Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts) is a psychostimulant drug that is used primarily to treat ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) as well as narcolepsy. It is also used to treat conditions such as: chronic fatigue and in some cases is used as an antidepressant augmentation strategy. With this particular drug, there is high potential for dependency and thus it is quite often abused and used for off-label purposes – it is considered a “Schedule II” substance in the United States.
Many college students take Adderall as a “smart drug” to help them cram for a test and improve academic performance. Others take this drug recreationally for a boosted mood and to “get high.” Although many people have concerns about taking Adderall, it is one of the most studied and well documented drugs on the market. It has been in the pharmaceutical industry for a long time and generally is pretty well-tolerated.
There are no documented negative long term effects associated with this drug if used for its intended purpose. Despite the fact that many consider this drug a lifesaver for treating symptoms of ADHD, many people that take it end up eventually going through a withdrawal period. The withdrawal period can be difficult to cope with if you do not know what to expect. Most people experience a major “crash” which is accompanied by feelings of fatigue, concentration problems, and mood swings.
Factors that influence Adderall withdrawal include
There are various factors that influence a person’s withdrawal from Adderall. These include things like: how long the person took the drug, the frequency at which it was taken, the dosage, tolerance, and whether the individual withdrew “cold turkey” or via gradual taper. Individual physiology, social support, and environmental factors are also thought to play a role in expediting recovery.
1. Time Span
How long did you take Adderall? Was it over a period of a few months or have you been on the drug for years? Individuals that have been on it for years likely have a greater tolerance and dependence upon this drug for everyday functioning in comparison to people who have been on it for a month or two. In general, the longer you are on amphetamines, the more difficult the withdrawal is thought to be.
How often did you take Adderall? Was it on a daily basis? Was it a few times a day? Most people take a dose that is therapeutic, but some people abuse this drug and are on such a high dose, that they remain strung out and “high” all the time. People that abuse the drug and take it with greater frequency are going to have more difficulties coping without it.
3. Dosage (5 mg – 60 mg) + Subtype
Dosage: The dose of the drug can play a role in determining the severity of withdrawal symptoms. When you are on a higher dose, your brain is essentially using up more dopamine. Some would argue that consistently using the drug at higher doses could end up lowering dopamine levels in the long term so that they are below the “baseline” level at which you started the medication. Although this is up for debate, people that are taking high doses tend to have a tougher time stopping the drug – especially if they are using it for things other than treating ADHD. Most people take between 5 mg and 60 mg to treat their ADHD, but some find a dose higher than 60 mg to be effective.
Subtype: There are two types of Adderall that people take: IR (immediate release) and XR (extended release). The immediate release is effective for a short duration of time, while the extended release version works for a longer “extended” period of time. It is thought that if you are simply taking the IR on an “as-needed” basis, the withdrawal shouldn’t be as debilitating because there are intervals at which you do not take the drug. Someone who takes the XR version every day without major drug-free intervals may have a more difficult time coming off of Adderall.
It is pretty easy to build up a tolerance to the amphetamine class of drugs – Adderall is no different. For some people when they take the drug, they feel euphoric for the first few days or weeks, but this feeling fades. If you are using the drug for other than its primary intention – to treat ADHD, you may try to continuously increase the dose to chase the “high” that you enjoy.
Individuals that are simply treating their attention-deficit symptoms usually are able to stay at a particular dose without chasing a “high.” Although not everyone develops a tolerance to this drug, many people do – which is why they take “holidays” or stop taking the drug for a certain period of time to reset their tolerance.
5. Cold turkey vs. Tapering
Despite the fact that there are many people that quit Adderall at high doses “cold turkey” with no reported effects, there are others that really struggle. It is never recommended to quit “cold turkey” because there is really no need. If you suddenly stop taking Adderall from a high dose without gradually tapering off of the drug, you may experience extreme depression, paranoia, and schizophrenia-like symptoms.
There are also some major health risks associated with stopping “cold turkey” including: seizures, cardiac arrest, and psychosis. Take the time to work with a professional and conduct a gradual taper. By gradually “weaning” off of the drug, it is thought that you can minimize most of the withdrawal symptoms.
Believe it or not, there are individuals that have taken Adderall for their ADHD for years at a pretty high dose (every single day) and they experience zero withdrawal symptoms. There are others who experience such a crushing withdrawal that they have a difficult time quitting the drug. There are others who experience symptoms for a short duration, but eventually return to their normal state of functioning.
Your individual physiology will play a huge role in your ability to withdraw from this particular drug. Most people that have ADHD and non-addictive personalities tend to have a relatively easy time quitting Adderall. People that have addictive personalities and that take Adderall for its non-intended purposes are thought to have a more difficult time coping with the withdrawal symptoms.
Adderall Withdrawal Symptoms: List of Possibilities
Everyone’s experience regarding Adderall withdrawal is going to be different. Therefore it is impossible to say that you will experience all of the symptoms listed below. These are merely a collective of all the “common” symptoms that have been reported upon withdrawal. Keep these in mind as you go through with your withdrawal process.
- Anger: Many people experience extreme anger when they quit taking Adderall. This drug helps people keep their cool and maintain self-control by stimulating activity in the frontal lobes. When people quit the drug, they do not have the same level of self-control and are prone to bouts of anger.
- Anxiety: The anxiety that you experience when quitting Adderall may be pretty extreme. Some actually take Adderall for anxiety disorders because it can help treat them. A lot of people notice that they are extremely anxious and nervous for no reason when they come off of this drug. That’s because dopamine can play a role in helping regulate anxiety-responses in the brain.
- Appetite changes: Most people notice that when they quit Adderall, they have an increased appetite. You may become very hungry and start eating significantly more than you did on the drug. This is because amphetamines naturally curb our hunger – coming off of them may lead you to feeling very hungry.
- Can’t concentrate: All of a sudden you can’t concentrate and your ADHD is way worse than before you took the medication. This is because you took a drug which may have used up some of your dopamine stores. It may take awhile before your natural levels of concentration return to normal, but your dopamine will eventually restore itself.
- Cravings: Some people experience pretty intense cravings for Adderall within the first couple weeks of quitting. This drug is addictive to some people and the cravings can be tough to cope with – especially if you were taking Adderall for non-medical purposes. Know that these cravings will gradually diminish.
- Crying spells: There are cases of individuals that become so depressed that they start crying for no reason. If you experience crying spells because you feel so depressed, take a second to realize that it is mostly due to the fact that your brain is trying to restore homeostatic activity and replenish its neurotransmitters.
- Depression: One very common symptom that people experience when they quit Adderall is that of depression. The depression may be more extreme than you have ever experienced in your life. This is thought to be a result of having lowered levels of dopamine in the brain. Additionally some people become depressed because they no longer have the energy, quick-wit, and mental spark that Adderall provided. Certain individuals actually take Adderall for treatment-resistant depression because it works so well. It is natural to feel depressed when you stop this medication.
- Dizziness: A common withdrawal symptom is that of dizziness. You may feel dizzy when you first quit, but this usually goes away within a few days. If you are feeling especially dizzy, you may want to conduct a more gradual taper.
- Fatigue: Adderall gives most people plenty of energy to complete tasks and function at peak performance. When you take the drug away, many people become extremely fatigued and unable to get out of bed. This may seem similar to “chronic fatigue” but usually this subsides within a few weeks. Even if the fatigue lasts a few months, just know that you’ll eventually restore your natural energy levels.
- Foggy thinking: It is very normal to experience “foggy” thinking or “brain fog” when coming off of this medication. This is accompanied by feeling physically lazy and lethargic so it makes for a tough combo to deal with.
- Headaches: It is common for people to experience headaches when they quit this drug. Some people report migraines, but usually the headaches are relatively minor. If they are really bothersome, make sure you buy some headache relief.
- Irritability: Most people report feeling a little bit irritable and grumpy when they first quit. If you find yourself snapping or getting excessively antisocial, try to recognize that it’s part of withdrawal.
- Laziness: Most people report that they become lazy slugs when they first quit Adderall. This is because they are no longer receiving stimulation from the drug. Their body and brain is trying to get used to functioning without the drug. You may feel extremely lazy and little tasks around the house may seem like a huge deal.
- Mood swings: There is no telling what your mood may be when you quit this drug. One minute you may feel good about the way withdrawal is going, the next you may feel extremely depressed. The mood swings that you experience should die down after a few weeks.
- Nausea: Some people experience nausea to an extreme. They may end up vomiting as well if it becomes too powerful.
- Panic attacks: As was already mentioned, a person may experience debilitating anxiety for awhile when they quit this drug. This may lead to a person experiencing major panic attacks at uncontrollable times. In order to cope with any “panic” work on relaxing yourself naturally with deep breathing and plenty of exercise.
- Psychosis: There is evidence that abrupt discontinuation of amphetamines can yield psychotic symptoms. This is a result of dopamine receptors being abnormally stimulated. Amphetamine withdrawal psychosis will gradually subside, but may be difficult to deal with. Recognize that you are not crazy or becoming schizophrenic – it is a withdrawal sypmtom.
- Sleep changes: It is obvious that most people are going to sleep for longer periods of time when they first quit the drug. This is because they have no energy and desire to stay awake throughout the day. The body and brain are trying to reset themselves without energy and stimulation from the drug. Your sleep cycle may be thrown off for a period of time, but it will eventually normalize.
- Suicidal thoughts: Many people become suicidal when they stop Adderall. Although it is undocumented and unreported, the depression can become very difficult for certain individuals to deal with. Many people think that the depression that they are experience upon quitting is permanent – so they become suicidal. If you are suicidal, try to view your situation from the perspective that it is merely a withdrawal symptom – you will eventually feel better. If you are having a tough time coping, get yourself into a professional therapist.
- Tiredness: Many people have a difficult time coping with the extreme tiredness that they experience when first quitting Adderall. It may persist for days and you may feel like sleeping all the time. Do your best to push through this “tiredness” to stay productive, but also make sure you are getting plenty of sleep at night – sleep at proper times helps restore your brain.
- Vivid dreams: Many people report having “crazy” dreams and/or extremely vivid dreams. No you are not possessed by a demon, you are going through withdrawal.
- Weight gain: Some people pack on some weight after they quit Adderall. This is because their appetite comes back in full swing and their metabolism slows down to their natural baseline.
My Experience Taking Adderall
I was prescribed Adderall to help with slowed cognition. I took a computerized test and honestly tried my best to do as well as I could on the testing. My psychiatrist noted that certain aspects of the test were normal, while others appeared to be slower than average. In one area I was pretty significantly slower than I should be and therefore he discussed Adderall. I was prescribed this medication to help with the slowed cognition that I was experiencing as a result of depression.
I was instructed to take it daily for maximum benefit, but I have since found that taking it “as needed” works better for me. In my experience, I typically use the lowest dose that I can get away with for maximum benefit. In other words, I use a dose that gives me therapeutic benefit without taking any more than is necessary for me. I have found that lower (than recommended) doses actually are quite effective if you don’t have much of a tolerance.
I have noted that I experience what is commonly referred to as an “Adderall Crash.” I have highlighted what you may experience when you initially stop taking this medication as well as what you can do about it. Just know that the “crash” eventually goes away and the extreme fatigue and foggy thinking will go away.
How long does Adderall withdrawal last?
The amount of time that it takes you to withdraw from Adderall will vary depending on your situation. If you are taking the drug “as-needed” to help treat ADHD symptoms, you may not even notice a withdrawal. If you have built up a tolerance to the drug and are using it for purposes other than ADHD, you may experience a more debilitating withdrawal. At the end of the day, the withdrawal timeline will be different for everyone.
If you were taking a relatively high dose for an extended period of time, it is likely that you are going to experience some withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms may be intense for a few days or a few weeks, but may last a few months. Some individuals have reported that it took them nearly a full year to fully “recover” psychologically from Adderall withdrawal. A good rule of thumb to follow is a withdrawal period of 90 days.
Most people will be feeling better within the first 3 months of functioning without the drug. If you take the time to properly taper down your dose, the withdrawal should be even easier for you. In the meantime, your goal should be to manage life to the best of your ability and force yourself to engage in healthy activities to rebuild your dopamine stores. When you stop using Adderall, some hypothesize that your dopamine levels are lower than before you started the drug.
Even if your dopamine stores are “lower” like some hypothesize, it’s not anything to freak out over – you will recover in time. If you have had a crazy experience with Adderall withdrawal or would just like to share how coming off this drug felt for you, please do so in the comments section below. It is nice to get a variety of perspectives on how withdrawal felt, how long it lasted, and what works to help ease various withdrawal symptoms.
If you are starting your own withdrawal, try not to read too in-depth into other people’s experiences and just focus on what you can do to speed up recovery. Oh and if you are looking for some alternative treatment options, you may want to check out the article I wrote called “10 Best Adderall Alternatives.”