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6 Things to Know About Adderall

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Author name: Lee Health

Editor's Note: This blog was updated Feb. 3, 2021.

Do you know someone who swears by Adderall? Someone who uses it to stay focused, complete a task, or combat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

As a drug becomes more common, it’s always good to learn more about benefits and risks – especially for children who may need help with ADHD.

We reached out to Dr. Ashley Chatigny, a double board-certified psychiatrist and medical director of behavioral health with Lee Physician Group, for some answers.

What is Adderall?

Adderall is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, two central nervous stimulants that improve focus and reduce impulsivity by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Adderall in 1996.

A Doctor Can Help

Adderall is not available without a prescription. But we invite you to talk to a doctor about any medication changes or questions about lifestyle, ADHD, or other concerns.

Adderall for adults

Adderall helps people diagnosed with ADHD by improving their focus and concentration since it is a direct stimulant on the central nervous system. The medication has the same effect on those who do not have ADHD, and it's important to remember that Adderall has side effects such as nervousness, restlessness, headaches, problems sleeping, and more. 

Adderall withdrawal is also a serious issues, and it is extremely important that adults and children take Adderall under the supervision of a doctor.

Stay tuned for a fuller story in March's Healthy News on adult usage of Adderall.

How is Adderall prescribed for ADHD in children?

ADHD, usually first diagnosed in childhood, is the most commonly diagnosed mental disorder among U.S. children aged 2 to 17 years. “ADHD begins in childhood when the brain is developing,” Dr. Chatigny explains. “Symptoms typically develop around age 7, during the early years of childhood.”

Many studies demonstrate that parents and siblings of a child with ADHD are more likely to have ADHD themselves. “Also, there’s a lot of misinformation about what causes ADHD, like vaccinations. That’s not true,” Dr. Chatigny says. “It can have other causes, such as diet, environmental exposures, and complications within the uterine during pregnancy.”

Dr. Chatigny cautions that any evaluation for childhood ADHD should involve tests to rule out other mental and medical disorders. Adderall should be considered a part of a total treatment program that includes psychological, educational, dietary changes and social aspects.

How many children with ADHD reach adulthood with ADHD?

The symptoms of ADHD in children change over time, especially as they enter puberty.

“Many children will outgrow the symptoms as their brains change and they reach puberty,” Dr. Chatigny says. “They’re learning coping skills, their cognitive abilities get better, and their ADHD sort of ‘washes out.’”

However, about 60 percent of children with ADHD will continue to exhibit some symptoms of ADHD into adolescence and adulthood. That’s about 4 percent of adults, although few get diagnosed or treated for it. Most adults diagnosed with ADHD show symptoms of inattention or distraction.

“Adult ADHD symptoms are often more mild than those of children with ADHD,” Dr. Chatigny says. “For example, children with ADHD might have problems sitting still, completing tasks, acting out and impulsive/aggressive behavior while adults are more likely to have trouble focusing and staying organized.”

How can I tell if Adderall is working?

It’s unlikely Adderall will make every symptom of ADHD go away, but you’ll know it’s working when some symptoms improve like the ability to stay focused on a task and complete it. Adderall may be working if a person with ADHD says they are doing better at work or school.

“Adderall helps reduce symptoms of ADHD in about 80 percent of my pediatric patients,” Dr. Chatigny says. “Children with ADHD experience what’s called a paradoxical reaction to the medication. It calms them and most often improves their ability to focus.”

In people who don’t have ADHD, because Adderall produces an excess amount of dopamine, users may experience feelings of euphoria and increased energy levels, as well as possible dangerous physical and emotional side effects.

What are Adderall’s common side effects in people with ADHD?

The greatest risks and side effects occur when the medication is not used as intended or the user takes more than the prescribed dose, Dr. Chatigny says.

Stimulants can raise your heart rate and increase anxiety, so a person with high blood pressure, seizures, heart disease, glaucoma, liver or kidney disease, or an anxiety disorder should tell their doctor about them before taking any stimulant.

Is there a non-stimulant medication a person with ADHD can take instead of Adderall?

Dr. Chatigny says brand drugs like Strattera and Wellbutrin are OK options for treating ADHD.

“Non-stimulant medications like these and others don’t have abuse potential. However, the downside is they typically take longer to work,” she says. “Amphetamines like Adderall begin to work within 30 minutes to an hour. Non-stimulants like Strattera can take 4 to 8 weeks to reach maximum effectiveness at the proper dose.”

Dr. Chatigny prefers a non-stimulant treatment regime for patients with ADHD, especially in adults, because central nervous stimulants like Adderall are controlled substances, meaning they’re regulated by the federal government because they have a high potential for abuse, addiction and physical dependence.

As always, talk to your doctor about Adderall, ADHD, and other medications.


Dr. Chatigny is board-certified in child, adolescent and adult psychiatry, a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and is the medical director of behavioral health with Lee Physician Group. Her treatment interests include emergency psychiatry, treatment resistant depression, complex psychopharmacology, and substance use disorders.