Adderall Withdrawal: An Overview Guide

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, usually just referred to as ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that was less than 50 years ago,  an actually controversial diagnosis.

But as it was more widely studied and researched, it became clear that ADHD was a real disorder affecting millions of people. In fact, in 2015, it was estimated that at least 51 million people were living with ADHD.

While Ritalin was among the first medications prescribed by doctors to treat the symptoms of ADHD, Adderall, the brand name for a combination of four different amphetamine salts, has all but replaced it as the drug of choice for counteracting the effects of ADHD.

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Adderall is also frequently used to treat narcolepsy, and, when taken as properly prescribed by those who require it, Adderall is an extremely beneficial medication. Unfortunately, as a Schedule II stimulant, it still carries a high risk of addiction and potential for abuse.

Many people without ADHD may abuse Adderall recreationally for its stimulant-associated effects of increased euphoria and energy, which also suppresses the side effects of alcohol and can lead to alcohol poisoning.

However, it is perhaps most widely misused by young adults and college students attempting to increase their academic performance. Non-prescription Adderall use is so prevalent on college campuses by college students taking dangerously high amounts of it to cram before an exam, or stay up all night to write a paper, is an expected situation without serious consequences.

This is not the case. Adderall addiction can cause dangerously rapid weight loss, hallucinations, seizures, and potentially-fatal heart problems. Therefore, an Adderall detox is essential to stop the damage caused by the drug before it becomes too late.

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What Are the Symptoms of Adderall Withdrawal?

Adderall works in essentially the same way that other stimulants used for ADHD, including Ritalin. It adjusts the levels and accessibility of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the central nervous system.

Dopamine is the chemical in charge of regulating what’s known as the brain’s “pleasure centers.” This means that it’s responsible for how we process both reward and motivation. Norepinephrine affects how the brain responds to events, particularly how it pays attention and the speed at which it reacts to outside stimuli.

Research has shown that people who have ADHD show very low levels of dopamine in their brains, which can greatly impair several key brain functions. It is the root cause of most of the symptoms of ADHD.

So when Adderall creates more dopamine and norepinephrine, the norepinephrine makes the user more alert and aware by speeding up brain activity.

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Dopamine provides a small amount of euphoria to create a greater sense of motivation and can make the brain pay more attention to task by literally perceiving it as more interesting than it would be without Adderall.

However, as with any substance that alters the amount of dopamine in the brain, if it is regularly abused, the brain will come to rely on the dopamine supplied by Adderall. It will stop making as much of it on its own. Therefore, it is unable to properly function without the continuous use of Adderall.

So when someone stops using Adderall and the flow of dopamine dries up, the good feelings go with it, causing what’s known as a “crash.” This can be especially intense if the person misusing Adderall does not have ADHD and is unused to dealing with low dopamine.

Because Adderall use is so tied up in the circuits that control and regulate feelings of happiness and pleasure, Adderall withdrawal symptoms are mostly psychological and mood-related and do not include many of the physical symptoms often associated with withdrawal, such as nausea, vomiting, fever or other flu-like symptoms.

Someone undergoing Adderall detox can expect to experience at least some of the following common withdrawal symptoms from Adderall:

  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Headaches
  • Adderall cravings
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Change in appetite (one of the side effects of Adderall is appetite suppression)
  • Tremors
  • Muscle pain
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Seizures

Even without the typical physical components of many drug or alcohol detoxes, the psychological symptoms from Adderall are intense and unpleasant enough on their own to make detoxing a difficult and uncomfortable process.

If someone has been abusing Adderall XR, the extended-release form of the drug, they can also expect to have to deal with these symptoms for a much longer span of time.

Can Adderall Withdrawal Kill You?

Adderall withdrawal itself is not a life-threatening process. In some cases, it can be handled on an outpatient basis if the addiction is not particularly severe or if an individual has not been abusing it very long.

On the other hand, if someone is suffering from a heavy dependence on Adderall, they are more likely to experience more intense Adderall withdrawal symptoms. These can become much more dangerous if someone is attempting an Adderall detox on their own. Seizures, in particular, can be life-threatening without the aid of a medical professional.

But even disregarding that, the psychological symptoms of Adderall withdrawal can also create situations where someone’s life can be in danger if they are unmonitored. The combination of depression, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts create a high risk of self-harm or attempted suicide.

Clearly, Adderall withdrawal symptoms are extremely unpleasant to deal with, to say the least. For someone doing an Adderall detox alone in their home, without the aid of medication-assisted treatment, they may become too much to bear, and lead to a relapse.

Relapsing mid-detox can kill you, as many people will overcompensate their dosage to get rid of the symptoms of Adderall withdrawal faster, and accidentally overdose, often with deadly consequences.

What Are the Stages on the Adderall Withdrawal Timeline?

There is an established Adderall withdrawal timeline that most people will experience. However, the actual length and severity of an Adderall detox will vary from person to person based on factors unique to a given individual.

These include:

  • How much Adderall someone was abusing
  • How long they were abusing Adderall
  • How they were taking it (in tablet form, crushed and snorted, injected, etc.)
  • If they were abusing Adderall at the same time as other drugs or alcohol
  • If they have a history of addiction
  • Co-occurring disorder or mental health issues are present
  • The state of their overall current health
  • If they are on a tapering schedule
  • If they try to stop using Adderall cold turkey
  • Whether they were abusing extended-release Adderall XR

A typical Adderall withdrawal timeline will generally look like this, with exception to the above.

  • 12 to 36 Hours: The effects of Adderall last about six hours. It has a fairly long half-life, so it can take at least 12 hours to start feeling any withdrawal symptoms. Usually, people will enter the “crash phase” within 24 hours of their last dose. Depression and fatigue are typically the first symptoms to appear.
  • Three to Five Days: After the three day-mark, symptoms will begin to intensify and reach their peak. Depression will get worse and be joined by severe insomnia, headaches, anxiety, and cravings. This is the phase of the withdrawal timeline when people are most vulnerable to relapse.
  • One to Two Weeks: After the first week, the worst of Adderall withdrawal symptoms will have begun to fade and disappear. The remaining ones will become easier to manage. Feelings of depression and mood swings will still be present.
  • Three Weeks and Beyond:  Many people still experience mild depression or cravings several weeks after they have stopped using Adderall. The majority of symptoms should be gone by now.

Note that if someone has been abusing Adderall XR, they will have a much more protracted withdrawal timeline. Adderall XR is meant to be taken once every 24 hours and can take as long as three to four days, after the last dose, for withdrawal symptoms to appear, and several weeks longer for the withdrawal period to end.

What Can Help with Adderall Withdrawal?

If you choose to detox at a professional medical detox center, then a doctor can prescribe different medications to help ease Adderall withdrawal symptoms and try to make the Adderall detox process as painless as possible. Common medications used specifically during Adderall detox treatment include:

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  • Antidepressants — frequently used to help minimize the symptoms of depression and curb any suicidal thoughts.
  • Anti-anxiety medication — also employed to reduce stress levels and lessen the risk of panic attacks.
  • Mild sedatives or sleep aids — to help induce sleep for those with symptoms of insomnia and exhaustion.
  • Anticonvulsant medications —  administered to help avoid the dangers of seizures during the initial crash phase of withdrawal. They have also been found to reduce the intensity of Adderall cravings successfully.

Cold-Turkey Detox from Adderall

If you decide to stop using Adderall cold-turkey, the first step you must take is to get friends or family involved. Getting your family on board and asking them to check you on regularly can help during this fragile period. They can help you prepare meals, which you will not have time to think of when you are depressed, fatigued, or anxious. If you need a reminder to eat, you can have a friend or family member remind you, and come by to eat with you.

Amphetamine detox requires excessive amounts of water to battle symptoms of fatigue. While amphetamine withdrawal does not cause dehydration, water can help against some of the physical symptoms. This is another reason you need a companion; to remind you to stay hydrated.

The physical aches and pains can be fought with a soothing bath, stretching, or relaxing on the couch with movies or books. You should ask friends or family to help with exercising. Make sure to go on walks,  take yoga classes, or participate in low-impact forms of exercise until your stamina is built up.

An inability to sleep may be one of the most challenging aspects of Adderall withdrawal. You may struggle with insomnia, sleep too much, or experience a variety of both throughout the week. You should set regular alarms and follow advice to overcome insomnia by following a regular sleep schedule. You must consider taking time off work or school to allow yourself to rest as needed.

You must reassure yourself that cravings are temporary. It will be in your best interest to distract yourself when they occur. Ask some people that you trust to be available and reassure you if the cravings for Adderall become too much. Mindfulness, online videos, and meditating can help you overcome a lot of the worst symptoms.

For some, overcoming severe Adderall withdrawal symptoms will prove to be too much. For that reason, any physician or addiction specialist is going to recommend that you enter into medical detox for Adderall withdrawal.

Why Should I Do a Medical Adderall Detox?

As previously mentioned, while Adderall detox can sometimes be done on an outpatient basis, it still requires at least some level of medical supervision and involvement. If the Adderall addiction is severe, then more drastic measures should be taken, since the symptoms become more dangerous and unpredictable.

That means undergoing Adderall detox through inpatient medical detoxification, which will help to avoid the dangers we outlined earlier instead of needlessly putting yourself at risk.

While cocaine detox is often done on an outpatient basis, because crack detox can be more intense and unpredictable, inpatient medical detoxification is more likely to be necessary, especially considering the possible dangers previously outlined.

Even without taking health risks and safety into consideration, it is very difficult to successfully detox from Adderall on your own, especially without the aid of medication-assisted treatment, and if you try to stop cold turkey.

Stopping Adderall use all at once after the brain has begun dependent on it heightens the intensity of the crash phase as the brain’s dopamine levels bottom-out, throwing the body into shock.

This is why detoxing at a medical detox center where you can be monitored around the clock by experienced staff is so important. It not only guarantees your safety by putting you in a controlled, supervised environment, but it also allows doctors to help minimize the effects of the symptoms from Adderall withdrawal as much as possible, preventing relapse and ensuring a successful detox.

What is the Next Treatment Step?

Ideally, the next step after a successful Adderall detox is to transition into a recovery treatment program. While detoxification flushes the drug from your system and helps put a stop to the damage it was causing; it doesn’t “cure” anything.

If your detox is not followed up by any aftercare treatment, whether it is inpatient or outpatient, then it only puts a bandage on the problem instead of solving it. A relapse back into using is bound to happen sooner than later.

Addiction rehabilitation treatment can help you understand and address the root of your issues and addictive behaviors so that you can develop the tools and skills needed to manage your addiction and maintain sobriety after graduating from your recovery program.

There are many different treatment options available to you. They include standard therapies like individual counseling, 12-step programs, and family recovery, as well as holistic options like music therapy, yoga, meditation, and more. What matters the most is taking that next step towards a positive, substance-free life.