Stimulants have been around and used for centuries for a variety of conditions such as an appetite suppressant, treatment for asthma, depression, and narcolepsy. Modern-day medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as Ritalin or Adderall, typically involves some form of a stimulant.
Stimulant use has been on the rise. To shed light on the issue, and those affected, even Netflix documentaries are outlining some of the daunting struggles people face when trying to stop using them.
With the prevalence of stimulant abuse spanning different ages, classes, races, and genders, it’s critical to understand the dangers of Ritalin use and what to expect during the withdrawal period.
Adderall is a prescription drug used to treat the symptoms of ADHD. It is considered a stimulant. Stimulants are a class of drugs that are considered excitatory to the Central Nervous System (CNS). They stimulate certain neurotransmitter sites that involve epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin. Epinephrine and norepinephrine are associated with the fight or flight response to extreme danger or stress. Dopamine and serotonin are considered the “feel good” neurotransmitters and are involved in the reward center of the brain.
Some medical conditions can become complicated or dangerous if you take Adderall without the guidance of a physician. If you have previously been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, glaucoma, Tourette’s Syndrome, or if you are pregnant, please consult your doctor before taking this medication. If you are already being prescribed certain antidepressant medication, high blood pressure medication, coumarin, or anticonvulsants, please do not take Adderall until you have consulted your physician.
Ready to get Help?
Fighting Addiction Yourself is Difficult. Let Our Experts Help!
It’s important to note the differences between Ritalin and Adderall. Adderall is a combination of two stimulants: amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Ritalin contains a single stimulant, methylphenidate. They are both prescribed to treat similar symptoms of ADHD or narcolepsy. They both come in short- and long-acting versions; however, Adderall will last slightly longer than Ritalin.
The central nervous system (CNS) consists of the brain and the spinal cord. It is continually communicating with cells and organs to ensure the body is functioning correctly. The brain and the body are constantly seeking harmony in order to function well. The medical term is homeostasis, and it means that when anything disrupts the CNS, efforts must be made to return to a certain level of stability. For example, when the body becomes hot from exercise or being outside in the sun, we sweat in an effort to cool off or reach the previous level of homeostasis.
Adderall use interferes with the CNS’ ability to return to a balanced state.
Everything we do affects our central nervous system. The foods we eat, how much sleep we get, the quality of the air and water we ingest, and even things like stress and unseen toxins in cleaning products will have some kind of an effect.
Adderall, specifically, will increase the availability of norepinephrine and dopamine, resulting in a feeling of euphoria, as well as the perception of increased brain activity. People report feeling like they can focus better for short periods and that their memory is improved.
Similar to Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine), Ritalin (methylphenidate) is prescribed for ADHD.
However, Ritalin is also prescribed for narcolepsy and is considered a shorter-acting drug than Adderall. This means the effects are felt in a shorter period and the “let down” will occur sooner, as well.
For this reason, some people believe Adderall has less potential for abuse or dependence, but both are considered Schedule II substances by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Sometimes the pills are taken orally, or they are inhaled, injected or crushed up and smoked.
One of the more serious potential side effects of high doses of Adderall is psychosis. This kind of psychosis can occur in individuals with no previous symptoms of psychosis or schizophrenia.
The symptoms can include: auditory and visual hallucinations, delusional thoughts involving persecution (unnamed people are “out to get them” or plotting something negative), and even violence or hostility depending on the severity of the psychosis. These symptoms are typically resolved within a few days after the last Ritalin use.
Adderall withdrawal is not considered life-threatening. Symptoms will depend upon the type, severity, and frequency of use, but will typically include: depression, the onset of which can be within hours up to several days after the last use, the need for extended sleep and food to compensate for the time spent with diminished appetite and sleep while actively using.
Some of the symptoms such as depression and problems sleeping may persist weeks, even months, after the Adderall use stops. Using Adderall increases the dopamine levels, and stopping their use will result in a rapid decrease of dopamine, which may manifest as depression.
Sleep issues have been reported as a chronic symptom after stopping Adderall because of the high levels of alertness that were experienced while taking the drug. The length of time it takes for the brain’s chemistry to return to homeostasis will vary by individual.
The length of Adderall withdrawal is going to vary significantly based on several factors. Some individuals may stop experiencing symptoms in as little as five days, but for others, it can occur for three weeks or more.
The most significant factors that influence the duration of withdrawal is the dose, frequency, and time someone used Adderall. Someone who took larger doses for an extended period can expect withdrawal symptoms to last much longer.
There are two versions of the drug, which are instant and extended release. Adderall is an instant-release drug that lasts anywhere from four to six hours, whereas Adderall XR (extended release) is designed for around-the-clock use. The duration of withdrawal is going to vary based on these factors.
Since the instant-release Adderall starts working immediately and the effects dissipate sooner, it will leave the body quickly. Extended-release Adderall continues to build up in the system and will stay in your body longer.
The withdrawal from Adderall is not considered lethal. However, long-term, chronic use of stimulants is associated with serious symptoms that are the opposite of the initial effects experienced by the user. They can include serious, persistent changes to brain functioning, social and occupational declines, as well as adverse effects on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
Once you have identified that you, or a loved one, is in need of help, the next phase of Adderall addiction treatment is entering either an inpatient or outpatient addiction recovery treatment program.
A skilled clinician will be able to assess whether you will benefit more from living at a residential treatment facility and having continuous access to medical and therapeutic care, or if you are stable enough to participate in treatment while still living at home. Either way, long-term treatment is essential to avoiding relapse.
In a recovery treatment program, you will be able to address the physical, psychological, medical, and social aspects of Adderall addiction. You will learn various therapeutic tools such as how to effectively manage addictive behaviors, and how to prevent relapse.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2019 September) Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/index.shtml#part_145449
BMC Psychiatry. (2012, December 5) Amphetamine-induced psychosis – a separate diagnostic entity or primary psychosis triggered in the vulnerable? Bramness, J. et. al. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3554477/
Washington Times. (2018, April 16). 16 million U.S. adults on prescription stimulants, study shows. Kelly, L. Retrieved from https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/apr/16/16-million-us-adults-prescription-stimulants-study/
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Retrieved from https://neuroscience.mssm.edu/nestler/nidappg/brain_reward_pathways.html
WebMD. (2017, September). Ritalin Versus Adderall: Similarities & Differences Explained. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/ritalin-adderall-difference#1
Medscape. (2018, August 01). Stimulants . Retrieved from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/289007-overview#a3
Netflix. (2018, March 16). Take Your Pills. Retrieved from https://www.netflix.com/title/80117831