Adderall Addiction and Misuse Among Teens

Table of Contents

Adderall is a prescription amphetamine primarily used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 1 While not everyone who uses Adderall is addicted to it, an increasing number of young adults and college students are using Adderall to get “high” and increase focus. The misuse and overuse of Adderall can create an addiction because of the way the drug interacts with the brain. 2
More and more, teens and college students are misusing this drug to serve as a study aid without considering the serious side effects that come from it. This misuse of prescription drugs like adderall is seen to be more widespread among young adults between the ages of 18-25 than those in between the ages of 26-49. 16
Looking out for signs, symptoms, side effects, and withdrawal symptoms can help you determine whether a loved one is suffering from an addiction to Adderall. If addiction is suspected, there are various treatment methods that can help your loved one recover.

What is Adderall?

Adderall is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, which are central nervous system stimulants. They affect chemicals in the brain and nerves related to hyperactivity and impulse control. Adderall is typically used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. 1

Adderall’s effect on the brain and nervous system can help increase someone’s ability to focus, pay attention, and control their behavior. Adderall increases the activity of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain and primarily stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. This increase in activity triggers “fight or flight” responses in the body, including dilated pupils, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and abnormal sweating.3

Many young adults, particularly college students, engage in the nonmedical use of Adderall. These students may find it helpful to enhance their ability to focus and pay attention while attending challenging college courses, even if they have not been diagnosed with ADHD or narcolepsy.2

Why Are People Misusing Adderall?

People misuse Adderall for many reasons, including achieving euphoria and coping with stress in an educational setting.

According to a survey, 25% of college students who are prescribed stimulants have misused their prescription to get “high.” These prescription drugs produce effects similar to those of cocaine when they are misused and can become addictive.2

Overall, Adderall use in young adult populations aged 18 and older is relatively high. From 2009 to 2015, the prevalence of Adderall use in 12th graders increased from 5.4% to 7.5%. In 2015, 7.7% of young adults reported using Adderall without medical supervision, as did 10.7% of college students. 4

Stimulants, such as Adderall, are increasingly popular at the end of a school term, during final exams. Young adults primarily use Adderall to enhance school performance, and students will often use them to stay awake through the night to study for exams and complete important projects.2

A Web survey found that the primary reason college students misuse prescription stimulants is to enhance their ability to study outside of class. These students generally agreed that the misuse of ADHD medications was helpful to them, which explains why these medications are often misused, especially in an academic setting.2

adderall addiction San Diego

Similarly in high school , a recent study discovered that 9.5% of seniors in high school reported to the non-medical use of prescription stimulants.17   On the surface this number might seem low;  however, these are just the ones that are reported.  The same study also found that 1 in every 6 high school seniors had some exposure to prescription stimulants.17


Students who have not been diagnosed with ADHD also misuse prescription stimulants to enhance their academic abilities and achieve euphoria. A survey found that medical and health profession students predominantly use stimulants they are not personally prescribed for focus and concentration purposes.2


A different study found that over a six-year period, non-medical use of Adderall rose 67%, and emergency room visits involving nonmedical use of Adderall rose 156%. Young adults without a prescription for Adderall usually get the medication from their family or friends who, in most cases, have a prescription.5

Adderall Addiction

Due to the way prescription stimulants, such as Adderall, interact with the brain, someone who misuses them can develop a substance use disorder (SUD). In severe cases, those who misuse Adderall may eventually develop an addiction.6


When someone uses stimulants long-term, even as prescribed by a doctor, they are likely to develop a tolerance, which means they will need to use the drug in higher doses and more frequently to achieve the desired effects.6


Parents can play a huge role in the addiction of adderall. It is important to constantly check in with their child to see if there is any misuse of their adderall prescription. If you have a child that is prescribed adderall, make sure to regularly check up on your high school or college student and count pills routinely.


When an individual’s continued use of the drug begins to cause issues that majorly affect their life, they have developed a SUD. These problems include health problems and an inability to meet daily responsibilities associated with work, school, and home life.6  If an individual cannot stop their use regardless of consequences, they may have developed an addiction.

What Causes Adderall Addiction

Adderall mimics the brain’s naturally occurring chemicals, including dopamine, epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), and norepinephrine. Dopamine takes the form of reward and pleasure signals, and epinephrine triggers fight or flight responses. Norepinephrine facilitates communication between neurons, causing these responses to last longer than usual.7


Like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, Adderall is considered a Schedule II substance, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Schedule II drugs are classified as having a high potential for abuse and can lead to physical and psychological dependence.7


Long-term and frequent use can cause someone to develop a tolerance, ultimately weakening the drug’s effects. The development of tolerance causes the person to use higher doses of the drug to reach the same high as before. Increased tolerance and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms can be a sign of addiction.7

Addiction Signs and Symptoms

There are several signs and symptoms to look out for if you believe someone you love may be struggling with an addiction to Adderall.

Signs and symptoms of Adderall addiction include: 8

If someone you love is exhibiting any of these signs and symptoms, it is crucial to take action as soon as possible. Adderall addiction can pose severe dangers to the health of someone suffering from addiction.

Dangers of Adderall

Adderall can produce harmful side effects for the young adult using the substance, even if they are using it as prescribed by a doctor.8  Snorting Adderall can cause additional harmful side effects, and excessive Adderall use can ultimately lead to overdose if enough of the drug is taken over a short time.6

Side Effects

Typical side effects of Adderall include:9

If a loved one is showing any of these symptoms, it is crucial to seek medical assistance.

Serious side effects of Adderall include:9

Snorting Adderall

Many college students who misuse Adderall to get high or cope with stress in an educational setting will snort the drug to experience the effects faster. While 55% of students choose to take the drug orally, a significant number of them, 44%, choose to snort the drug instead.

Snorting Adderall can destroy the nasal and sinus cavities and amplify other side effects like irregular heartbeat.10  Moreover choosing to snort adderall can also increase the potential for addiction and increase the chance of overdose.15

Adderall Overdose

Adderall overdose is a particularly dangerous side effect of excessive Adderall use, as it can be life-threatening. When someone overdoses on a prescription stimulant, they may experience several common symptoms.

Adderall overdose symptoms include:6

Additional symptoms may include:6

It is essential to understand the symptoms of an overdose. If someone you love shows any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention right away, as an overdose can ultimately lead to convulsions, coma, and fatal poisoning.6

Recognizing an Addiction

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and side effects associated with the unhealthy use of Adderall can make it easier to recognize if someone you love is suffering from an addiction. Understanding and recognizing withdrawal symptoms can also help in identifying whether your teen is experiencing an Adderall addiction.

It is important to note that not everyone who uses Adderall is addicted. Those addicted to Adderall will prioritize their use over everything else, as they rely upon the drug to function. They have trouble controlling how much they take and may ignore regular obligations. Any combination of signs and symptoms of addiction, as well as withdrawal symptoms, are the key to recognizing an Adderall addiction in teens. 

Withdrawl and Treatment

If someone close to you uses Adderall too much or too often, they may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it. Once the individual stops taking Adderall, their dopamine levels will drop, and their body and brain will need to adapt to this change.11

It may be helpful to seek treatment for an individual suffering from addiction to Adderall. Different treatment options may make it easier for the individual to cope with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and recover from their addiction for good.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms are different from side effects. Side effects occur while the individual uses the drug, and withdrawal symptoms will only occur once the individual stops taking the drug entirely. If someone has misused Adderall, they will experience the following withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it.11

Adderall withdrawal symptoms may include:6

Doctors have also reported that abuse of prescription stimulants can lead to mood swings due to sleep deprivation, heart irregularities, and even psychosis during withdrawal.12


An intervention can be an excellent way to persuade your loved one to seek treatment for their addiction to Adderall. Interventions are shown to influence attitudes, increase social support, and ultimately create supportive environments for a loved one.13


An intervention is a thoughtfully planned process that utilizes the guidance of a doctor, a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, or a professionally trained interventionist. The intervention will usually include family members, close friends, and anyone who cares for the person struggling with addiction.14

An intervention includes:14

Doctors have also reported that abuse of prescription stimulants can lead to mood swings due to sleep deprivation, heart irregularities, and even psychosis during withdrawal.12

Treatment Options

There are many treatment options available for those who struggle with an addiction to Adderall. Inpatient rehab is the best option for those with a long history of Adderall abuse or those who also abuse other drugs like cocaine or meth, which is common with Adderall addiction. An inpatient treatment center will allow treatment to occur without the temptation of using the drug.


If a loved one is experiencing any signs or symptoms of addiction, it is vital to find treatment for them right away. It is especially important to find a treatment center that can help them cope with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms to lessen the likelihood of relapse.


  1. Adderall (Amphetamine And Dextroamphetamine) – Side Effects, Interactions, Uses, Dosage, Warnings: Everyday Health. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Lakhan, S. E., & Kirchgessner, A. (2012, September). Prescription stimulants in individuals with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Misuse, cognitive impact, and adverse effects. Retrieved from 
  3. Hom, E. J. (2018, October 18). Adderall: Uses, Side Effects and Abuse. Retrieved from
  4. Overdose: What Is It and How Does It Happen? (2020, September 18). Retrieved from
  5. More college students are using Adderall to stay up and study. (2016, February 17). Retrieved from
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, July 24). Prescription Stimulants DrugFacts. Retrieved from
  7. Rivas, A. (2014, December 11). This Is Your Brain On Adderall. Retrieved from
  8. Bhandari, S. (2020, June 29). Adderall Abuse and Addiction: Symptoms and Warning Signs. Retrieved from
  9. Hom, E. J. (2018, October 18). Adderall: Uses, Side Effects and Abuse. Retrieved from
  10. Sussman, S., Pentz, M. A., Spruijt-Metz, D., & Miller, T. (2006, June 09). Misuse of “study drugs:” prevalence, consequences, and implications for policy. Retrieved from
  11. Bhandari, S. (2019, September 05). Adderrall Withdrawl: Symptoms, Duration, Remedies, and Prevention. Retrieved from
  12. Schwarz, A. (2012, June 09). Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill. Retrieved from
  13.  . (n.d.). Retrieved from
  14. Intervention: Help a loved one overcome addiction. (2017, July 20). Retrieved from
  15. Monroe, J. (2020, June 02). Teens and the dangers of Adderall High Side Effects. Retrieved from
  16. Monroe, J. (2020, June 02). Teens and the dangers of Adderall High Side Effects. Retrieved from
  17. BT;, M. S. (n.d.). Medical and nonmedical use of prescription stimulants: Results from a national multicohort study. Retrieved from