By: Zinnia Healing Editorial Staff | Edited By: Rebecca Hill
Adderall Withdrawal Symptoms, Timeline & Detox Treatment Options
Adderall is a common medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. It is the brand name composed of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, representing a combination drug that contains four salts of amphetamine.
Misuse among those without ADHD is becoming increasingly more common. Increasing rates are particularly high among students and athletes. What begins as a means of enhancing focus and performance can quickly spiral into misuse, addiction, and Adderall withdrawal.
Being a potent stimulant, Adderall has a high risk of addiction and abuse, and the consequences of misuse can be severe. Based on its potential for abuse, Adderall is a Schedule II drug. The class of drugs indicates a high potential for abuse, leading to severe psychological and physical dependence. Other drugs in this substance schedule include fentanyl, morphine, and codeine.
The high risk of abuse is concerning, as the effects of prolonged stimulant treatment in adults have not been fully explored — even though the number of prescriptions for amphetamines has increased seven-fold over the past decade.
What Are the Symptoms of Adderall Withdrawal?
There are several reasons why someone starts misusing stimulants, including Adderall. For example, users may seek feelings of euphoria and want to better cope with a stressful situation. Others take their medication as prescribed but develop a physical dependence following extended use.
- Mood swings
- Changes in appetite
- Poor concentration
- Lack of motivation
- Muscle aches
- Stomach pain
The majority of Adderall withdrawal symptoms are what’s known as “acute withdrawal” symptoms and subside in a week or two. However, post-acute withdrawal syndrome may also develop in some users. Although this syndrome is not well understood, it may reflect lasting brain changes. This syndrome can create symptoms that include ongoing anxiety, persistent fatigue, poor concentration, cravings, changes in mood, and sleep difficulties.
Although Adderall withdrawal symptoms can act as a barrier to treatment, it’s essential to recognize the dangers of stimulants when misused. Data shows that while the number of Adderall prescriptions has remained unchanged, misuse and emergency room visits related to this drug have sharply increased among young adults.
While studying adults over a six-year period, it was found that treatment visits for Adderall remained unchanged. However, non-medical use (taking the drug without a prescription) rose 67%, and emergency visits increased by 156%. The most significant source of non-medical use is family or friends, two-thirds of which have a prescription themselves.
How you use Adderall also matters. For example, many individuals who abuse this drug will crush tablets to snort or inject them. These methods of administration are dangerous and can cause sudden death. Depending on your health history, high doses of Adderall can lead to heart failure and seizures. You can also experience negative effects when taking Adderall long-term, including a higher risk of heart problems, paranoia, and intense anger.
Complications increase when you mix Adderall with other substances. For example, Adderall and alcohol is a dangerous combination. Based on the effects of Adderall, you may end up consuming more alcohol than you would otherwise (the stimulant can mask the sedative effects of alcohol). If you do this often and develop a physical dependence on alcohol, the Adderall withdrawal period will become much more complicated and severe.
Although many adults use amphetamines as prescribed, adverse events can develop, including stimulant-induced psychosis and neurotoxicity. For example, one case study found that when an individual without a family history of psychiatric disorders took 10 mg of Adderall daily for five weeks, psychotic symptoms developed.
There has also been a surge in illicit use since the 1990s. A steep increase in ADHD led to a parallel rise in societal exposure to legally distributed amphetamine.
What Causes Adderall Withdrawal?
When taking Adderall for prolonged periods, this drug can alter the brain’s chemical makeup, leading to dependence. Researchers continue to study the relationship between ADHD and substance use disorder to treat individuals accordingly. There are risks associated with using abusable medications in a vulnerable population.
Whether you have been taking it with or without a prescription, Adderall has a significant impact on brain chemicals, including dopamine and norepinephrine. When you take Adderall, it boosts the effects of these chemicals. Adderall not only increases levels of these chemicals but it also blocks reuptake.
When prescribed by a doctor, doses increase slowly to find the dose that works best for the patient. However, when users take Adderall in ways other than prescribed, like injecting or snorting, levels of dopamine surge. This increase in dopamine levels can produce a high and increase your risk of addiction because you’re overstimulating the “reward circuit” of your brain, reinforcing drug use.
Researchers continue to study the long-term effects of drug use, as changes in the brain may become long-lasting. When you continue to take an abusive drug, over time, select brain regions begin to change. This rewiring of the brain can last long after you stop taking Adderall and other drugs of abuse. Depending on the circumstances, these changes may remain for months or even years. These brain changes can lead to relapse, which is why ongoing support is so crucial.
When your body and brain are used to getting it yet you discontinue use, Adderall withdrawal symptoms will likely surface. These symptoms are in response to physical dependence. However, psychological dependence can also develop.
How Long Does Adderall Withdrawal Take?
There are several variables to consider regarding the Adderall withdrawal period, including your genes, your health history, mental health, and family history of addiction. This means that the duration of Adderall withdrawal differs from one person to the next.
Some individuals may stop experiencing Adderall withdrawal symptoms within a matter of days, whereas it may take you weeks to overcome the withdrawal period. In the case of post-acute withdrawal syndrome, psychological symptoms can persist for months — even years.
The initial onset of Adderall withdrawal symptoms will depend on which type of Adderall you have been taking, instant or extended-release. Since instant Adderall begins working immediately, it wears off fairly quickly compared to the extended-release version, which can build up in the body. If you have been taking instant Adderall, you’ll feel the effects sooner, whereas you’ll experience the effects of extended Adderall for longer.
When taking instant-release tablets, their duration of action is 4 to 6 hours, whereas the extended-release is 8 to 12 hours. Half-life elimination varies depending on the age group, but in adults, it is between 10-13 hours.
The first phase is known as the initial “crash” — which most often resolves in approximately one week. During this time, you’ll likely eat more, sleep more, experience cravings, and feel irritable. Psychotic symptoms may develop within the first week or two, especially if they were present during times of use.
Here is a rough timeline:
- The first 6-24 hours after your last dose is when the first signs typically surface. You may experience feelings of fatigue and depression.
- During days 3-5, your symptoms will intensify, resulting in increased feelings of irritability, depression, and fatigue. This period is when symptoms generally peak. Headaches and nightmares may also develop, and poor sleep tends to play a significant role at this time.
- By day five, Adderall withdrawal symptoms can start to fade. However, many people are still moody and irritable.
- For some, withdrawal symptoms continue into weeks three and four, particularly those who have been using Adderall for more than a year.
This timeline differs for each person, which is why it’s so important to seek individualized treatment, especially if you are concerned about an underlying mental health condition. It’s also critical to understand that just because your body has physically eliminated Adderall doesn’t mean that psychological symptoms will not persist. For example, intense cravings can lead to relapse, which is why you should detox in a supportive, controlled environment.
How to Safely Manage Adderall Detox
Since most Adderall withdrawal symptoms resolve within a week, treatment should be started as soon as possible following your last dose. There aren’t any medications effective in alleviating Adderall withdrawal symptoms. However, some medications can help with select symptoms. For example, antidepressants or short-term use of benzodiazepines may be prescribed in select cases. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
A tapering plan will likely be an appropriate approach, helping users lower their weekly dose without experiencing severe Adderall withdrawal symptoms. In most cases, Adderall withdrawal is not life-threatening. However, if you have been combining Adderall with alcohol or benzodiazepines, then the detoxification period can be dangerous.
The greatest complication of Adderall withdrawal is often extreme psychological dependence. The FDA-required labeling warns that during Adderall withdrawal, users can experience severe cravings, anxiety, and depression. Depending on your mental health, these symptoms can lead to violent or self-harm actions. In these cases, professional, clinical support is needed to ensure a safe and comfortable withdrawal process.
Psychosocial and behavioral treatments are highly recommended during this time. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy can help modify your drug-use expectations and behaviors. This form of therapy can also help you effectively manage triggers and stress.
To address PAWS, it’s important to develop realistic expectations towards treatment and continue seeking support. The road to recovery is a process that requires time and effort. When you have ongoing support, this process can become much more manageable, especially when celebrating each accomplishment, no matter how minor.
When you partner with a professional treatment facility that understands the importance of holistic treatment, you will be able to address your personal triggers and any underlying symptoms that affect your well-being and overall quality of life. The top substance abuse and mental health facilities will offer evidence-based treatment programs that include a range of therapy options, helping you develop a tailored treatment plan that increases your chances of long-term success.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
There is no shame in admitting that you have an issue with Adderall — it is quite the opposite. Abusing Adderall at high doses or for extended periods can lead to physical dependence and changes in the brain that reinforce habits that are hard to control. Psychological dependence may create even more challenges for you.
The consequences of avoiding treatment because of Adderall withdrawal symptoms can be severe. The long-term effects can lead to significant health and lifestyle problems, ranging from kidney issues to panic attacks, psychosis to relationship problems.
Step one is Adderall withdrawal. Once your body is rid of this drug, you can then focus on healing. This journey will be highly individualized, often involving individual counseling and group therapy. The goal is to pinpoint your personal needs based on your history of drug use and mental health.
When you contact a professional facility, they will begin this process with an assessment. A credible facility will understand that treatment is not a one-size-fits-all approach. What works for you will not be the best option for someone else. In some cases, new developments may unfold throughout your treatment plan, helping you build the skills and knowledge you need to ensure long-term success. For example, you may have always experienced feelings of anxiety yet were never diagnosed or given the proper tools to cope effectively.
There are so many opportunities to come out of treatment — all of which support a healthy, happy future.