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Adderall Withdrawal & Detox

Medically Reviewed By: Benjamin Caleb Williams RN, BA, CEN

Written By: Phillippe Greenough

Article Updated: 10/07/2020

Number of References: 11 Sources

There is a common misconception that because a drug is prescribed by a doctor, it must be safe and there is no risk. This is simply not the case. Adderall is an amphetamine drug and can be very addictive, even when taken as prescribed. The withdrawal symptoms, while primarily psychological, can nevertheless be extremely uncomfortable and long-lasting. In addition, chronic Adderall use can create or amplify a variety of psychological disorders that become apparent during Adderall withdrawal. In this guide, we will take an in-depth look at the symptoms of Adderall withdrawal, how these are produced in the brain, and the average timeline for withdrawal. Finally, we will look at the specific effects that Adderall withdrawal produces in a variety of neurological processes and the risks this presents. Find an Adderall detox center near you.

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Symptoms of Adderall Withdrawal

Withdrawal from Adderall is similar to methamphetamine withdrawal, although it is much less intense. The symptoms of Adderall withdrawal are mostly psychological in nature and there is no clear “acute” withdrawal phase. That being said, Adderall withdrawal can be a miserable experience and is characterized by negative mental states and overall depression of mood, outlook, and subsequent behavior. If someone is expecting to undergo Adderall withdrawal, they are highly encouraged to look into entering an Adderall detox center.

To get a better understanding of Adderall withdrawal, it will be useful to know some of the specifics of Adderall addiction. Adderall works by affecting the function of 3 major neurotransmitters in the brain. The greatest effect by far is on the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is a major excitatory neurotransmitter that helps to amplify and strengthen nerve signals in the brain. Serotonin and norepinephrine are also affected, but to a lesser degree than dopamine. Serotonin is a mood enhancer and mood-regulating neurotransmitter while norepinephrine is both a hormone and neurotransmitter which regulates adrenaline function.

Adderall increases levels of all of these neurotransmitters, but to different degrees and through slightly different means. Dopamine receives the greatest boost, both through increased production as well as reuptake inhibition. Reuptake is the brain’s recycling process that sweeps up neurotransmitters after they have been used while also removing them from the synaptic cleft. Reuptake inhibition reduces these recycling and clearing processes which lead to greatly increased levels and an increased duration of stimulation. Serotonin and norepinephrine also undergo reuptake inhibition, but may not have production levels increased to the degree that dopamine experiences.

The surge of dopamine produced through Adderall use is directly responsible for the euphoria and pleasure and is partially for the increased energy. Increased levels of serotonin result in mood elevation and can boost the subjective pleasure felt from the flood of dopamine. Norepinephrine is most responsible for the physical stimulation including increased heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels since it also acts as a hormone in the blood. When these 3 neurotransmitters are released in the levels and manner produced through Adderall use, someone is likely to feel very good, upbeat, full of energy, and extremely confident and capable.

The symptoms of Adderall withdrawal are the exact opposite of the “high” that Adderall produces. Due to chronic stimulation of these neurotransmitters, the brain will alter it’s responses to them through a process called downregulation. This is an attempt to maintain balance which can be disrupted through continuously heightened levels of these neurotransmitters. The immediate result is that tolerance begins to build, as higher levels of these neurotransmitters are needed to produce the same result. After a time dependence develops, where the brain will begin to be unbalanced when someone has not used Adderall. This will amplify through continuous use and the withdrawal symptoms will worsen over time.

While Adderall does not produce a classic “acute” withdrawal syndrome, the experience is certainly more intense in the time immediately after someone ceases Adderall use. This is due to the severe downregulation which has occurred which was balanced out by repeatedly using Adderall. Once Adderall use has ceased, there can be an extreme deficit of necessary neurotransmitters, and this results in a plummeting mood, energy level, outlook, and ability to concentrate.

Some of the most commonly experienced symptoms of Adderall withdrawal include:

  • Intense Cravings for Adderall
  • Deep Depression or Dysphoria (with or without suicidal thoughts)
  • Increased Anxiety and Irritability
  • Sleep Disturbances (usually hypersomnia followed by insomnia)
  • Fatigue and Lethargy
  • Increased Appetite
  • Slow or Clouded Thinking
  • Psychosis (this is rare but possible)
  • Anhedonia (an inability to experience pleasure)

While Adderall withdrawal may not exhibit a typical acute withdrawal phase, there is certainly a crash that occurs immediately after use has ceased. This is quite short-lived , commonly lasting several days, but is very intense. Someone will go from the Adderall high to the opposite end of the subjective spectrum in a fairly short time. This can cause someone to go from feeling extremely energetic, confident, excited, and motivated to a state of feeling intensely drained, confused, anxious or restless, and depressed in just a few hours.

These symptoms will begin in a very intense fashion through the Adderall crash and gradually reduce with time. The fact that Adderall withdrawal maintains similar symptoms throughout, albeit of varying intensity, is why it is considered to lack a classical acute/post-acute distinction. Some symptoms may resolve quicker than others, but there is no clear delineation between distinct phases. The intensity of withdrawal symptoms as well as withdrawal duration can vary quite a bit between people as we will examine further.

Adderall Withdrawal Timeline

The timeline for Adderall withdrawal is usually extended over several months, although the symptoms will gradually reduce over time. This experience may last between a few weeks or several months depending on the person. While the early days will be the most intense, these symptoms usually reach manageable, but still unpleasant, levels around 1 to 2 weeks after ceasing Adderall use. There are certain variables that can affect this timeline, but we will take a look at a common and general timeline for illustration.

First Week

Adderall withdrawal symptoms will typically begin a day or two after someone last used the drug. The first symptoms to appear are often a decrease in energy and a decline in mood. This will be severe in the first day or two, leaving someone completely drained emotionally, mentally, and physically. The first two or three days are usually characterized by excessive sleep and exhaustion and a large increase in appetite. Depression, anxiety, and cravings will appear and escalate quickly in the first few days of withdrawal as well. Around the middle of the first week, hypersomnia may transform into insomnia, with someone being exhausted but still unable to sleep. Thinking may become increasingly slow, disorganized, and clouded throughout the first week.

Second Week

The second week typically shows some marked improvement in the severity of symptoms, although all are frequently still present. Insomnia may be reduced, but still present and appetite may be closer to normal, but still somewhat enhanced. Cravings for Adderall and depression will still be present, but anxiety may reduce slightly. Anxiety is most commonly associated with social anxieties during amphetamine withdrawal, and this may become more apparent around the second week as overall anxiety may become more directed towards social anxiety. Energy and motivation will still be very low throughout the second week of Adderall withdrawal.

Third Week

The third week of Adderall withdrawal may show some progress in the severity of the symptoms. Insomnia will typically resolve around the third week and appetite may return to normal as well. Cravings will still be present, but depression may decrease somewhat. If someone was having suicidal thoughts, these might decrease to the point of “simply” depression or dysphoria. While this is still an uncomfortable time, it may be the first time someone sees light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. Thinking may begin to clear up and fatigue or lethargy may begin to lift as well.

Fourth Week and Onwards

The fourth week may be marked by substantial progress in withdrawal symptom resolution. While most of these symptoms may still be present, they are often greatly reduced from the levels during the first week. Insomnia and appetite should be close to normal by now and anxiety may have made great progress. Cravings and depression will probably linger for several weeks or possibly even months but will gradually improve as time passes. There have been cases of cognitive issues such as slow or disorganized thinking persisting for up to a year, but this is rare. Fatigue and lethargy will certainly be improved, but may still be present for a few weeks in some capacity.

The Importance Of Adderall Detox

The Adderall withdrawal symptoms are very unpleasant and require medical help if someone is to comfortably make it through the withdrawal and detox process. Adderall detox centers can offer medical supervision, medications, and therapeutic techniques that have proven most effective at treating this condition and helping someone into the journey of recovery. Entering one of these detoxes can greatly increase the chances of making it through Adderall withdrawal and begin to build a life after Adderall addiction.

Adderall Detox Centers

Physical Effects of Adderall Withdrawal

Psychostimulant drugs such as Adderall do not cause physical withdrawal symptoms. Some of the psychological symptoms may exhibit behavioral symptoms, but these are mostly psychological in nature. These include sleep disturbances and fatigue or very low energy levels. Even though they may be outwardly observable, they are not technically physical symptoms.

Psychological Effects of Adderall Withdrawal

The psychological impact of Adderall withdrawal can be severe and intense. These symptoms have a rapid onset and can often last for weeks or months. The time period with the highest risk of Adderall relapse is the first four weeks of withdrawal, so this gives some idea of the intensity of these symptoms during the first month. Someone may feel that the only way they can get relief from the symptoms and feel ok again is to use more Adderall. Medications are available and effective for reducing these symptoms and to help smooth the transition through Adderall withdrawal.

-Psychosis

While this particular symptom is exceedingly rare, it is also extremely dangerous. The most common type of Adderall induced psychosis exhibits visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations combined with paranoid delusions. This is related to dopamine surges in certain brain areas such as the striatum and nucleus accumbens, but the exact cause is unclear. These symptoms can vary in intensity and duration between people but the vast majority resolve within a day or two of ceasing Adderall use. There have been documented cases of psychosis which persisted unusually long periods; 6 days in two cases and 26 days in one case. Again, this is a rare symptom but it does occur. All things aside, someone’s risk for experiencing a psychotic episode is increased during Adderall withdrawal. Medications may be used to reduce and manage this particular symptom of Adderall withdrawal.

-Cravings For Adderall

The intense floods of neurotransmitters produced through Adderall addiction can cause profound imbalances in the brain. The imbalances can be normalized, but this is a very slow process. The extreme fatigue and depression resulting from Adderall withdrawal can make someone desperate to feel normal again. The strong reinforcement effect that dopamine surges produce will associate any positive feelings with Adderall use. During withdrawal, someone will unconsciously associate Adderall use with feeling normal, thus they will crave Adderall. There are medications that may reduce these cravings, but it will take time for them to resolve naturally.

-Depression

Similar to cravings, depression is extremely common during withdrawal from Adderall. Depressive symptoms also arise from some of the same neurotransmitter imbalances that produce cravings. Depression is commonly more severe than cravings since dopamine imbalances also contribute to the severity and duration of depression. This can be one of the longest-lived symptoms of Adderall withdrawal, often persisting for many months. It will decrease in intensity over time and medications may also be used to reduce the intensity.

What Factors Influence The Intensity of Adderall Withdrawal?

The symptoms of Adderall withdrawal can vary both in intensity and duration between individuals. Some of these factors are predetermined at birth, but others are influenced by the choices someone makes and technically within the control of an Adderall addict. The term “technically” is used to point out that active addiction often disrupts someone’s ability to choose whether or not to use a drug. That being said, factors of choice and circumstance both contribute to the experience of Adderall withdrawal.

Some of the factors which heavily contribute to the intensity and duration of withdrawal from Adderall include:

  • A genetic predisposition for addiction
  • The length of time someone used Adderall
  • The amounts of Adderall someone used
  • Number of times someone underwent Adderall withdrawal
  • Co-occurring mental health issues

There is certainly a genetic component to addiction as evidenced by the fact that it tends to run in families. If someone has close family members who suffer from addiction, they have a higher chance of exhibiting additive patterns themselves. This can affect both the intensity and duration of Adderall withdrawal, albeit in an indirect manner. Having a genetic predisposition for addiction means that it will take someone less time, or even smaller amounts used to develop tolerance and then dependence. In this way, someone with a genetic predisposition for addiction may experience worse withdrawal symptoms than someone who had no family history and no such predisposition, even if they used the same amounts of Adderall for the same amount of time. This can also contribute to worse cravings once Adderall use is stopped.

The amounts the Adderall someone used as well as the length of time they used contributes in the strongest and most direct manner to Adderall withdrawal intensity. Withdrawal is a direct result of neurotransmitter downregulation. The more Adderall someone does, the greater the degree of downregulation. The greater the degree of downregulation, the worse someone will feel when they do quit using Adderall. Likewise, the longer someone uses Adderall, the more complete this downregulation becomes, thus the longer it takes to reverse and the more protracted the experience of withdrawal.

If someone had experienced Adderall withdrawal before, and in particular suffered psychotic symptoms, they will be more likely to experience psychotic symptoms the next time they undergo Adderall withdrawal. Additionally, people with co-occurring mental health issues such as schizophrenia are at a much greater risk of experiencing psychotic episodes during Adderall withdrawal. Finally, if someone were to be suffering from depression or anxiety before Adderall addiction, then the depression and anxiety during Adderall withdrawal would be much more severe than it would otherwise.

-Medications

There is no FDA approved medication specifically for the treatment of Adderall withdrawal, but there are effective and helpful medications that are commonly used to this effect. The common strategy for medically treating Adderall withdrawal is to monitor symptoms, and use medications as needed to reduce the severity of individual symptoms as they arise. Since almost all of the symptoms of Adderall withdrawal are psychological in nature, there are plenty of psychiatric medications available.

Some of the most commonly used medications used to treat Adderall withdrawal include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti Anxiety Medications
  • Dopamine Agents
  • GABA/Glutamate Agents
  • Sleep Aids
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Opioid Antagonists
  • Antipsychotics (specifically for treating symptoms of psychosis)

Specific members of all of these medications classes, as well as many others, have been used to successfully reduce the intensity of Adderall withdrawal. Everyone is going to respond a little differently to each medication, so finding the most appropriate medication for each individual is a critical step in the withdrawal treatment process.

-Therapies

Medications are certainly effective, but therapeutic techniques and practices can be just as helpful in increasing someone’s chances of not only making through withdrawal comfortably but continuing to build a life after Adderall addiction. The main focus of the therapies deployed for Adderall withdrawal will be to help someone restructure some of their thinking and behavior patterns. There is a wide range of therapies that can aid this process, and some people will find certain therapies that work better for them.

Some of the most commonly used therapies for the treatment of Adderall withdrawal include:

  • Mindfulness and Meditative Practices
  • Individual and Group Therapy
  • Fitness Therapy
  • Behavioral Therapy
  • Coping Skills Development

These techniques along with many others are effective and are commonly used by adderall withdrawal treatment programs. Just like with medications, someone may find more relief or help from specific therapies and every person will have their preference. Putting in the effort to find the treatment and therapies that are most beneficial will go a long way to helping someone make it through Adderall withdrawal and continue their recovery.

The first step towards freedom from Adderall is to find an Adderall detox center. These programs can offer a wide array of treatment options including trained medical staff, the latest medications, and the most effective therapeutic techniques. It is possible to live a life free of Adderall addiction, but there are some steps required to reach that life. Help is available and the tools are there, the only requirement is that someone comes with the willingness to try something new.

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