Adderall is commonly prescribed to treat ADHD and certain other disorders, but the medication can have serious side effects. When prescribing Adderall, doctors have to consider the advantages and disadvantages of their patients taking the medication. They’re likely to suggest lifestyle changes or other treatments reduce the harmful effects of the drug.
Unfortunately, though, many people misuse or abuse Adderall by taking it without a doctor’s recommendation or supervision. In this case, both short-term and long-term health consequences may occur. If you or a loved one uses Adderall, you should understand the side effects and health risks of the medication. Treatment is available if you feel like your Adderall use is out of control, and it’s important to address your Adderall habit so that you can live a happy, healthy life.
What Is Adderall?
Adderall is the brand name for the drug amphetamine-dextroamphetamine. Both amphetamine and dextroamphetamine are central nervous system stimulants, which means they affect the chemicals in the brain responsible for alertness and energy.
Adderall increases your levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls the reward centers of your brain. Dopamine plays a major role in your motivation, so a boost in this chemical makes it easier and more enjoyable to complete tasks. Another chemical affected by Adderall is norepinephrine, a stress hormone that controls your brain’s focus and attention. When your norepinephrine levels increase, your body and mind become highly alert and attentive in anticipation of a threat or a stressful event.
The medication has a strong impact on the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that manages executive functioning. It also impacts the basal ganglia, a part of the brain that helps to control executive functioning, behavior, and emotions. This is why Adderall makes people so intensely focused and is often used to help those with ADHD control their impulses and complete tasks.
What Is Adderall Used For?
When prescribed correctly by a doctor, Adderall can be incredibly beneficial for some people. Individuals with ADHD have difficulty planning and focusing on tasks, which can affect their job or school performance and their personal life. Because ADHD is a neurological disorder, Adderall affects an ADHD brain very differently than it affects a neurotypical brain. When someone with ADHD takes Adderall, they may feel calmer, more focused, and less impulsive.
The other primary approved use for Adderall is to treat narcolepsy or other sleep disorders. Like ADHD, narcolepsy is a neurological disorder, so Adderall can effectively adjust the patient’s brain chemistry so that they can stay awake and alert throughout the day.
Sometimes, doctors prescribe Adderall off-label to help a patient lose weight because the drug acts as an appetite suppressant. Adderall is not approved by the FDA as a weight loss medication, and using Adderall for weight loss is a controversial topic. Some doctors are completely against the use of the medication for weight loss, and others will prescribe it as a last resort for patients who have not been successful with other weight loss methods. The side effects of Adderall are significant, which is why the medication should absolutely not be used unless you’re following your doctor’s instructions.
Why Adderall Can Affect Women Differently
Adderall has extensive side effects in men and women, but the drug may have a stronger impact on women. The average female and the average male bodies have different body fat percentages and hormone levels, which can affect drug metabolism.
Women have a lower average body weight than men, and research suggests that lower body weight increases the bioavailability of one of the chemical components in Adderall. This means that the average female body will process more of the drug than the average male body when both are given the same dose.
The natural hormonal changes that occur throughout the menstrual cycle may affect the way women’s bodies process Adderall, too. When your estrogen levels increase, the effects of amphetamines may become stronger. This includes both the desired effects of Adderall and the negative side effects.
Women are also more likely than men to report physical dependence or mental cravings for Adderall. Because the effects are often stronger in women, the difference between being on the drug and off the drug could feel more dramatic, leading to increased dependence.
Doctors may try to reduce the side effects of Adderall in females by prescribing a dose proportionate to body weight. For example, they may prescribe a lower dose to an individual at a lower body weight and a higher dose for a larger person. However, people who misuse or abuse Adderall are unlikely to adjust their own dosing based on their body weight. Women who take Adderall without medical advice may be at a particularly high risk of side effects.
Short-term Side Effects of Adderall
Adderall causes a number of immediate effects on the body and mind in both men and women. Many of these side effects occur because the drug increases your norepinephrine levels, which puts your body into fight-or-flight mode. Some side effects decrease with repeated Adderall use as your body adjusts to the drug, but some can get worse over time.
The following are some of the most common physical side effects of Adderall in females:
- Dry mouth
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Rapid heartbeat
- Increased blood pressure
- Difficulty sleeping
- Digestive problems
- Loss of appetite
- Skin rashes
Adderall affects your thoughts, mood, and emotions, too. You might experience certain psychological side effects when the drug hits your system, and you may feel a mental or emotional “crash” as the medication wears off. The following are the most common negative psychological effects of Adderall:
- Nervousness, paranoia, or anxiety
- Racing thoughts
- Feeling jumpy or on-edge
- Panic attacks
- Irritability or aggression
- Worsening of depressive symptoms
- Extreme mood swings
Long-term Risks of Adderall
Adderall causes many uncomfortable and unpleasant short-term symptoms, but the drug can also take a toll on your body in the long run. The adverse effects of Adderall can build up over time until you experience severe health consequences.
These risks are present when you abuse the drug and when you take it under medical supervision. If you’re prescribed Adderall, your doctor will likely adjust your dosage over time so that your body can gradually adjust. However, you may still see long-term health impacts when you take Adderall for many months or years.
One long-term risk of Adderall use or misuse is chronic sleep deprivation. Adderall dramatically increases your alertness, making it virtually impossible to fall asleep. If you take a high dose or have a strong response to the drug, you may find it difficult to sleep at night. Then, to combat the tiredness you feel the next day, you may feel tempted to take more Adderall. This can quickly lead to a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation, which affects your mental health, your cardiovascular health, your weight, and your stress levels.
Weight loss is another long-term effect of Adderall use. One of the most common reasons that people abuse Adderall is to lose weight. However, the drastic undereating caused by Adderall use can lead to lightheadedness, muscle weakness, heart problems, low mood, and other unpleasant symptoms. Abusing Adderall is not a healthy or sustainable way to lose weight, and many people regain the weight they lost when they stop taking the medication.
One of the most serious long-term risks of using Adderall is a stroke or a heart attack. Adderall can increase your blood pressure, and chronically elevated blood pressure may put your body at a higher risk of cardiovascular issues. This is especially concerning if you have a preexisting heart condition or a family history of heart problems.
Combining Adderall with alcohol creates a particularly serious risk for women. Female bodies tend to have a lower tolerance for alcohol than male bodies, but Adderall can make you feel soberer than you truly are. If you drink after taking Adderall, you may consume more alcohol than your body can handle, which puts you at risk for alcohol poisoning.
Adderall is both physically and psychologically addictive. As your brain adjusts to the increased levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, you may start to struggle without the drug. After long-term Adderall use, you might feel tired, depressed, unmotivated, or unfocused when you try to quit. The withdrawal symptoms can affect your personal life, your relationships, and your performance at work or school, so it can be incredibly difficult to quit using Adderall on your own.
Adderall and Pregnancy
Most doctors recommend that people who are pregnant should stop taking Adderall. If you’re pregnant and are currently taking Adderall or are struggling to quit the drug, you should consult with your doctor.
Research into the effects of Adderall during pregnancy is limited, but the drug may cause a number of risks for the mother and the infant. For example, Adderall misuse or abuse may lead to premature birth or low birth weight. There may also be risks associated with taking Adderall while breastfeeding as the substance may pass into breast milk.
Recovering From Adderall Use or Abuse
Adderall is an addictive and dangerous medication. Sometimes, people take Adderall exactly as prescribed by their doctor and experience negative side effects. Other times, patients have been prescribed Adderall but take the drug more frequently or in higher doses than recommended, which can quickly lead to dependence. Illicit use of Adderall without a prescription can also pose serious health risks.
If you’ve been misusing or abusing Adderall for a long time, you may feel like you need the medication to function. At first, you may have been thrilled by the energizing effects of the drug. Over time, though, the benefits of Adderall decline while the harmful effects increase. After months or years of Adderall misuse, you might feel like you rely on the drug simply to feel normal.
Recovering from an Adderall addiction is always possible. With professional support, you can overcome your physical and psychological dependence on the drug and feel happy and healthy without stimulants. You can consult with your physician to develop a plan to safely wean yourself off Adderall and manage the withdrawal symptoms. Your doctor can refer you to addiction specialists or mental health professionals for additional support, too.
Mental health counseling is an excellent resource for people who are overcoming any type of addiction. During therapy, you can explore the reasons that you turned to Adderall and address the underlying problems that may have led to your addiction. You can also strengthen your coping skills so that you don’t feel tempted to turn back to the drug when you feel stressed, anxious, or depressed.
Residential care is another option for patients seeking comprehensive treatment for addiction. During residential treatment, you receive round-the-clock medical supervision while detoxing from Adderall or other drugs, and you can engage in individual and group therapy to work on your mental health.
Many people underestimate the harmful effects of Adderall because the medication is so frequently prescribed. Adderall can take a serious toll on your health, though, and the side effects may be particularly strong for women. If you’re struggling with Adderall misuse, now is the time to reach out for support. By overcoming a dependence on Adderall, you can protect your physical and psychological health.