Adderall – the pharmaceutical combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine – is a prescription stimulant medication primarily used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adults 1. When taken as prescribed, Adderall can help a person with ADHD improve focus and concentration, leading to better performance in work and school. However, some users may abuse Adderall in order to feel pleasure, lose weight, and/or increase their energy. High school and college students may also take the drug as a study aid to increase their productivity and meet deadlines. Those abusing Adderall may swallow, snort, or inject the drug 1.
Young adults—who often feel invincible to the effects of “study drugs” like Adderall—are no less susceptible to the dangers.
In 2014, over 11.7 million Americans reported using Adderall for non-medical purposes at some point in their lifetimes 2. There were more than 4.8 million non-medical Adderall users between the ages of 18 and 25, making young adults the most at-risk age group for prescription stimulant addiction. These numbers may continue to grow in the future, assuming the number of ADHD diagnoses increases 1.
Adderall abuse is a serious concern because it can lead to dangerous health problems as well as overdose. In 2010, there were over 31,000 emergency room visits due to abuse of stimulants like Adderall, which revealed a 196% increase from 2004 3. Young adults—who often feel invincible to the effects of “study drugs” like Adderall—are no less susceptible to the dangers. In 2011, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that there were, on average, 114 emergency room visits per day involving young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 using amphetamine drugs like Adderall or methamphetamine 8.
Being aware of the signs and symptoms of an Adderall overdose and taking preventative strategies can minimize the likelihood of adverse consequences.
Signs and Symptoms of an Adderall Overdose
Common signs and symptoms of an Adderall overdose may include one or more of the following 4:
- Blurry vision.
- Rapid breathing.
- Uncontrollable shaking.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Upset stomach.
- Muscle aches and weakness.
- Rhabdomyolysis, or muscle tissue breakdown.
- Dark red or brown urine (secondary to rhabdomyolysis).
- Loss of consciousness.
Symptoms may vary from person to person. If you notice any combination of these symptoms in an Adderall user, overdose may be imminent—seek medical attention immediately.
Risk Factors for an Adderall Overdose
Certain factors may put Adderall users at increased risk of overdose including 5:
- Taking a higher dose than prescribed.
- Taking Adderall more frequently than prescribed.
- Taking Adderall without a prescription.
- Taking Adderall in the presence of pre-existing health conditions.
- Mixing Adderall with alcohol or other drugs.
Over time, Adderall users can develop a tolerance to the drug 6. Tolerance is a sign that a user’s body is adapting to the presence of the drug. The greater the user’s tolerance, the more they will need to achieve to achieve the same intoxicating effects, or “high.” This puts users at higher risk of overdose, since they may unintentionally consume more than their bodies can handle.
What to Do in Case of an Adderall Overdose
If you or someone you know is experiencing an Adderall overdose, call 911 immediately.
Adderall overdoses can be life-threatening and should be treated by a trained professional.
If you witness an overdose, be prepared to remain on the telephone with the 911 operator until medical attention arrives. If possible, provide information on:
- The person’s age.
- Their condition.
- Last time they used Adderall.
- How much they took.
Keep the individual in a safe environment, away from anything that can potentially injure them in the event of a seizure, such as objects with sharp edges.
Treating an Adderall overdose as quickly as possible increases the likelihood of a full recovery.
Preventing Adderall Overdose
One of the safest ways to prevent an Adderall overdose is to avoid using the drug for non-medical purposes. Non-medical use includes:
- Taking the drug without a prescription or using it more frequently or in higher doses than prescribed.
- Crushing, snorting, or dissolving and injecting the drug.
If you take Adderall, avoid mixing it with any other substances. This includes alcohol, illicit drugs, and any other prescription medications.
If you have a prescription for Adderall, be careful of how you store your medication. Prescription drugs are easily accessed by others, including children, in the household, in many cases. Be sure to:
- Keep prescription drugs out of reach of children and teenagers by storing them in locked medicine cabinets.
- Properly and safely dispose of expired medications by following regulations developed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Additionally, if you are prescribed Adderall, consider discussing the following with your doctor 4:
- Any other prescription and non-prescription drugs, vitamins, and herbal supplements you are taking.
- Any allergies to medications.
- History of medical conditions, including glaucoma, hyperthyroidism, seizures, hypertension, heart conditions, liver or kidney disease.
- Family history of heart conditions.
- History of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.
- Previous or current suicidal thoughts and/or attempts.
- If you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are breast-feeding.
If you or someone you know is addicted to Adderall, treatment programs are available to assist with quitting for good. In some cases, people may undergo detox before treatment begins. During an Adderall detox, a person will be gradually tapered off the drug, while medical staff manage any severe withdrawal symptoms that may arise.
After detox is complete, a recovering individual may then choose to attend inpatient or outpatient treatment. Inpatient programs offer both treatment and temporary housing, while outpatient programs allow the individual to commute to a facility weekly to receive treatment.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends the following treatments for addiction to prescription stimulants like Adderall 7:
- Contingency management—a form of behavioral therapy that provides vouchers for negative drug tests. A client can then redeem the vouchers for healthy rewards, such as movie tickets. The anticipated rewards serve as a motivation for clients to stay sober.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)—a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals understand the relationship between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The goal of treatment is to replace negative beliefs with more positive ones.
Contingency management and CBT can be provided in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Treatment may also involve a combination of group, individual, and family therapy. In addition to treatment, self-help groups like Narcotics Anonymous and SMART Recovery are free resources that allow those in addiction recovery to connect with other people who are struggling with similar issues.
Adderall can pose serious risks to non-medical users. If you or someone you know is abusing Adderall or has experienced an overdose, consider seeking help. Call us at 1-888-744-0069 to start your path toward recovery today.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). DrugFacts: Stimulant ADHD medications: Methylphenidate and amphetamines.
- Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed tables. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Rockville, MD.
- Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2012). The DAWN Report: Highlights of the 2010 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) findings on drug-related emergency department visits. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Rockville, MD.
- S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). MedlinePlus, Dextroamphetamine and amphetamine.
- Lakhan, S. E., & Kirchgessner, A. (2012). Prescription stimulants in individuals with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Misuse, cognitive impact, and adverse effects. Brain and Behavior, 2(5), 661-677.
- Sherzada, A. (2012). An analysis of ADHD drugs: Ritalin and Adderall. JCCC Honors Journal,3(1), 1-13.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Research report series: Prescription drug abuse. NIH Publication Number 15-4881.