe for you to take. They can also provide guidance on what dose to take and how long you should take it.

Stopping Adderall

You might decide to stop taking Adderall because of the side effects. If you have been taking Adderall for a while, your body may have become used to it and you may need to decrease your dose slowly before stopping completely.

You should talk to your doctor about the best way to stop taking Adderall.

Adderall and pregnancy

A study⁵ published in 2018 found that Adderall use among pregnant women had increased between 1998 and 2011 and that the drug may cause an increase in birth defects, including gastroschisis, omphalocele, and transverse limb deficiency.

To avoid complications for your unborn baby, it may be best to avoid taking Adderall while pregnant. If you are pregnant and need help controlling your ADHD symptoms, speak to your doctor about other treatment options.

If you are trying to get pregnant or think you might be pregnant, tell your doctor before starting Adderall treatment. It’s important to weigh the risks and benefits of taking this drug during pregnancy.

Interactions with other drugs

Be sure to tell your doctor about any other medicines you are taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements. Adderall can cause serious side effects if taken with other drugs. For example, antacids increase the absorption of Adderall and should be avoided.

Adderall may interact with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), tricyclic antidepressants, or other drugs that increase norepinephrine levels⁶. Taking Adderall with MAOIs can cause a dangerous reaction, with high fever, rigid muscles, and mental changes.

You should not take Adderall if you have taken a MAOI within the past 14 days. If you take tricyclic antidepressants, Adderall can increase the level of these drugs in your body which could lead to more side effects.

Allergy information

Adderall may cause a severe allergic reaction. Symptoms include hives, difficulty breathing, and swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Stop taking Adderall if you develop these symptoms and get emergency medical help right away.

Clinical trial history

Adderall was first studied in the 1930s as a treatment for narcolepsy and other sleep disorders. It was approved for use in the US in 1996.

A 2018 review of studies⁷ recommended amphetamines as a first-choice medication for treating ADHD in adults.

Adderall has also been shown to improve cognitive function in people without ADHD. In one study⁸, healthy college students who took Adderall performed better on memory and planning tests than those who took a placebo.

Tips and advice for taking Adderall

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to taking Adderall. Some people need to take a higher dose than others to achieve the desired effects, so you will need to work closely with your doctor to find the right dose for you.

Adderall should not be taken on an empty stomach. Take the drug with a light snack or meal to minimize potential side effects, especially if it’s your first dose.

Adderall is a controlled substance, meaning its distribution is tightly regulated. You should never give the drug away or sell it; only use it yourself as prescribed by your doctor.

Finally, try to be patient when taking Adderall as it may take some time for you to start noticing changes in your mood and energy levels. Stick to your treatment plan and take the recommended dose. Don’t stop taking Adderall before your doctor tells you to.

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Explore related clinical trials

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Here at HealthMatch, we’ve done our best to ensure that the information provided in this article is helpful, up to date, and, most importantly, accurate.

However, we can’t replace the one-to-one advice of a qualified medical practitioner or outline all of the possible risks associated with this particular drug and your circumstances.

It is therefore important for you to note that the information contained in this article does not constitute professional medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or recommendation of treatment and is not intended to, nor should be used to, replace professional medical advice. This article may not always be up to date and is not exhaustive of all of the risks and considerations relevant to this particular drug. In no circumstances should this article be relied upon without independent consideration and confirmation by a qualified medical practitioner.

Your doctor will be able to explain all possible uses, dosages, precautions, interactions with other drugs, and other potential adverse effects, and you should always talk to them about any kind of medication you are taking, thinking about taking or wanting to stop taking.

Curious about clinical trials?

Access the latest treatments and medications. unavailable elsewhere - entirely free of charge. We make it easy to take part.