Does Adderall Make You High?Anna Ciulla
Typically prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy (chronic severe drowsiness, often accompanied by flabby muscles and weight gain), Adderall is a brand-name drug formulated from amphetamines and dextroamphetamines.
HOW ADDERALL WORKS
Adderall’s primary effect is to reduce the absorption (and hence increase the brain levels) of three major neurotransmitters:
- Dopamine, which increases immediate pleasure sensations.
- Serotonin, which increases overall sense of well-being and the ability to relate to others. Serotonin also helps regulate the body’s internal clock.
- Norepinephrine, which increases alertness and improves focus.
As a result, Adderall increases ability to concentrate and raises the levels of pleasure associated with a task. People who take the drug according to prescription are able to work more effectively and stay awake better in the daytime. However, as with most prescription drugs that positively affect mood or productivity, some users start to depend on Adderall for more productivity or “good feelings” than is reasonable to expect. Or they find that after using it for a while, tolerance starts to develop and the drug no longer works as well as it used to.
In either case, someone may go beyond prescription instructions and take “just a few” extra pills without consulting a doctor, which is often the first step toward addiction and its accompanying problems.
HIGH ON ADDERALL
As with most prescription (as opposed to recreational) drugs, the question of “Does Adderall make you high?” is not easily answered with a quick yes or no, since few people start taking it specifically for that purpose. If “high” is defined as extreme euphoria combined with near-total detachment from reality, taking Adderall according to prescription will produce a high only in a few unusually susceptible people. However, Adderall is recognized by the Food and Drug Administration as having the potential to produce adverse side effects related to altering of mental-emotional state:
- Impaired judgment and impulsive actions
- Irritability and agitation
- Mood swings
- Hallucinations or psychosis
And those who take the drug in large amounts do report experiencing euphoria and other classic symptoms of being “high.”
The greatest danger is that users will seek to increase the high, or the speed at which it comes on, by means that go beyond the swallow-a-pill approach:
- Chewing the pill before swallowing it
- Crushing the pill and “snorting” it, or diluting the crushed pill and injecting it
- Consuming the drug by “stuffing” (packing body cavities with Adderall)
- Mixing Adderall with other stimulant drugs such as cocaine
Any approach that deliberately seeks to increase a drug’s effects is flirting with the possibility of overdose, which in the case of Adderall and other stimulant drugs typically comes by increasing the heart rate to potentially lethal levels.
NOT SEEKING A HIGH, BUT STILL AT RISK
The misuse of Adderall is particularly high among college students who don’t see its brain-altering effect as “getting high”: to them, the drug is simply a quick and easy way of stimulating natural facilities so they can work more effectively and improve academic performance in a competitive environment. A 2012 study found that nearly one in five Ivy League students had misused Adderall and other prescription stimulants “for an academic purpose,” most commonly to increase their focus while writing essays or to stay awake longer when studying for exams.
Unfortunately, stimulant abusers under age 25—into which category most college students fall—are at particular risk for fatal reactions or permanent brain damage because their brains are still forming the neuroconnections essential to full maturity. People who take the drug for nonmedical reasons may also be at higher risk of developing addiction, as research indicates the “best” highs are experienced by people who do not have ADHD, the condition the drug is most commonly prescribed for.
Whether for the purpose of inducing euphoria or improving “normal” brain function, illicit Adderall use has become common enough to create a thriving black market for the drug. College students, or anyone else, lured by promises the drug will improve their lives or just make them feel good have little trouble obtaining it without a doctor’s prescription.
NEGATIVE EFFECTS AND ADDICTION
As already noted, people who take Adderall regularly, especially without a prescription, are at risk of developing chronic disorientation, mood swings, chronic jitters, insomnia and other unpleasant effects. Which effectively translates to high risk of cancelling out any benefits that might be gained via improved concentration and alertness. (Even in the early stages, the benefits of taking Adderall for a quick “intellectual” boost are doubtful. Improved concentration alone will do little for someone who hasn’t bothered to master exploring multiple possibilities or taking initiative.)
Adderall can have unpleasant physical effects as well:
- Dry mouth
- Chronically itchy or peeling skin
- Blurry vision
- Frequent nausea or constipation
- Loss of appetite, sometimes leading to unhealthy weight loss
- Elevated blood pressure
- Abnormal heart rate
The worst potential side effect, of course, is full-blown addiction disorder. Someone who is addicted to Adderall will manifest the above physical and emotional symptoms on a regular basis, along with:
- Lack of attention to personal grooming
- Withdrawal from friends and favorite activities
- Unexplained tardiness and absences
- Sleeping for unusually long periods
- Bringing home “prescription refills” on an increasingly frequent basis
- Unexplained and frequent financial difficulties (due to spending most available money on Adderall)
- Refusal to discuss possible reasons behind all the above: belittling, or becoming defensive about, others’ expressed concerns
Once addiction takes hold, it nearly always takes professionally managed medical detox to break the habit, and a lifetime of recovery and guarding against relapse to stay clean.
HOW TO KEEP AN ADDERALL PRESCRIPTION FROM BECOMING AN ADDICTION
All that said, Adderall is still a legal prescription drug that has helped many people manage ADHD and narcolepsy. So if your doctor recommends the medication for you or anyone in your family:
- Make sure you have a specific diagnosis of a specific disorder. (You may want to get a second opinion: ADHD, in particular, has been a frequent misdiagnosis for people who actually have autism, bipolar disorder, sensory processing disorder, low blood sugar or just higher-than-average energy levels.)
- To. The. Prescription. No exceptions. If you feel it isn’t doing its job, discuss the problem with your doctor.
- Don’t rely on Adderall as an all-purpose solution: that mindset is often the first step toward turning an aid into a debilitating crutch. Practice nondrug techniques (see the following sections) for improving your concentration, exercising your brain and stimulating your alertness.
HOW TO DEVELOP HIGH CONCENTRATION WITHOUT ADDERALL
If you don’t need an Adderall prescription, but still struggle with concentrating or staying alert, try these nondrug remedies:
- Get enough sleep. An amazing number of people have sleep-deprivation problems without realizing it. If you think you’re doing fine on five or six hours a night, you probably aren’t. Aim for a minimum of seven and see if your everyday concentration doesn’t improve.
- If you’re spending seven to nine hours a night in bed, but aren’t actually sleeping most of those hours (or if you think you are, but constantly wake up exhausted), talk to a doctor to see if you have a medically treatable sleep disorder or need therapy to unravel an insomnia problem. If you still have difficulties, double-check the temperature, light levels and ambient noise in your bedroom: just lowering the thermostat or hanging thicker curtains often works wonders. Check also that you aren’t using your bed for non-sleep activities (that can train your brain to associate the bed with wakefulness) and that your last couple of waking hours are free from vigorous exercise, caffeinated drinks and screen time.
- Eat a healthy diet with lots of protein and fresh produce. If you consume mostly coffee, doughnuts and high-fat foods, your energy levels will ride a constant roller coaster. Space out your eating, too, instead of consuming a day’s calories in three big meals.
- Do everything possible to minimize interruptions and multitasking: they just teach your brain not to concentrate.
- Don’t make your daily to-do list too long, especially if you’re prone to start thinking about the next task before you finish the current one.
HOW TO GET AN EMOTIONAL HIGH WITHOUT ADDERALL
Raising your body’s dopamine and serotonin levels via outside chemicals has a way of coming back to bite you. If you feel constantly “down” without an official diagnosis of depression, healthier means of raising your natural pleasure chemicals include:
- Vigorous physical activity (go for a brisk walk on your lunch break and another after work)
- Healthy human relationships (make friends who respect you and whose company you enjoy)
- Productive hobbies and goals (what dreams have you wanted to pursue for years?)
- Helping others (volunteer for a cause you believe in, offer to help remodel your neighbor’s house or just empty the dishwasher at home when it’s not your turn)
Does Adderall make you high? It can, especially if misused.
Was Adderall created for purposes of getting people high? No.
Is deliberately getting high on Adderall a good idea? Definitely not.
If you have genuine need for Adderall, use it judiciously. If not, there are much better ways to improve your brainpower and get a natural, healthy “high.”
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For related information on stimulant drugs, see the following articles:
Adderall Detox Guide: Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline
Cocaine and Adderall: Dangers, Contraindications and Statistics
What Are the Side Effects of Adderall?
What Does Meth Do to Your Body?