Last updated: September 20, 2021
Physicians began prescribing Adderall as a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in 1996 after it gained approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It increases a person’s ability to concentrate by controlling the release of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. At the same time, it reduces hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
It works differently than other common ADHD medications, such as Ritalin, because they are methylphenidate drugs. Adderall is an amphetamine-based drug.
Adderall successfully treats ADHD and sometimes physicians use it to treat narcolepsy as well.
How it works
To create it, manufacturers use four different amphetamine salts:
- Dextroamphetamine saccharate
- Dextroamphetamine sulfate
- Amphetamine aspartate
- Amphetamine sulfate
Experts admit they aren’t exactly sure how Adderall works when used to treat ADHD, but the combination of the four drugs blocks the reuptake of the neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine. This allows an increase in concentration in the neuronal synapse which is the open space between two nerves.
The FDA approved using Adderall to treat children as young as age three.
Physicians prescribe the drug in either immediate-release or extended-release doses. The extended-release form, Adderall XR, lasts between ten and twelve hours while the immediate-release form of the drug only lasts about four hours.
Available in capsules for swallowing, when administering the medication to young children, the capsules can be taken apart and the contents sprinkled on food. We’ll note here that applesauce is a popular choice for parents who use this method.
Adderall dosage recommendations
Taken with or without food, it’s best to take Adderall in the morning. If a second dose is required, don’t take it late in the evening to help reduce the risk of insomnia.
There are seven dosages available for immediate release tablets. They are:
- 5 mg
- 7.5 mg
- 10 mg
- 12.5 mg
- 15 mg
- 20 mg
- 30 mg
Adderall immediate-release tablets are typically taken two or three times a day. It’s okay to crush the medication so you can add it to a drink or place it in food to administer to small children.
Patients aged 6 and older typically begin taking 5 mg of the drug once or twice a day. Physicians can adjust the dose by 5 mg each week until it starts to work. They would rarely prescribe more than 40 mg a day.
Children between the ages of three and five who begin taking Adderall immediate-release tablets usually begin at 2.5 mg and the dose can be raised gradually each week if needed.
The extended-release capsule, Adderall XR, is available in all the above dosages with the exception of 12.5 mg.
Adderall XR is the medication used for most children taking the drug for ADHD. It works with the child’s individual metabolism and they may not need a 2nd dose of the drug during the day at all. Others take a “booster” dose of the short-acting version later in the day to maintain an even keel.
Children 6 to 12 years old typically start on 5 mg or 10 mg once a day. Your physician will increase the dose, if necessary, by 5 to 10 mg each week until it starts working.
Children 13 to 17 years of age typically start at 10 mg once a day, but after the first week, it may be increased to 20 mg.
Adults who are 18 and older start at 20 mg once a day. This dose will be increased in weekly increments until it begins to work.
When prescribed for narcolepsy
Adderall isn’t recommended to treat narcolepsy in children under the age of six.
Children between six and eleven years old start on a dose of 5 mg a day. It may be increased by 5 mg each week until the desired effect is achieved.
Twelve to seventeen-year-olds begin taking 10 mg once a day which is adjusted if necessary over the next few weeks by increasing the dose by 10 mg each week.
Adults aged 18 and older begin a 10 mg a day dose which is adjusted by 10 mg each week until achieving the desired effect.
In either case, never attempt to increase the dosage on your own. Always seek the advice of your physician!
Adderall side effects
Amphetamines are well-kn0wn for causing the user to become agitated or anxious as the effects of the drug begin to wear off.
Moreover, when the patient stops taking the drug completely, physicians may likely suggest weaning them off because users can experience an Adderall “crash” that can include physical withdrawal symptoms that can last anywhere from five days to four weeks!
They may include any or all of the following:
- High blood pressure
- Fast heart rate
- Weight loss
- Panic attacks
- Blurred vision
- Suicidal thoughts
- Worsening depression
Other possible side effects
As with other stimulant drugs, the most common side effects are a lack of appetite and trouble falling asleep at night. Some patients report stomach pain and nausea, but these side effects are less common and seem to be more pronounced in small children and if the medication is taken on an empty stomach.
Other side effects can include:
- Weight loss
Lastly, when someone is using Adderall illicitly to get high, the possibility of overdosing on the drug increases. That’s because users build up a tolerance to the drug and must take increasingly higher doses to obtain the level of Adderall in their system that allows them to achieve the desired effect.
Because it’s a stimulant, high school and college students have claimed Adderall as a “study drug.” They feel extremely alert and energetic when under the influence and assume it will help them focus.
Many take the drug thinking that it’s not any more dangerous than taking a large dose of caffeine.
They often get it from friends or family members who have Adderall prescriptions. While the majority of students likely ingest Adderall normally, some crush the pills for snorting or injecting intravenously to achieve the ultimate high.
The federal government classified Adderall as a Schedule 2 drug. That means that the potential for abuse is high.
When someone is misusing Adderall, they risk forming an addiction to the drug. This is because the brain forms a tolerance to it and becomes dependent on it fairly quickly.
That means the brain accepts the chemical change that’s occurring as being “normal.” When it doesn’t receive a dosage, it alerts the body that something isn’t feeling right and intense cravings ensue.
Other signs of addiction include:
- Can’t stop taking the drug even if it’s adversely affecting relationships, job, or financial situation
- Take risks to acquire the drug
- Feel agitated, anxious, or paranoid
- Lack of appetite
- Irregular heartbeat
Adderall is even more dangerous when taken with other drugs in the system. It’s important to discuss any medications or herbal supplements that you or your child currently take with your physician before beginning this medication.
Those types of drugs include:
- Pain medications
- Antiseizure medications
- Blood thinners
- Blood pressure medicine
It’s important to note, also, that you should never drink alcohol when taking this medication.
That’s because Adderall masks the effect and people drink more thinking the alcohol isn’t affecting them. This can result in alcohol poisoning. It can also cause stress on the cardiovascular system which leads to high blood pressure and, possibly, cardiovascular problems, such as heart attack.
Should anyone not take Adderall?
Adderall isn’t right for everyone. If you—or your child—experience certain health conditions, don’t take this drug.
- If agitated, tense, or overly anxious
- Someone taking a monoamine oxidase inhibitor or MAOI, a type of antidepressant, either currently or within the last 14 days
- Abusers of prescription drugs, street drugs, or alcohol
- Is allergic to Adderall or other stimulants
- Someone with glaucoma, an eye problem often caused by high eye pressure which will result in nerve damage
- If you have hardening of the arteries or any type of heart disease
- Suffer from hyperthyroidism
- Experience problems with high blood pressure
Does Adderall show up on a drug test?
The three most common types of employee drug testing methods identify Adderall in the system when they’re equipped with an amphetamine test panel.
- Urine drug tests identify Adderall for about three days after using the drug.
- Hair follicle drug tests identify all drug use for a period of ninety days.
- Mouth swab drug tests identify Adderall within minutes of use up to about 48 hours after taking the drug.
Most, if not all, manufacturers include amphetamine on their “standard” tests. However, it’s important to note that they aren’t all held to a specific list of drugs to create their “standard” tests.
If you’re just beginning a drug-free program, make sure that the drug test you choose includes amphetamines if you want to identify stimulant abuse.
Why do detection times vary?
One reason that drugs are identified for varying lengths of time within the system depends on the amount taken and the length of time between last taking the drug and submitting to a drug test.
In addition, the following factors play a part in how long Adderall is identified by a drug test, as well:
- How someone consumes the drug
- Whether Adderall was extended-release or immediate release
- Body mass, weight, age, and overall health
- Individual metabolism
Used as directed
When used as directed, Adderall successfully treats ADHD in children and adults. Physicians adjust the dosage weekly by 5 or 10 mg each week until the desired effect is achieved.
Users who abuse Adderall risk forming an addiction because the brain forms a dependency on it when taking higher than normal doses. Increased dosage also puts the user at risk of overdosing.