Adderall Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline & Detox

Adderall Withdrawal Guide

The prevalence of addiction to various prescription medications has grown over recent years. Pharmaceuticals used to manage medical conditions are easily accessible and carry a much lower stigma than illicit narcotics. Many of these substances are specially engineered to target neurochemistry, intensifying their addictiveness.

Adderall, a prescription medication used to manage attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), is a stimulant belonging to the amphetamine family that rapidly causes physical dependence. The drug is widely prescribed for children and young adults, creating a false sense that it’s free of risks.

According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there were 734,000 new cases of prescription stimulant use by Americans over the age of 12. Older teens and young adults are particularly vulnerable to misusing Adderall.

Whether you believe yourself or a loved one is misusing Adderall or suffering an addiction, understanding the withdrawal and detox process is critical. Recognizing the signs and knowing what to expect in the initial stages of recovery can help you prepare to cope with the physical and psychological changes that occur during detox. They are necessary steps to moving away from substance use disorder and reclaiming your life.

Adderall Withdrawal

What Does Adderall Do to Your Body?

Adderall affects the central nervous system, creating invigorating effects. For individuals with ADHD or narcolepsy, Adderall enhances the effects of dopamine and norepinephrine, the neurotransmitters that influence attention and focus. Like any stimulant, it also increases heart rate and blood pressure to keep you alert and engaged.

When taken by an individual without ADHD or used at a higher dose or frequency than recommended by a doctor, it alters neurotransmitter activity beyond the therapeutic intent. In addition to their role in concentration, impulse control, and focus, dopamine and norepinephrine are part of the brain’s reward messaging system. Adderall supplants the body’s natural neurotransmitter production, altering the system to drive cravings and dependence on the stimulant’s effects.

Individuals with underlying mental health conditions or family histories of addiction have an elevated risk of misusing Adderall. The stimulant can intensify feelings of paranoia and anxiety. Its use can also lead to hallucinations and profound personality changes that radically alter behavior.

How Does Adderall Misuse Present?

The hallmark sign of misusing Adderall is taking it without a prescription or outside of your doctor’s instructions. Sometimes, Adderall is mistakenly considered safe because it’s a well-known pharmaceutical. Individuals may take the stimulant believing it’s simply a performance enhancer that can elevate focus and output at work or school.

If your Adderall use negatively impacts your relationships, prevents you from meeting responsibilities, or leads to legal trouble, you’re likely experiencing a substance use disorder. Exceeding the dose of your prescription, using it for pleasure, or taking someone else’s medication also signals misuse.

Adderall comes in oral tablets. Disordered use may involve snorting, smoking, or injecting an altered form of the pill. These consumption methods change absorption times and the intensity of effects. Adderall mismanagement may also be accompanied by the use of alcohol or other narcotics.

Tolerance and Dependence

As your body becomes accustomed to a substance, whether a prescription medication, caffeine, or illicit narcotics, you develop tolerance. This means that you require higher doses at a greater frequency to obtain the same effects. Tolerance is a precursor to dependence because you elevate the concentration of the substance in your body.

Prolonged use of any substance leads to a physical dependence because your body adjusts to functioning with the presence of its chemicals. Adderall carries such a high risk for dependence that the Department of Justice lists it as a Schedule II substance. This is the same classification held by oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl.

While the signs of addiction and misuse are often behavioral and apparent to you or your loved ones, dependence can be more insidious. You may not even recognize your physical need for Adderall until you first experience withdrawal. This occurs when you go without the substance, either by choice or because you are unable to obtain it.

Dependent individuals often experience overwhelming cravings for the drug and feel physically ill if they go without it. Like other stimulants, dependence suppresses appetite and alters your heartbeat. As you reduce or stop your use, you’re likely to experience intense hunger and cardiac changes.

If you’re dependent, you may devote excessive time to your use and think obsessively about obtaining Adderall. Your behavior is likely to change as you take excessive and uncharacteristic risks while harming relationships with family and friends.

Risks of Adderall Use

Beyond its effects on the brain and nervous system, long-term use of Adderall causes physical changes. The negative impact of the effects rises as your tolerance grows and you consume more of the stimulant.

Adderall use can lead to weight loss, poor nutrition, and significant digestive problems over time. Stimulants suppress appetite, compromising your ability to get the necessary calories and nutrients.

Its negative effects on heart rate and blood pressure can also cause circulatory problems that lead to numbness in the extremities, unusually cold limbs, skin discoloration, and phantom pain. Individuals who use Adderall are also at a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, coronary artery disease, and sudden death.

Withdrawal and Recovery

Once an individual is physically dependent on Adderall, they must go through detox and withdrawal as part of recovery. During withdrawal, the body must quickly adjust to the disappearance of Adderall from your system. The symptoms of withdrawal are physical and psychological.

In individuals without ADHD or who take too much Adderall, the drug rewires the reward messaging pathways in your brain by altering neurotransmitter levels. Once you’re dependent on Adderall, your brain relies on the drug to supplement the transmissions. Once you stop Adderall use, your dopamine levels drop precipitously, and your mood sinks.

Withdrawal is never the same for two people. You may experience only a few or most of Adderall’s withdrawal symptoms. The appearance of these signs when you reduce or abstain from Adderall signals dependence.

The primary symptoms you’ll experience during withdrawal are depression, irritability, and mood swings. The intensity of these feelings will vary based on your level of dependence and neurochemistry, but the emotions can be extreme.

Other individuals develop headaches, trouble focusing, or difficulty completing school or work tasks. People often report fogginess or feeling dazed. Withdrawal sometimes includes feelings of malaise, detachment, and lack of motivation.

Insomnia and trouble getting restful sleep are also common. This results in extreme fatigue and exacerbates many of the other psychological symptoms. Stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting are also possible. In some cases, individuals experience tremors and seizures. These are serious neurological symptoms, and you should seek immediate medical treatment.

Factors That Influence Withdrawal

The extent of your dependence is tied to how much Adderall is in your system. Higher doses and greater frequencies will be accompanied by more intense withdrawal symptoms. In addition, your consumption method will dictate the course of withdrawal. In general, snorting and injecting lead to longer withdrawal symptoms.

Adderall Withdrawal Timeline

Depending on your level of use, withdrawal symptoms usually present within one to two days. They continue for several days or up to a few weeks. The extent and longevity of your use, your overall health, and your genes will determine the course of your withdrawal.

The physical effects of Adderall withdrawal symptoms can mostly be handled without medical intervention. However, if you believe you’re experiencing withdrawal, you should reach out for help. Depression and emotional turmoil experienced as your body breaks its dependence on Adderall can lead to serious depression or suicidal thoughts.

There are currently no medications used to specifically handle stimulant withdrawal. Providers can prescribe sleep aids or antiemetic medications to manage the physical symptoms of withdrawal, depending on their intensities.

There are more defined treatment protocols for dealing with the psychological aspects of withdrawal. Anti-depressant medications are used to manage suicidal thoughts. Mood stabilizers and anti-anxiety medications can help manage the panic attacks, paranoia, and mood swings that often occur.

What Is the Course of Withdrawal?

Adderall begins leaving your system six to 12 hours after you stop using, depending on the formulation of the drug. Within the first day or two, this presents as an immediate and profound emotional crash as your dopamine levels must reorient to the absence of Adderall.

Over the next three to seven days, irritability, depression, fatigue, sleeplessness, and anxiety intensify. They usually plateau one week into withdrawal. In most cases, emotional symptoms start to lessen, but mood swings become more common and anxiety increased.

Adderall Detox

While often used synonymously, detox and withdrawal are distinct events. Detox is the purge of the substance from your body. Adderall is usually consumed in slow-release or extended-release tablets that are swallowed, smoked or injected. After your last dose, it can take up to 72 hours to fully rid your body of Adderall. Detox occurs at the very start of your recovery and leads to the physical and emotional effects of withdrawal.

In most cases, withdrawal symptoms fully subside within one month. Individuals with a history of prolonged use or high dosing may experience withdrawal for a longer period.

Planning for Detox and Withdrawal

Withdrawal from Adderall entails physical and emotional symptoms that occur when your system purges the stimulant and your body and mind readjust to its absence. A supervised detox process that incorporates a treatment program to handle your withdrawal symptoms and substance use disorder can maximize your ability to discontinue your substance use.

Providers offer various programs to suit an individual’s specific needs as they undergo withdrawal and move through their recovery.

Under a medical detox, you will likely enter an inpatient treatment facility and work with a physician and counselors. They may recommend weaning you off Adderall by tapering your dose to minimize the physical and emotional effects of withdrawal until you no longer use it. Doctors sometimes prescribe medication to ease physical side effects while you reduce your Adderall intake. Simultaneously, they will offer support to cope with the new emotions caused by Adderall’s absence in your system.

Providers also conduct outpatient detox services. They will offer support and coping strategies to help you deal with the emotional changes experienced during withdrawal, but you will reside at home. Doctors may prescribe mood stabilizers and anti-depressants. These help you navigate the emotional changes related to rebalancing dopamine levels and recalibrating neurotransmission.

Reach Out

Questioning your Adderall use or recognizing signs of withdrawal in a loved one often indicates that an individual may be experiencing dependence and addiction. Trained and skilled counselors are available to help you understand the nature of your use, to provide medical and psychological support through detox, and to work with you to begin developing a comprehensive recovery plan.

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Reviewed By:

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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