How Adderall Affects People That Don't Have ADHD

Adderall: Maybe you’ve heard it’s a performance enhancer for students, athletes or anyone else who has high expectations, tight deadlines or stiff competition in any arena.

Adderall is one out of many drugs that are used to treat ADHD. (Image: Adobe Stock/Antonio Diaz)

These days, it feels like it’s everywhere (even on TV). Probably because it’s easy to obtain and misuse. But if you’re thinking about taking Adderall without a prescription, you should be aware of the potential for serious consequences.

What Is Adderall?

Adderall is a stimulant, a type of drug that can enable you to stay alert, awake and focused on a task for longer periods of time. Like other stimulants, it is categorized as a Schedule II drug (one that provides positive medicinal effects, but has a large potential for abuse).

A combination of two drugs, amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, it’s prescribed to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a much rarer condition called narcolepsy (the inability to stay awake).

What Does Adderall Look Like?

Adderall is administered in the form of pills that may be white, blue or orange and round or oval in shape, depending on the dosage and manufacturer. Below is an image of the 7.5-milligram tablet of Adderall for reference.

How Long Does Adderall Stay in Your System?

Normally, Adderall is taken every four to six hours, but it has a half-life of about 11 hours. Generally, it clears the system entirely within three days.

This is what the 7.5-milligram tablet of Adderall looks like. (Image: Adobe Stock/fullcirclephotos)

What Does Adderall Do?

In ADHD patients, Adderall is used to increase concentration and to decrease impulsiveness by boosting the brain’s available supply of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. This increases brain activity in a way that’s likely to cause most people who don’t have ADHD to feel agitated or jittery.

Although it seems counterintuitive to give a stimulant to people with ADHD, it actually calms the hyperactive person and helps them to focus. And while the exact mechanism behind this isn’t well understood by researchers, they do know it works.

Children with ADHD in particular may seem to have a lot of energy, which is why they’re called “hyperactive.” But in both children and adults with ADHD, the power of concentration is severely compromised. Adderall helps correct that.

On the other hand, Adderall’s effect on someone with sleeping sickness is easier to understand. People with narcolepsy have a hard time getting through the day without nodding off. They can fall asleep at any moment with no warning, so Adderall helps them stay awake.

But What If You Don’t Have ADHD?

For people who don’t have ADHD, Adderall may not be the “smart drug” its street reputation makes it out to be.

According to a 2012 meta-analysis of research on Adderall in the journal Brain and Behavior, although some areas of cognitive function improved in adults without ADHD who were given Adderall, the improvement was limited to the area of simple memory functions. More complex memory tasks, such as those likely to appear on college tests, did not improve with Adderall.

On one hand, Adderall has been shown to be very effective for correcting measureable cognitive deficits such as in people with ADHD or other cognitive challenges. But there’s little proof that it improves mental function much if at all in people who don’t have these conditions.

In fact, according to the Brain and Behavior study, the smarter you are, the less likely Adderall is to improve your cognitive functions. A 2009 study from Molecular Psychiatry found that it may actually diminish performance in sleep-deprived students.

Adderall Side Effects

Side effects from Adderall can occur even if Adderall is prescribed and taken at proper dosage. However, the more you take, the more likely you are to manifest some of the more severe side effects, both physical and mental.

1. Physical Side Effects

Because it stimulates the nervous system, Adderall can have serious physical side effects. People who have high blood pressure or heart conditions should not use the drug unless it’s approved by their health care provider, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

When Adderall is taken by a person who doesn’t need it, the consequences can be dangerous or even fatal. According to a 2018 article published in Current Opinions in Psychiatry, side effects can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Jitteriness
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Palpitations
  • Seizures
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Cardiovascular failure
  • Dangerously high body temperature
  • High blood pressure
  • Erectile dysfunction

And it is important to note that the risk of heart-related episodes increases if mixed with alcohol.

2. Mental Side Effects

High doses of Adderall can also lead to some serious mental symptoms. These can include:

  • Feeling hostile
  • Paranoia
  • Personality changes
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Auditory or visual hallucinations

Because it’s a highly addictive drug when not used properly, those who abuse Adderall find they need consistently higher dosages of Adderall to get the same effect. Some start using other drugs, as well.

How Adderall affects you depends a lot on how much you take, but in general it’s a feeling of euphoria that keeps off-label Adderall users coming back for more. A little Adderall can perk you up and keep you awake, and more might evoke feelings of pleasure and elation that can lead to abuse and addiction, but long-term abuse can lead to psychosis, hallucinations and extreme anxiety.

Taking Adderall without an ADHD diagnosis can have serious consequences. (Image: PeopleImages/E+/GettyImages)

3. Adderall Withdrawal Symptoms

If Adderall has been used in low dosages as prescribed by a doctor, the patient can typically withdraw from it without serious withdrawal symptoms (under physician approval, of course).

However, people who abuse Adderall tend to use much higher dosages. In these cases, according to Merck Manual for Professionals, the withdrawal symptoms can be severe. These include:

  • Insomnia
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia

Signs of Adderall Abuse

If someone is abusing Adderall only occasionally there may be few signs. However, in addition to the symptoms and side effects listed above, signs of chronic abuse or addiction can include:

  • Going for days with little or no sleep
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Periods of manic activity followed by extreme fatigue
  • Temper flare-ups

Where to Get Help for Adderall Abuse

If you or someone you know is exhibiting any of the above signs or is struggling with Adderall addiction or abuse, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or find online resources on the website.

What Do YOU Think?

Have you heard of Adderall before? Have you ever been prescribed it? Did you notice any side effects? Do you know anyone who has ever taken it without a prescription or ADHD diagnosis? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

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