When someone gets hooked on Adderall, they tend to inherit two states: one of unparalleled bliss and focus and the other of crippling anxiety and lethargy — as well as a multitude of other negative feelings. To become addicted to Adderall is to be ensconced in a euphoria that inevitably gets upended by a crash.
Adderall doesn’t carry the same stigma as other prescription drugs and stimulants because of its reported benefits. People who use it recreationally say it makes them more focused, productive, and successful — virtues that are typically celebrated in this society.
This is precisely the reason it is abused in competitive academic and work environments where productivity and success are rewarded.
A writer who chronicled her Adderall addiction in The New York Times Magazine described what it felt like to be under Adderall’s spell as a student at Brown University.
“The world fell away; it was only me, locked in a passionate embrace with the book I was reading and the thoughts I was having about it, which tumbled out of nowhere and built into what seemed an amazing pile of riches…Adderall wiped away the question of willpower. Now I could study all night, then run 10 miles, then breeze through that week’s New Yorker…”
But after years of use, the same writer reported what it felt like when the adverse effects of the drug set in:
“I had long been telling myself that by taking Adderall, I was exerting total control over my fallible self, but in truth, it was the opposite: The Adderall made my life unpredictable, blowing black storm systems over my horizon with no warning at all.”
When Adderall is taken outside of its intended purpose, the crash and comedown are often unavoidable. If you or a loved one is on the roller-coaster of Adderall abuse, read on to find out the best way to safely and comfortably quit the drug.
What is Adderall?
Adderall is a stimulant drug prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. However, people abuse it for a litany of “off-label” uses like enhanced athletic and cognitive performance. It is also abused recreationally as an aphrodisiac and euphoriant.
Adderall comes in a pill form and is composed of two types of amphetamine salts (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine). There is also an extended-release version of the medication.
The central nervous system (CNS) stimulant increases the availability of the norepinephrine and dopamine neurotransmitters, which ramps up brain activity. Essentially, this action makes people feel alert, powerful, and invincible. It can even compel feelings of impulsivity.
Who Abuses Adderall?
Adderall is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning it carries a high risk of addiction and abuse.
There is evidence that the drug is increasingly being abused increasingly by college-age users. A Johns Hopkins University study revealed that Adderall use rose by 67 percent between 2006 and 2011, and emergency room visits jumped 156 percent during that same period. The population most likely to abuse Adderall were people ages 18 to 25.
On college campuses, Adderall had long been regarded as a study drug. Young people flock to it to help with academic and professional activities such as writing assignments, job searches, and graduate school entrance exams.
But Adderall has also gained notoriety as a “party drug.”
“Adderall has become one of the mainstay drugs at many party events both on [college] campus[es] and off because it is cheap and easy to access,” an addiction specialist told Live Science.
What’s more, there appears to be an increase in Adderall use among adults. In the mid-2000s, for example, adults were the fastest-growing group of users. In 2012, about 16 million prescriptions were written for adults ages 20 to 39.
Signs Of Adderall Abuse
As with any other substance, the signs of Adderall abuse become apparent when users begin to consume Adderall in unintended ways. Though the medication is made to be swallowed, a user may crush up the pills and snort it or rub it into their gums.
When Adderall is taken in this fashion, users can feel the full impact of the drug because the active ingredient is entirely absorbed in once. Because Adderall produces extra dopamine activity, the brain responds by reducing its naturally produced levels of dopamine. When that occurs, a user will require larger amounts of Adderall to compensate for the diminished availability of the natural chemical. Usually, that means a user will need a larger amount of the drug to experience the sensations a smaller dose provided.
An Adderall dependency is established when the body needs the stimulant to feel normal.
Without it, the withdrawal symptoms can set in, leading to a crash.
The Adderall ‘Crash’
When Adderall isn’t enough, people will turn to more powerful stimulants like methamphetamine or cocaine.
However, once someone abuses any stimulant, they will move through particular phases that have the power to keep them locked into a pattern of abuse. Adderall users are no different. These are what those phases look like, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:
- Binge: When the user is actively engaged in taking the drug and experiencing its effect.
- Early crash: When the drug effects wear off, users develop anxiety, depression, and agitation along with intense cravings to reuse.
- Middle crash: This is when increased feelings of depression and fatigue set in. At this stage, a user will have a profound need for sleep accompanied by insomnia, which replaces drug craving. When the user does sleep, it can last for up to 36 hours.
- Late crash: After a long sleep, a user can awaken with desperate and intense feelings of hunger and thirst.
- Protracted withdrawal: Attempts to maintain sobriety are countered with feelings of fatigue, depression, and suicidal thoughts. This can stay in place for weeks, potentially triggering relapse, which starts the cycle of abuse again.
What Does an Adderall Comedown Feel Like?
After the “Adderall crash” comes the Adderall comedown, which is another way of describing Adderall withdrawal. This period occurs when Adderall’s effects begin to wear off. While Adderall does make you crash at some point, how long the crash lasts mostly depends on how long it takes for the drugs to wear off in your system. Other factors that affect how fast your body will clear Adderall include:
- Age, health, medical history, environment
- History of Adderall use
- How long you used Adderall (using it for a shorter time may mean a shorter withdrawal period)
- How much Adderall you used
- The way you used Adderall (was it smoked? Snorted? Taken orally? Injected?)
- If Adderall was used with other drugs, alcohol
- Co-occurring disorders (when a person has a substance use disorder and mental health disorder at the same time)
While no two people experience this phase the same way, common Adderall crash symptoms are:
- Strong Adderall cravings
- Intense headaches (sometimes called a “thunderclap headache” because it worsens quickly)
- Increased appetite or lack of appetite
- Feeling unable to enjoy pleasure (anhedonia)
- Feeling awake despite being mentally exhausted
- Muscle aches
- Sleep disturbances
- Rebound hunger
- Temporary worsening of ADHD symptoms
- Distorted thinking
- Delayed reactions
- Suicidal thoughts or ideations
- Lucid dreams
More About Those Adderall Headaches…
As noted above, an Adderall hangover can cause intense headaches that can rapidly worsen. If you or someone you know gets one of these headaches after stopping use of the drug, you should see a doctor as soon as you can, especially if you notice any of the following occur with or after the headache:
- A stiff neck, seizure, or other abnormal physical changes
- Numbness or weakness in the body
- Vision problems
- Mental and emotional changes (e.g., confusion, personality changes, loss of consciousness, psychosis)
If you exercised or experienced an injury right before a headache of this kind, you should see a physician, as well.
What to Do for an Adderall Hangover
Getting through a hangover of any kind can be challenging. If you are managing your Adderall crash on your own, the following tips may help:
Avoid stimulants. This includes caffeine and anything that speeds up your central nervous system. You need rest.
Get sufficient rest. Make your sleep environment comfortable so that you can rest without an issue. Make sure your sleep schedule includes the number of hours you need to feel rested. Getting sleep can help you cope with mood changes and other side effects of the Adderall comedown.
Take care to stay hydrated and eat healthily. Drink water and natural juices to help the body stay hydrated. Drinks with electrolytes help the body maintain a healthy balance as well. Healthy foods that contain vegetables, fruits, nutrients, vitamins, protein, and other beneficial things can help you get through the Adderall crash.
Maintain low-to-no stress levels. Stay relaxed and do not overexert yourself. Your body needs time to repair itself and regain its balance, so taking time to do mindfulness exercises, listen to music, or another relaxing activity can help you reduce stress and movement.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any medications for stimulant withdrawal. This means you’ll likely have to ride out this uncomfortable wave until it passes. However, if you feel like seeing a physician who can confirm your health status, that can give you peace of mind and confirm what you need to know.
A doctor can prescribe a sedative or tranquilizer that may help you relax if you find you can’t get to sleep or relax comfortably. If you are prescribed medication after an Adderall hangover, be honest with your doctor about your substance use history and express concerns you have about the medication, if any.
Reversing the Crash
Professional treatment can help put a stop to the continuous cycle of Adderall crash and come down. In professional treatment, you can undergo a medically supervised detox where you can be safely weaned off the substance, and your withdrawal symptoms can be alleviated safely and comfortably.
They can also receive the therapy and counseling necessary to help them get to the root of their addiction. Depending on the severity of their addiction, they can enroll in a residential or outpatient program that will provide ongoing therapy and access to an array of services. There are also available alumni and aftercare programs that can provide ongoing support after treatment.
While this process can take months to complete, it can yield the lifelong reward of health and sobriety.