What Is Adderall? Uses, Side Effects & Addictive Potential
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Adderall is a prescription stimulant medication that people abuse to help them focus. Unfortunately, it can be very addictive.
Adderall is a Schedule II medication according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Schedule II medications have recognized medical use but also have a high potential for abuse and addiction.
As a stimulant, abuse of Adderall may lead people to abuse more potent stimulants like methamphetamine.
What Is Adderall?
The active ingredient in generic Adderall is amphetamine salts, which is a combination of dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine.
Think of dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine as right- and left-handed versions of each other. They have the same, mirrored shape, like a left and right hand, but are not exact copies.
Adderall can be prescribed in both immediate-release (IR) and extended-release (XR) formulations. Both formulations treat the same conditions, but the XR versions are more convenient because they can be taken once a day. IR formulations last between four to six hours and sometimes need to be taken more than once each day.
What is Adderall Used For?
Adderall can treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy.
People with ADHD have problems with attention and impulse control. They also have low levels of dopamine, which is a chemical signal used in the brain to produce attention. Adderall helps restore dopamine to healthy levels.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder where someone is too sleepy during the day and can fall asleep without warning. They also experience hallucinations and sleep paralysis when they try to sleep. Adderall helps “teach” the body when it should be awake and when it should be asleep.
What is Adderall Classified As?
Adderall is a Schedule II medication as classified by the DEA. Schedule II medications have a known medical use, but a high potential for addiction and abuse.
People abuse Adderall because it increases focus, causes euphoria and increases energy.
Tolerance to Adderall can build quickly. Drug tolerance develops as someone has to take more and more of the drug to achieve the desired effect. When someone takes high doses of Adderall, they may experience symptoms of withdrawal. If they take more Adderall to treat those symptoms, they may find themselves in a cycle of addiction: euphoria, crash and craving.
Administration and Dosage
Adderall IR is taken two to three times daily, usually four to six hours apart.
Adderall XR is taken once a day because the capsule contains beads that slowly release the drug into the body. Some people are prescribed both IR and XR if the XR wears off too soon.
The maximum daily dose of Adderall considered safe is 60 mg. Some people may be prescribed more than that amount, but the doctor should be monitoring them closely for side effects.
People who abuse Adderall may take doses above 300 mg per day or more.
What Does Adderall Look Like?
Adderall comes in two dosage forms: immediate-release (IR) and extended-release (XR).
Adderall is made as a tablet with a variety of numbers and coloring. The numbers on the tablets usually match with their strength, which may be: 5 mg, 7.5 mg, 10 mg, 12.5 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg or 30 mg. The most common colors are orange or blue. Since Adderall pills are available generically, many companies make Adderall, so the markings and colors will vary.
Adderall XR is made into capsules, and the capsules contain beads that slowly release the drug once in the body. XR capsules are most commonly blue or orange and sometimes have markings designating their strength. The available Adderall XR dosages are: 5 mg, 10 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, 25 mg and 30 mg.
Adderall Street Names
Adderall prescriptions are illegal to give or sell to someone else. However, a large market exists for illicit Adderall.
Some common Adderall street names include:
- Black Beauties
- Speed Pills
- Pep Pills
- Study Buddies
- Smart Pills
Adderall Side Effects
Adderall use can cause side effects, even when taken as prescribed. Common side effects usually go away with time, but some may be long-lasting. For someone taking Adderall as prescribed, if side effects do not go away they should let their doctor know.
People who abuse Adderall or take it without a prescription will usually get more side effects than someone using it as prescribed and those side effects can be more serious.
Common Side Effects
Some of the more common side effects of Adderall include:
- Dry mouth
- Weight Loss
Serious Side Effects
People who take Adderall and experience a serious side effect should tell their doctor immediately. Serious side effects are rare when using Adderall as prescribed and can cause permanent harm.
People who abuse Adderall are at a high risk of one or more of the following side effects:
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Blurry vision or changes in vision
- Feeling unusually suspicious of other people
- Slow or difficult speech
- Teeth grinding
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Side Effects in Men
Adderall at normal doses usually causes no sexual side effects in men, but Adderall abuse can cause changes in the male sex drive or erectile dysfunction. Adderall abuse is reported to increase sex drive and performance at first, but cause decreased sensitivity and sex drive in the long-run.
Side Effects in Women
Women can experience painful menstrual cramps as a side effect of Adderall. However, this is uncommon unless the woman abuses the drug.
Side Effects in Pregnancy
Adderall in pregnancy has been linked to some birth defects, but the incidence is rare. However, studies looking at safety in pregnancy only looked at women legitimately prescribed Adderall and monitored by their physician.
A physician may choose to maintain an expectant mother on their Adderall prescription during pregnancy but it should never be abused or used without a prescription.
How Long Does Adderall Stay in Your System?
Amphetamines can stay in the body for several days, but different tests have different detection windows.
The half-life of Adderall is about 12 hours. It completely clears the blood in 60 hours, or 2.5 days. Blood tests are not used for drug screening because they are expensive and invasive.
Adderall can be detected in urine for 72 hours for a single dose and up to nine days for people who regularly use the drug.
Amphetamines can be detected in the hair for up to 90 days. Detection times are based on how quickly hair grows and not the specific drug. Hair tests take 1.5 cm of hair. Most people’s hair grows 0.5 cm every month.
About 2% of the mother’s dose can pass to the child through breastmilk. It is unclear how long amphetamine can be detected in breastmilk after a dose is consumed. Adderall is accepted to be safe during breastfeeding if prescribed and monitored by a doctor.
How Addictive is Adderall?
Adderall and all amphetamine products have a high potential for addiction. Tolerance to amphetamine builds quickly, and withdrawal can happen after just a few doses — these are the hallmarks of addictive substances.
Adderall, if used as prescribed, will not produce addiction or dependence, but taking more than prescribed increases the addictive potential of the drug.
CDC. “Use of ADHD Medicine Is Increasing among Pregnant Women.” 2018. Accessed July 29, 2019.
Cone, Edward; Heustis, Marilyn. “Interpretation of Oral Fluid Tests for Drugs of Abuse.” 2007. Accessed July 29, 2019.
Food and Drug Administration. “Adderall Medication Guide.” 2007. Accessed July 29, 2019.
LactMed. “Lactmed: Amphetamine.” 2019. Accessed July 29, 2019.
Medline Plus. “Dextroamphetamine and Amphetamine: MedlinePlus Drug Information.” 2019. Accessed July 29, 2019.
Psychemedics. “Hair Drug Testing Facts.” 2015. Accessed July 29, 2019.