Adderall is a prescription stimulant used and abused for its ability to increase energy and mental focus, as well as for its potential to elicit pleasurable feelings at high enough doses 1. It is prescribed for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy 2 but regularly misused for its stimulant effects. As a pharmaceutical combination, Adderall contains both amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Commonly obtained as an illicit substance, Adderall is referred to by a variety of street names including “black beauties,” “uppers” and “speed” 1.
Adderall is classified as a schedule II controlled substance because of its high potential for abuse and dependence 1,2. This stimulant is prescribed in both instant release (IR) and extended release (XR) pill forms. Adderall IR’s effects last 4 to 6 hours, while Adderall XR’s effects may last the duration of the day 3. Both Adderall IR and XR can lead to physical dependence, tolerance, and addiction.
While many Adderall users take the drug as prescribed, others misuse the drug by taking more than the recommended dose or taking it without a prescription. Some users will snort, smoke or inject the drug to achieve a faster, more intense high 1. Snorting stimulants is the second most common route of administration, other than swallowing, among college students 4.
Snorting Adderall can cause serious health problems, including high body temperature, heart problems, seizures, aggression, paranoia, and psychosis.
Adolescents and young adults are especially at risk of misusing prescription drugs like Adderall 2. Young people may abuse their own prescriptions, take pills from family or friends, or purchase them illegally from street dealers. Adderall abuse among college students has also increased because of the drug’s reputation for improving concentration and academic performance, despite a lack of evidence that taking it recreationally is associated with improved grades 4.
Snorting Adderall can cause serious health problems, including high body temperature, heart problems, seizures, aggression, paranoia, and psychosis 1. Snorting Adderall can also result in overdose 2 and potentially hasten the development of an addiction 5.
In particular, snorting Adderall XR (the extended-release formulation of the drug) appeals to some users looking to get a more intense high. By crushing the medication, the users may tamper with the time-release mechanism that normally ensures a controlled release of the drug’s effects over time. Tampering with the drug in this way can produce more powerful high with a rapid onset that may be both dangerous and more likely to quickly lead the user down the path of addiction.
Why Is Snorting Adderall Dangerous?
Snorting Adderall delivers the drug to the brain more quickly than oral administration. When Adderall reaches the brain, it enhances the effects of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, which are responsible for euphoria associated with the drug, as well as other physiological effects 2.
Compared to oral administration, snorting Adderall can cause a relatively rapid surge of dopamine in the brain, which may increase the likelihood of developing an addiction 5. Dopamine is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter that normally gets released when a person engages in healthy activities that sustain life, such as eating. However, drugs can release excess dopamine can cause rewarding sensations that keep the user returning to the drug even when it is actually causing distress in their lives. Excess dopamine release is a common factor in a number of addictive substances.
Withdrawal symptoms may include 5:
- Increased appetite.
- Sleeping problems.
Addiction to Adderall is characterized by continued use despite negative consequences. Addiction is linked to but distinct from physiological dependence.
Dependence occurs when a person’s body adapts to Adderall’s presence and needs it to perform as expected. Dependence can occur in someone who is taking the medication as prescribed or in someone who is abusing the drug. When a dependent person attempts to slow or stop using the stimulant, they will often experience a set of withdrawal symptoms that may make quitting extremely difficult.
Tolerance often goes hand in hand in with both dependence and addiction. Someone who snorts Adderall may eventually become tolerant to the effects of the drug, meaning they will need to consume more and more to get that initial high they felt when they first began 2.
Snorting Adderall is dangerous for a number of reasons. In addition to its effects on the brain, snorting Adderall can lead to serious and potentially fatal side effects.
Side Effects of Snorting Adderall
Adderall can lead to serious physical and mental side effects, especially when taken in ways other than prescribed, such as snorting. Side effects of misusing Adderall include 2, 5:
- Anger and hostility.
- High body temperature.
- Irregular heartbeat.
- High blood pressure.
- Decreased sleep.
- Decreased appetite.
- Poor nutrition.
Snorting stimulants can also severely damage the nose. Snorting Adderall may cause side effects similar to snorting cocaine, such as 6, 7:
- Impaired sense of smell.
- Recurring nose bleeds.
- Congestion and runny nose.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Nasal crusting.
- Chronic sinusitis and/or sinus infections.
- Nasal septum damage.
Can Snorting Adderall Cause an Overdose?
Adderall users who take the drug as prescribed are less likely to experience dangerous side effects. However, misusing the drug may increase the risk of an overdose. An overdose can occur when a person consumes more of a drug than his or her body can handle. In some cases, an Adderall overdose may be fatal.
Factors that may increase the risk of an Adderall overdose include:
- Using Adderall without a prescription.
- Using more than prescribed.
- Taking it more often than prescribed.
- Taking it in ways other than prescribed, such as by snorting it.
- Mixing Adderall with other drugs or alcohol.
Signs of an Adderall overdose include 8:
- Stomach pain.
- Blurry vision.
- Irregular heart rate.
- Rapid breathing.
- Muscle pain or weakness.
- Discolored urine (red or cola-colored).
- Loss of consciousness.
An Adderall overdose may also lead to sudden death, especially for users with pre-existing heart problems 8. Because of the risk for death, an Adderall overdose should be treated immediately. In case of an Adderall overdose, call 911 as soon as you recognize there’s a problem.
Signs That Someone is Snorting Adderall
Signs you may notice in a loved one snorting Adderall include:
- Changes in mood and behavior.
- Increased anxiety, depression, and/or irritability.
- Nose bleeds.
- Nasal problems.
- Weight loss.
- Sleep problems.
- Changes in appetite.
Being aware of the signs of snorting Adderall is important, since Adderall abuse is on the rise. In 2006, 1.9 million Americans reported misusing Adderall in the past year, either by using it without a prescription or in ways other than prescribed 8. By 2014, over 3.8 million Americans had misused Adderall in the past year 8. More than 2 million of these individuals were between the ages of 18 and 25 8, highlighting the problem of prescription stimulant abuse among teens and young adults.
While Adderall provides users with pleasurable short-term effects similar to those of cocaine, the risk for overdose, addiction, and the long-term consequences of snorting Adderall show that doing so is associated with numerous dangers. The fact that the drug is legally prescribed and relatively easy to access does not mean it is safe to take recreationally. If you are concerned that you or a loved one is addicted to Adderall, consider seeking treatment.
Getting Help for Adderall Addiction
Having an understanding of the treatment process will smooth the process of getting help for Adderall addiction. There are several different types of treatment for Adderall addiction:
- Detox may be offered in a hospital, treatment center, or standalone detox center. The goal of detox is to safely eliminate drugs from the body and reduce the dangers and discomfort of withdrawal. Detox can help those beginning recovery by helping to monitor and alleviate symptoms that may trigger relapse, such as changes in sleep and appetite, anxiety, and severe depression 5.
- Hospital-based inpatient treatment allows individuals in recovery to receive intensive therapy and possibly medication to manage troublesome symptoms or treat any co-occurring mental or medical health issues. Those in inpatient treatment remain at the hospital for the duration of their treatment, which allows them to focus on their recovery away from the distractions of everyday life. Hospital-based inpatient programs are staffed with doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals, as well as counselors and therapists.
- Residential treatment is similar to hospital-based inpatient treatment, because addicts remain at a facility and participate in therapy to work on their recovery; however, stays usually last longer (between 30 and 90 days) and the environment is less like a hospital and more like a residence. Residential treatment programs may also offer access to activities, such as yoga, exercise, and equine therapy. Residential programs are often staffed with medical, mental health, and addiction professionals.
- Outpatient treatment offers weekly therapy without housing. Individuals in outpatient treatment may live at home or a sober living facility while attending treatment one or more days per week, depending on the program and their personal needs.
Effective treatments for addiction to stimulants like Adderall include 9:
- The Matrix Model—a highly structured approach that utilizes a variety of treatment styles and psychological orientations. This approach focuses on developing a trusting relationship with a therapist, educating recovering individuals on self-help groups, and providing guidance and support to maintain abstinence from drugs.
- Contingency management (CM)—a therapeutic style based on reinforcement where individuals receive tangible rewards for positive behaviors that maintain abstinence. Contingency management may be offered on its own or combined with other treatment approaches.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—a therapeutic approach which emphasizes the link between a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and helps individuals understand how these contribute to and perpetuate drug use and addiction. CBT will also help to teach new tools for changing the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to those that promote sobriety.
Recovery support groups are also available for those struggling with addiction and their loved ones:
- Narcotics Anonymous—a 12-step support group for drug addiction that helps people accept their powerlessness over their addiction, make amends for past behaviors, and build a support network of other sober individuals.
- SMART Recovery—another support group that focuses on building skills to maintain motivation for recovery, cope with triggers and negative thoughts, and live a balanced life.
- Nar-Anon—a support group for family members of those struggling with addiction. Similar to Narcotics Anonymous, it is based on the 12 steps and helps members accept their powerlessness over their addicted love one’s behavior.
Making the choice to seek help for an Adderall addiction can be difficult. Fortunately, treatment placement specialists are available to provide information and answer your questions. For more information about treatment for Adderall addiction, call our helpline at 1-888-744-0069Who Answers?.
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- Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed tables. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide. NIH Publication No. 12–4180.