Addiction to Adderall and Other ADHD Meds

Controlled stimulants (amphetamines) have been prescribed for ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) since the early 1970s. However, in past decades ADHD diagnoses were not nearly as common as they are in the 2020s. As detection, diagnosis, and awareness have increased, so have the number of prescriptions for potentially addictive ADHD meds.

Many mental health professionals are concerned about the upward trend in the use of stimulant medications for ADHD and the potential for addiction and misuse. 

This Cottonwood Tuscon article is about addiction to Adderall and other ADHD meds, like Vyvanse and what can be done about it. 

Stimulant prescriptions for ADHD in the U.S. have more than doubled since 2001. Since 2012, there has been a 58% increase in amphetamine prescriptions for ADHD. Between 2020-2021 alone, there was a nearly 10% increase in amphetamine ADHD med prescriptions to adults in the U.S. between 25–44 years of age. 

Of course simply being prescribed Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin or one of the other stimulant-based ADHD meds does not necessarily mean that ADHD med addiction is inevitable. Millions of people take ADHD meds as prescribed and do not become addicted or misuse them

That said, addiction to Adderall and other ADHD meds like Vyvanse is a real problem in America and it is widespread. Adderall addiction has grown right alongside the increase in prescriptions and illegal Adderall abuse is common. 

Concerning ADHD medication trends in the U.S. include:

  • A 58% increase in stimulant ADHD med prescriptions since 2012.
  • A 10% increase in amphetamine prescriptions between 2020-2021.
  • 41.1 million Adderall prescriptions were filled in 2021 alone.

Adderall Addiction vs. Dependence

If you want to understand addiction to Adderall and other stimulants prescribed for ADHD, it’s important to also understand the difference between addiction and dependence. Many people use these terms interchangeably, but they have different meanings.  Addiction is a physiological issue, mainly centered in the mind. 

Dependence is a state of being in which a person cannot stop using a substance without significant unwanted consequences. People who are addicted are said to have a substance use disorder. This condition usually includes both addiction and dependence. 

It is important to note that people can become dependent upon a medication without abusing it or developing an unhealthy relationship or obsession with it. 

What is Addiction to Adderall or Other ADHD Meds?

Addiction to ADHD meds like Adderall or any other substance, is a chronic mental health condition. Addiction involves changing behaviors and reordering priorities. Eventually, if the addiction is not stopped in its progression, the drug usually becomes the most important thing in a person’s life. 

Obsession, compulsion, dishonesty, manipulation, and acting out on cravings are all qualities associated with the psychological phenomenon of addiction. Someone who is addicted to Adderall or Vyvanse may abuse it and run out of their prescription early. They will often be very defensive about their use of ADHD medicines and reluctant to let anyone else hold the bottle or control their access. 

Addiction is a progressive illness. Over time, without intervention, it only becomes worse. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, addiction takes over a person’s life, crowding out competing interests and relationships. 

What Does it Mean to Be Dependent on Adderall vs. Addicted?

Any person who uses a controlled substance regularly, especially one that has any sort of withdrawal-like effects, is at great risk of becoming dependent on it. Whether it’s Adderall, Vyvanse, Concerta, or another ADHD med — regular or daily use establishes a pattern. 

Even if someone takes their ADHD meds exactly as prescribed, if they cannot stop abruptly without significant unwanted effects, then they are dependent on that drug. Drugs like Adderall or Vyvanse do not have the pronounced physical withdrawal symptoms associated with some other drugs like opioids or benzodiazepines. 

However, stopping ADHD meds abruptly has negative, unwanted effects for most users. These may include depression, sleepiness and fatigue, irritability, headaches, and an inability to focus. Note that dependence like this is not necessarily dangerous and you should never stop taking a medication as prescribed without consulting the prescribing physician first. 

How Addictive are ADHD Meds Like Adderall and Vyvanse?

Any prescription medicine that is a controlled substance generally has a significant risk of addiction or misuse. If the ADHD med you are prescribed requires contacting a doctor to authorize refills, needs a photo ID to be picked up, and/or cannot be filled before a certain date — then it is a controlled substance. If it’s a controlled substance, then there’s a risk of becoming addicted, or a minimum, dependent on it. 

ADHD meds that are controlled and potentially addictive include:

  • Adderall
  • Vyvanse (Lisdexamfetamine)
  • Focalin (Dexmethylphenidate
  • Ritalin, Concerta, etc. (Methylphenidate)
  • Dexadrine, ProCentra (Dexamphetamine) 

Non-Narcotic Alternatives to ADHD Meds 

Prescription amphetamines are among the most effective treatments available for ADHD at this time. However, they are not the only solution. Millions of people living with ADHD have found ways to be successful, productive, and happy without the use of addictive ADHD medications. 

Some pharmaceutical options that are non-addictive include Strattera (atomoxetine), Qelbree (viloxazine), Intuniv (guanfacine), and a combination of Buproprion and Norpramin.

Non-medicinal ADHD solutions shown to be effective include Low Energy Neurofeedback System (LENS), behavioral therapy and diet, exercise, and supplements. The Transcendental Meditation (T.M.) technique has also been shown to improve executive functioning in people with ADHD.  

Some non-narcotic alternatives to ADHD meds include:

  • Strattera (atomoxetine)
  • Qelbree (viloxazine)
  • Intuniv (guanfacine)
  • Behavioral therapy
  • LENS Neurofeedback
  • Transcendental Meditation

Help for Addiction to Adderall and Other ADHD Meds

If you or a person you love is addicted to an ADHD medication like Adderall or Vyvanse or simply dependent and would like help quitting — Cottonwood Tucson can be of service to you. 

ADHD can be a challenging thing to live with. Neurodivergent people, like those with ADHD, often feel misunderstood and helpless — but there is hope. You can effectively manage ADHD without the use of narcotic medications if you choose to. 

Whether you have ADHD or not, if you want to stop using amphetamines or any other drug, the help you need is just a phone call away. — Cottonwood Tucson’s nationally recognized treatment program has the specialized treatment you need to live the life you deserve. 

Find your freedom on our 35-acre campus in Arizona’s majestic Sonoran Desert country. Call us anytime at  (888) 727-0441.

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