Adderall Overdose SignsAnna Ciulla
Adderall is a stimulant drug formulated from amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, typically prescribed to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. However, the drug is commonly misused—and obtained through spurious prescriptions or black-market channels—in attempts to increase overall energy and work performance. Some people also take the drug as an appetite suppressant and weight-loss aid, or simply to induce a euphoric “high.”
Those who misuse Adderall (or any drug) as a quicker route to personal goals are at greater risk of both addiction and overdose. It’s a red flag if someone is taking Adderall:
- Without an official diagnosis of ADHD or any other Adderall-treated condition
- Without a prescription
- With symptoms of high blood pressure or heart trouble (both of which can be dangerously aggravated by stimulant drugs)
- In combination with other drugs, especially antidepressants or antianxiety medications
- To pull “all-nighters” (students at prominent colleges run particular risk of Adderall misuse) or otherwise interfere with healthy sleep
- With a primary intent of improving performance in school or anywhere else (note: the idea that Adderall makes for better performance is a fallacy: the drug increases energy and drive, but there’s no evidence work quality is enhanced)
- With a co-occurring mental health condition such as anorexia nervosa (dieting to the point of dangerous weight loss, combined with driving perfectionism) or obsessive-compulsive disorder
And, of course, it’s a scarlet-red flag to have taken Adderall to the point of overdose. The rest of this article looks at Adderall overdose signs, what to do in case of overdose and how to manage the aftermath.
SIGNS OF AN ADDERALL OVERDOSE
Even though Adderall is a Schedule II controlled substance (recognized as having high potential for abuse and addiction), there are still people who doubt it can cause overdose. The truth is, thousands of people are treated each year for overdoses involving Adderall and other prescription stimulants. Since not all overdoses are life-threatening or obviously serious, tens of thousands more likely “wear off” on their own and go unreported.
Common physical symptoms of Adderall overdose include:
- Diarrhea, nausea or stomach cramps
- Blurry vision and/or dilated pupils
- Rising body temperature
- Muscle weakness
- Rapid breathing and racing pulse
- In extreme cases: violent shaking, loss of consciousness, seizures
There are also common mental/emotional symptoms:
- Becoming hyperactive and aggressive, or, conversely, depressed
- Sudden fatigue
- Confusion and disorientation (and, in some cases, hallucinations)
- Panic attacks
The good news is that the majority of Adderall overdoses are nonfatal. This does not mean, however, that symptoms should be ignored or brushed off. Even if symptoms are relatively mild and seem to go away by themselves, overdose is a potential sign of addiction that may lead to a future, much worse, overdose. Or an overdose may do invisible damage to the heart, kidneys or other vital organs.
IF YOU NOTICE ADDERALL OVERDOSE SIGNS
If you or someone else develop any of the above symptoms after taking Adderall (even according to prescription instructions), don’t wait to see what happens. Call 911 immediately and ask for emergency medical treatment services. Give your location and describe the situation in detail. Stay on the phone unless the dispatcher advises you to hang up.
(If, as sometimes happens, the person seems coherent and insists he or she doesn’t need a doctor, call anyway. Don’t worry about whether someone will “get mad.” Better to lose an evening or even a friend than to risk losing a life.)
While waiting for professional help:
- Advise the person experiencing the overdose to sit still and remain calm. Reassure them that help is on the way.
- If they lose consciousness or seem likely to, help them lie down in a recovery position—on one side, arms and legs bent, head slightly propped up—to minimize choking risks if vomiting occurs.
- If they turn aggressive, stay calm yourself. Avoid sudden moves or noises. Continue to reassure the person while staying out of arm’s (and leg’s) reach. Try to move anything away that they might use to injure themselves or others.
- If they show signs of seizure, loosen anything they’re wearing around the neck, move dangerous objects out of range and try to help them lie down before they fall. Do not restrain or manipulate them physically in any other way.
When emergency medical services arrive, be prepared to provide further details on the situation:
- How much Adderall was taken and when
- How long the drug has been taken, how often and under what circumstances (for what purposes? prescription or nonprescription? planned or according to felt need?)
- Whether any other drugs or supplements (including caffeinated drinks) have been taken
- Whether the person has shown symptoms of stimulant addiction (centering their life on regular doses, spending unreasonable amounts of money on Adderall, taking it by snorting or injecting as well as in pill form, experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as depression or sleep problems if a dose is missed)
While it may prove painful to be honest about the details of Adderall use—especially if illegal activities were involved—it’s important to give medical staff an accurate picture so they can provide effective treatment. Usually, treatment involves:
- Checking temperature, heart rate and blood pressure for any dangerous rises, and administering any necessary medications.
- Administering sedative medications to counter Adderall’s stimulant effect.
- Pumping the stomach or inducing vomiting to eliminate excess Adderall from the system.
AFTER AN ADDERALL OVERDOSE
Once physical dangers related to an overdose are past, the person will likely be evaluated for addiction. If an addiction disorder is diagnosed, the next step is to get medical treatment and therapy so the patient can detox completely from Adderall and plan for a long-term future without it. Even if the overdose wasn’t connected to an actual addiction, if it was due to any form of misuse they should see a therapist to deal with the root causes.
(If you suspect someone has an Adderall addiction that hasn’t been diagnosed—if they’ve suffered an overdose they recovered from without medical treatment, or if they show other addiction symptoms as noted above—check here for ideas on convincing them to get help before they have another, perhaps fatal, overdose.)
Anyone with an addiction of any kind always needs professional help. “Just quitting” can have life-threatening physical effects, trigger dangerous behavior and/or increase the risk of overdose if someone gives up when partly detoxed. Even if they ride out withdrawal with no serious repercussions, they’ll deprive themselves of professional medical care that could find hidden health damage done by the drug use. And in the more immediate term, they’ll be without access to important support resources that make it easier to stay clean. Because addiction is considered a chronic condition (the brain retains certain programming that makes return to drug use feel natural under certain circumstances), the danger of relapse is high, and reducing risk is an important part of recovery.
Basic rules for staying clean from a chemical addiction are:
- Get treatment for any other mental-health conditions.
- Know conditions under which you’d be prone to relapse, and plan for avoiding them.
- Get the support of loved ones, close peers and your regular doctor to help avoid tempting situations.
- If the addiction was to a prescription medication, ask your doctor about alternate methods of managing the original problem. If you still need a prescription, use it according to directions and in conjunction with nondrug coping methods, not as a one-step cure-all.
- Participate regularly in therapy and peer support groups.
- Take good care of your physical health through diet, exercise and sleep.
- Find activities and long-term goals that give you more important things than drugs to think about.
Since Adderall misuse is typically linked to competitive environments and the striving to achieve, readjusting after being treated for Adderall overdose or addiction may require additional techniques for reducing stress and pressure:
- Take a good, honest look at your goals. Do you want that MBA because it fits your calling and appeals to your deepest passions? Or because your parents wanted it for you, because it seemed to guarantee a high income, or because you wanted to impress anyone? Putting effort into something you don’t personally believe in generates extra, needless stress: don’t be afraid to change your life path if you’re going the wrong direction for you.
- Plan daily and weekly routines with adequate time for work, rest and Scientific research consistently confirms that taking breaks and getting a full night’s sleep—as opposed to staying constantly in “work” mode for fear of falling behind—yields the best overall productivity and success. (This assumes you aren’t procrastinating by spending so much time on leisure activities, or in bed, that you really don’t leave adequate work time.)
- If you have the procrastinate-and-then-cram habit, edit your schedule (get coaching help if necessary) to make time for shorter study periods 5–6 days a week, rather than shoving it all into the night before an exam. Chances are your grades will go up as a result. (Contrary to the popular cliché, few people really work best under pressure.)
- Practice daily self-affirmations to remind yourself that your worth doesn’t depend on beating out others for a scholarship/job/promotion: you are an innately valuable person with unique and priceless talents, and your real friends care about you no matter what you do or don’t achieve.
- Cultivate your spiritual life, too (go to the original sources, not the “religious” centers who’ve forgotten everything except the “Thou shalt not” rules): this is where many people find their greatest sense of value and purpose.
- Make time for human relationships, and cultivate positive peers who know how to enjoy breaks from strive-and-achieve environments. Learn to value life for its own sake, and you’ll be far less likely to overdo Adderall or anything else that holds out false promises of success.
- Cafasso, Jacquelyn (2018, January 24). “Can You Overdose on Adderall?” Healthline.com. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/can-you-overdose-on-adderall/
- Cleveland Clinic (2015, August 10). “Seizures: First Aid.” Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/6998-seizures-first-aid
- Holland, Kimberly (2016, December 5). “Adderall and Weight Loss: Here’s the Skinny.” Healthline.com. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/adderall-and-weight-loss
- Kruse, Kevin (2017, February 6). “Want to Get More Done? Try Taking More Breaks.” Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2017/02/06/want-to-get-more-done-try-taking-more-breaks/#3fc041ca6db4
- Lieberman, Charlotte (2016, August 23). “Why Are College Students Taking So Much Adderall?” Cosmopolitan. Retrieved from https://www.cosmopolitan.com/college/a61827/ivy-league-addiction/
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018, June). “Prescription Stimulants.” Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-stimulants
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2013, January 24). “Emergency Department Visits Involving Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Stimulant Medications.” The DAWN Report. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/DAWN073/DAWN073/sr073-ADD-ADHD-medications.htm
For related information on recognizing and responding to overdose, see the following articles: