Brand-name medication Adderall is prescribed to treat Attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. It is a psychostimulant and a combination of two stimulant drugs- amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. These are sold on the market as either Adderall or Adderall XR. The “smart drug” aims to increase the attention spans in people with ADHD and help them control their daily activities. Adderall affects the central nervous system, which boosts the brain’s dopamine levels and enhances the moods of the users.
People with ADHD take Adderall at prescribed therapeutic levels to boost their concentration for longer periods. But recreational users, among them high-school and college students, who don’t have either ADHD or narcolepsy, also seek out the drug to help them maintain focus for a longer time. An increase in energy, as well as high alertness, also appeal to recreational users. For these reasons, Adderall has become known as the “study drug” among people who use it to boost their academic performance and endure long nights of writing term papers or studying for exams.
Adderall is habit-forming and highly addictive. Using it frequently or in high amounts can lead to a high tolerance for the drug. Chronic Adderall use is dangerous to users’ health, and those who misuse and abuse it frequently are taking risks that can adversely affect their health.
How Adderall Affects the Brain
Adderall is an addictive substance. Whenever an individual develops an Adderall addiction, it begins to alter the actual brain chemistry of the addict. Adderall directly impacts the brain and the way in which it functions by interfering with certain neurotransmitters or brain chemicals. Adderall’s effects on the brain are what makes it both a potent and dangerous drug.
After ingesting Adderall, it disperses in the body until it ultimately arrives at its intended target: the brain. Once there, the drug will then mirror the actions of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These are all various neurotransmitters responsible for adrenaline and pleasure.
The resulting dopamine rush provides stimulation to the reward and pleasure center of the brain, causing the euphoric feeling that Adderall is known for. In tandem, the epinephrine rush causes the brain to become more alert, clear and focused. The neurotransmitter norepinephrine then helps keep these feelings at the same level of intensity, for longer than they should naturally. The norepinephrine causes a continual release of dopamine and epinephrine.
The increased alertness and pleasure are what makes the drug desirable primarily to college students. It increases their ability to study for longer and learn more than their brain would under normal circumstances. However, in their quest to get an edge on the competition, many students fall into Adderall addiction and will ultimately face the uncomfortable Adderall withdrawal and its awful withdrawal symptoms.
Why is Quitting Adderall Important?
Individuals often view Adderall or other prescriptions as safe when comparing to illicit street drugs. The misconception stems from it being dispensed by professionals as opposed to drug dealers. There is less stigma around taking a pill than snorting or injecting a drug. Unfortunately, as with other stimulants, Adderall abuse can result in damaging health effects.
Abusing the drug at high doses can produce severe effects, such as stroke, heart attack, hostility, or paranoia. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all packages of Adderall, and generic versions must be labeled with a warning that misuse can cause severe cardiovascular problems and sudden death.
What You Can Expect from Adderall Withdrawal
Adderall users who feel physical and psychological changes when they abruptly stop or reduce their use of the medication are experiencing a period known as the “Adderall crash,” which is a comedown or withdrawal from amphetamine use. These Adderall withdrawal symptoms can happen when excessive Adderall use is discontinued, and the effects begin to wear off. Some of those symptoms that happen during Adderall withdrawal are:
- Adderall cravings (which can stem from the feeling of wanting to feel “normal” again)
- Increased appetite or lack of appetite
- Anhedonia (inability to enjoy pleasurable activities)
- Being awake even though exhausted mentally
- Achy muscles
- Rebound hunger
- Temporary worsening of ADHD symptoms
- Distorted thinking
- Slower reactions
- Suicidal ideation
- Vivid dreams
The length of time the “Adderall crash” lasts relies on the length of time it takes the drugs to be out of the body.
Headaches Related to Adderall Withdrawal
A common Adderall withdrawal effect is a crash headache. They usually are not serious, but it is best to know the signs and when to get medical attention.
If you are experiencing a thunderclap headache, which is when it comes on suddenly and gets worse within seconds or minutes, see a doctor as soon as possible. Headaches that:
- Occur with physical changes, such as a stiff neck or a seizure
- Occur with psychological changes, such as personality changes, confusion, or a loss of consciousness
- Come on right after strenuous exercise or injury; and
- Accompanies weakness, impaired vision, or numbness
Are all signs that one should get medical help right away.
There are various reasons why Adderall, an amphetamine, causes headaches. Regular headaches that are not indications of a more serious condition may be treated with over-the-counter medicines, such as ibuprofen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), aspirin, or the pain reliever acetaminophen. It is best; however, to seek the advice of your physician for the best course of treatment for your situation.
Adderall Withdrawal Timeline
Adderall withdrawal will not be the same for everyone. The severity of the symptoms as well as how long they last depend largely on the person. Adderall withdrawal symptoms can last a few days to a few weeks. Other factors that contribute to timeline variations for this drug include:
- Age, health, medical history, environment
- Adderall history
- How long Adderall has been used (shorter period of use may mean a shorter withdrawal)
- How much Adderall is used
- The manner in which Adderall has been used (such as whether it was snorted or taken orally)
- If Adderall was used with other drugs, such as alcohol or other drugs
- Co-occurring disorders (when substance use disorder and mental health disorder are present at the same time)
Below is a general timeline of Adderall withdrawal. Chronic users will see symptoms start anywhere from 24 hours to 72 hours after the last pill is taken.
Days 1-3: Recovering Adderall users may feel exhausted and irritable while experiencing drug cravings and depression. Despite the fatigue, sleep disorders are common at this stage.
Days 4-7: Sleep disturbances may continue as well as exhaustion. Cravings for Adderall may intensify. Recovering users may have disturbing dreams and experience irritability. They also may be unable to feel pleasure, a condition known as anhedonia.
Eight days to a month: Some people may feel detachment. Cravings for Adderall and sleep problems could continue. Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) symptoms may linger from three to six months. Some people could have rebound hunger or an increased appetite. This is when constant withdrawal symptoms appear randomly from now and for more weeks or months. Some users find these symptoms can last for years.
PAWS symptoms include emotional instability or mood swings, short-term memory loss, depression, insomnia, dizziness, cravings for cocaine or other drugs and alcohol. Professional addiction treatment programs and other supports, such as a 12-step program, can help recovering users manage this period.
Managing Adderall Withdrawal Symptoms
Due to the psychological aspect of Adderall withdrawal, medications are often crucial during a medical detox program. The medicines will help the client control their emotions and behavioral issues that are likely to occur due during the withdrawal phase. Doctors are quick to prescribe antidepressants that manage depression and produce a reduction in thoughts of self-harm or suicide that is often attributed to withdrawal.
Because anxiety is often going to be an issue, anti-anxiety drugs, and mood-stabilizing type substances will be administered to reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, panic attacks, mood swings, or nervousness that is common during detox. Sleep will also be an issue, and medication will be used to assist rest during withdrawal and detox.
What are the Adderall Withdrawal Treatment Steps?
When it comes to getting help with Adderall addiction as well as Adderall withdrawal, the method of treatment will often vary on a case-by-case basis. However, following the full continuum of care is always recommended.
The Full Continuum Of Care
The full continuum of care refers to undergoing every level of addiction treatment in a step-down program from the highest level of care to the lowest. In the higher levels of care, such as medical detox and inpatient, clients will receive more direct hands-on care from medical and clinical staff.
As clients progress to lower levels of care, the staff intervenes on the client’s care less frequently, requiring clients to take personal responsibility for their recovery and lives. The full continuum of care sets up a more solid foundation in recovery and increases the likelihood of success from addiction treatment.
Upon starting the treatment process, you will undergo a medical assessment. The assessment takes into consideration a variety of different aspects of your individual needs as well as your drug history and overall medical health. The results of the assessment will dictate whether you need a medical detox prior to entering Adderall addiction treatment.
If it is determined that you do, you’ll begin your journey at a fully-equipped medical facility staffed with medical and clinical professionals. The medical team provides 24-hour supervision and will develop a detox plan specifically for you. This may include a variety of different prescription medications designed to ease your Adderall withdrawal symptoms and make the detox process more comfortable and safe. With consistent monitoring, if there are any underlying conditions that may be cause for worry, the medical team will be able to address them swiftly and safely.
While in detox, you’ll also begin to undergo some clinical intervention. Since some Adderall withdrawal symptoms have psychological and emotional components, having support staff surrounding you will also provide help during the difficult transition into sobriety.
During the detox stage, clients will begin to receive some therapy sessions to begin the process of finding the underlying causes of addiction as well as working through any issues that the client may have. Though the primary focus of detox is the overall medical well-being of the client, some of the emphasis is still put on the therapeutic aspect as well.
Once the client is medically stabilized and successfully detoxed from their Adderall addiction, they will have the opportunity to continue their journey in addiction treatment. Again, completing the full continuum of care is always recommended to fortify one’s place in sobriety and recovery.
After detox, a client will head off to an inpatient treatment facility. Here, the client will live on the premises and be supervised by staff 24/7. Living arrangements are provided by the facility, but the amenities offered will vary center by center. Some addiction treatment centers have swimming pools and even chefs to provide all meals for clients. It’s important to know what you’re looking for in an addiction treatment facility when searching for the right one.
While in inpatient treatment, clients receive therapy on a full-time basis. Clients will be working closely with clinical staff during their stay and have a variety of different groups and therapy methods to get to the root of their addiction, as well as work on any other emotional issues they may be struggling with. The main focus of inpatient treatment is the therapeutic aspect of treatment.
After completing inpatient treatment for Adderall addiction, the next phase of the full continuum of care is intensive outpatient or IOP. During this stage, clients will need to find alternative housing, as on an outpatient level, you cannot live on the facility’s property. Clients can choose to find their own housing or perhaps find a sober home/halfway house.
At this level, clients should be stable enough in their recovery to handle some of the freedoms and responsibilities that come from being on their own. But since this is a difficult transition, intensive outpatient still requires clients to attend therapy sessions and be subjected to drug tests to help keep them accountable.
It works as a buffer between the community at large and the safe “bubble” addiction treatment provides. Clients still have access to intense clinical support and intervention to help keep them on track in their abstinence from drugs, as well as continue to grow and change in their recovery.
Following IOP, clients will once again step down to a lower level of care simply referred to as outpatient. At this level, clients should be very stable and capable of maintaining accountability for recovery. Outpatient, or OP, provides minor clinical support to clients.
Usually, OP clients have only one hour of therapy per week. This gives clients a lot of freedom while still giving them some support if they run into some challenges or roadblocks in recovery.
Recovery is an ongoing process, and it’s important to continue working on your recovery, even after treatment ends. Addiction is a chronic disease, meaning it is ongoing. There is no cure. However, it can be brought under control by utilizing the correct treatment and by remaining active in treating the condition.