Adderall can cause withdrawal. In fact, a mention of withdrawal symptoms appears on the formal prescription paperwork submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration back in 2017.
The manufacturers of this drug are open and honest about the fact that the medication lingers within the body. Even so, many people who take Adderall have no idea that they could face problems for weeks or even months when they try to quit.
What Is Withdrawal?
Think of Adderall like a drop of food coloring in an aquarium. When the color hits the surface, it causes major changes you can see. But as the aquarium filter hums and water is recycled, the brightness begins to fade. Soon, the water is pure and clear again. The time between color and clarity is similar to the time you’ll spend in withdrawal.
Each dose of Adderall you take changes your brain chemistry. Soon, your cells are primed to function only in the presence of the drug. Take it away, and you’ll cause a sense of panic and disorder. Only when your brain has healed and learned how to function without drugs will your distress fade.
Adderall is an amphetamine, and all drugs in this class can cause withdrawal. Unfortunately, it can take a long time for your body to move through this process.
What Does Withdrawal Feel Like?
Our view of Adderall withdrawal has grown nuanced with time. We once thought it was a straightforward process that people moved through very quickly, but research now suggests that it can take different forms in different people, and it can last longer than some thought possible.
In 1999, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said amphetamine withdrawal came in four stages.
- Early crash: This is the point at which the high just begins to wear off. You feel anxious, agitated, and depressed. If you act on those feelings, you take another hit and don’t move to the next stage.
- Middle crash: If you don’t take a hit of Adderall, you’ll feel even more depressed and tired, and you’ll drop into a deep sleep. You may stay asleep for up to 36 hours.
- Late crash: When you awaken from your sleep, you’ll feel intensely hungry.
- Protracted withdrawal: You’ll feel depressed and tired. Those feelings can wax and wane for about 96 hours when they disappear, or they could persist for a few weeks. You may also feel significant drug cravings.
We once thought everyone followed this path in the same way. But modern researchers conducting studies with rats suggest that the strength and length of symptoms depend on addiction severity. The more amphetamines you use and the longer the abuse lasted, they say, the less likely you’ll feel pleasure from a natural trigger.
Things that once made you happy, like a slice of perfect chocolate cake or the sun setting over the ocean, can leave you feeling nothing at all. This inability to feel bliss can persist for months or even years. It’s technically part of a withdrawal process, but in time, it can feel like your new life.
Some people won’t experience this symptom. Others definitely will.
How Is It Treated?
Brain cells are resilient, and they can heal from even terrible damage. Ask someone who learned how to walk or talk after a stroke, and see the imaging that proves new neurons are growing, and you’ll be convinced of this fact.
But healing takes time, and while your brain is in recovery mode, you are at risk for relapse. That’s why rehab programs aim to soothe the intensity of the damage so you can get past the danger intact.
Doctors are well aware that Adderall and drugs like it cause withdrawal. Studies suggest that more than 80 percent of people who try to stop taking amphetamines experience withdrawal, so this is a syndrome your doctor has probably both seen and treated before. In a rehab program, you’re in good hands.
The American Academy of Family Physicians says treatment aims to calm the symptoms you’re feeling now. Your doctor won’t use one specific solution for your withdrawal as a whole. Instead, your doctor will tailor your plan depending on what you’re experiencing.
If you’re struggling with depression and irritability, for example, your doctor might use antidepressants (like Trazodone) or benzodiazepines to ease chemical imbalances in your brain. You’ll need to taper away from these drugs rather than stopping them suddenly at the end of your treatment program, but your doctor can help with that.
Your doctor might also provide sleeping medications if you find it’s hard to sleep through the night. And appetite stimulants might help if you’re just not interested in food.
Your team will also look for ways to keep you comfortable as your body adjusts. That can mean:
- Offering bland, but appetizing, foods.
- Keeping rooms cool and dark.
- Limiting noise and stimulation.
- Providing plenty of cool drinks to soothe dehydration.
- Talking with you to keep you motivated.
You can go through this process in a detox facility where you’re surrounded by support around the clock. Or you can do this work at home, as long as you have a safe and encouraging place to stay while you work to get sober. You will be at risk for relapse during this period, so it’s critical that you have support and security, so you don’t lose the progress you’ve made.