In the drug treatment of ADHD, Adderall stands out as a highly effective stimulant drug. Discover its benefits and contraindications.

Adderall: drug treatment for ADHD
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 03 June 2023

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) makes it difficult for the sufferer to organize and control their impulses. It also leads them to experience high levels of restlessness. To reduce these symptoms and improve daily functioning, certain medications may be prescribed. One of the best known and most common is Adderall.

This the drug combines amphetamines and dextroamphetamine. These are two stimulants that have been shown to be effective in treating ADHD in children and adults. However, it must be remembered that it is a prescription drug and must be subjected to medical supervision. Failure to do so could result in significant risks.

Adderall

One of the most widespread and accepted explanations regarding the neurobiology of ADHD is known as the catecholaminergic hypothesis (Clark et al., 1987). Proposes that those who suffer from itdisorder present an alteration in the functioning of some neurotransmitters in the brain (mainly dopamine and norepinephrine).

More specifically, there appears to be a deficit in some areas of the brain. Their hypoactivation is related to ADHD symptoms. Stimulant drugs, such as Adderall, activate this catecholaminergic system, showing an improvement in about 80% of cases (Aboitiz et al., 2012).

Adderall is an amphetamine that stimulates the central nervous system. It does since blocking the reuptake of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin and increasing their availability in the synaptic gap. Therefore, it manages to reduce the symptoms of inattention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity.

Its uses and effectiveness

Adderall was first introduced in 1996 by Richwood Pharmaceuticals. They offered it as a quick-release capsule for treating ADHD in school-age children.

Its use has since spread. Furthermore, research supports its effectiveness in improving symptoms of the disorderas confirmed in an article published on the Journal of Attention Disorders. However, it is also used in the treatment of conditions such as narcolepsy, as it helps improve wakefulness.

The original version of Adderall is an immediate release drug. Its effects last for four to six hours and must be taken several times a day. There is also another format called Adderall XR. Despite containing the same components, it is an extended release capsule. Its effects are slower, but last up to twelve hours and only one dose is taken per day.

Whether a patient opts for one or the other depends on his particular case. For example, some people may forget to take a second Adderall tablet during the day or experience multiple adverse reactions. Adderall XR is more tolerable for hypertension sufferers, as reported in a clinical study published at The journal of clinical psychiatry.

How To Take Adderall To Treat ADHD

The dosage of this medicine is individualized. It must be adapted over time, according to each patient. However, as stated in an article posted in the JCCC Honors Journal, there are other considerations.

Adderall is administered orally and is absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract. In the case of the immediate-release format, it is taken in two to three doses per day, separated by four to six hours. It can be taken with or without food. It is not recommended that the maximum daily dose exceed 40mg, but up to 60mg may be needed initially.

The extended-release formulation is taken once a day, in the morning, with or without food. The maximum recommended daily dose should not exceed 30 mg.

Adderall must always be taken under prescription. Treatment usually starts with low doses and increases according to the patient’s tolerance. The duration of treatment also depends on the patient and any decrease in its use should always be guided and supervised by a professional. Withdrawal should always be gradual.

Warnings and side effects

Despite its effectiveness, Adderall is a drug with some risks. Here are some considerations reviewed by drug enquirer.

  • It has side effects such as sleep and appetite disturbances, headaches, depression and even suicidal ideation. If not used properly, anxiety disorders, psychosis and sexual dysfunction can also occur. It also generates or worsens tachycardia and hypertension.
  • One of the major risks associated with Adderall is its addictive potential. The patient may develop dependence and tolerance, requiring increasingly higher doses of the drug to function normally. Withdrawal symptoms include fatigue, panic attacks, depression, and nightmares.
  • The use of Adderall for non-medical purposes is done in different settings. For example, among college students or athletes. This is because the drug stimulates attention, concentration and physical performance. But taking it without a prescription and without having ADHD is high risk, due to the negative side effects it can generate.
  • As far as contraindications are concerned, Adderall should not be used by individuals with hypertension, heart problems, insomnia or nervousness. It is also contraindicated in patients with Tourette’s syndrome or those taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors.

A drug to be taken with caution

The effectiveness of Adderall in treating ADHD is indisputable which is why it is used as a first line drug. That said, its risks and side effects shouldn’t be overlooked. Furthermore, it is essential that a health professional monitors its use at all times.

Finally, it is worth remembering there are other alternatives available, such as non-stimulant medications or psychotherapy. Both can be extremely helpful in improving ADHD symptoms.

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All sources cited have been thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography for this article has been deemed reliable and of scholarly or scientific accuracy.


  • Aboitiz, F., Ossandn, T., Zamorano, F., & Billeke, YP (2012). Balance en la cuerda floja: the neurobiologist of the trastorno por dficit atencional e hyperactividad.Medical Journal Clinica Las Condes,23(5), 559-565. https://www.elsevier.es/es-revista-revista-medica-clinica-las-condes-202-articulo-balance-cuerda-floja-neurobiologia-del-S0716864012703504
  • Clark, CR, Geffen, GM and Geffen, LB (1987). Catecholamines and attention I: Animal and clinical studies.Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews,11(4), 341-352. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1989-00610-001
  • Drug applicant. (2019). Adderall XR Side Effects and Warnings. Retrieved from http://www.adderall.net/#dextroamphetamine
  • Faraone, SV, & Biederman, J. (2002). Efficacy of Adderall for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a meta-analysis. Journal of Attention Disorders,6(2), 69-75. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/108705470200600203?journalCode=jada
  • Sherzada, A. (2012). An Analysis of ADHD Medications: Ritalin and Adderall. JCCC Honors Journal,3(1), 2. https://scholarspace.jccc.edu/honors_journal/vol3/iss1/2/
  • Wilens, T. E., Zusman, R. M., Hammerness, P. G., Podolski, A., Whitley, J., Spencer, T. J., and Biederman, J. (2006). An open-label study of the tolerability of mixed amphetamine salts in adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and treated primary essential hypertension.Journal of Clinical Psychiatry,67(5), 696-702. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16841618/

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