Adderall is a central nervous system stimulant used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Adderall contains a mixture of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. It was approved by the FDA in 1996.

When prescribed and taken as directed, Adderall helps to improve concentration and focus and reduces impulsive behavior in people with ADHD.

Adderall is a widely accepted and tested treatment for ADHD in both children and adults, but Adderall isn’t right for everyone. If you or your child has been prescribed Adderall for ADHD, it means that your doctor believed it was a good choice for your particular case. Still, you should spend some time learning about the medication so you know what to expect.

ADHD is usually diagnosed in children, but in most cases, symptoms persist into adulthood. ADHD can even be first diagnosed during adulthood.

Though symptoms tend to be milder in adults, treatment is still very important. Adult ADHD can hinder a person’s judgment, decision-making, memory, and the ability to perform complex tasks.

Adderall is approved for use in adults with ADHD based on positive results from clinical trials. Stimulants like Adderall are often considered the most effective medications for ADHD, with a rate of response of up to 80 percent.

Dosage for adults

For adults, Adderall typically starts at a low dose, usually 10 to 20 mg per day. The dose is then gradually adjusted by your doctor. The maximum daily dose for adults is 40 to 60 mg per day.

Adderall is available in an extended-release form called Adderall XR. The medication is slowly released into the body, which means you can take it less often. Adderall XR manages symptoms for up to 12 hours.

Contraindications for adults

Adults who have the following medical conditions shouldn’t use Adderall:

  • advanced heart disease or heart problems
  • moderate to severe high blood pressure
  • hyperthyroidism
  • glaucoma
  • known hypersensitivity or idiosyncrasy to the sympathomimetic amines
  • a history of drug misuse
  • severe anxiety, nervousness, or a tense state

According to the Cleveland Clinic, Adderall can help improve symptoms in up to 80 percent of children with ADHD shortly after beginning treatment. Adderall isn’t recommended for use in children under 3 years of age.

Dosage for children

For children ages 3 to 5 years, dosage is often started at 2.5 mg a day. Children 6 years of age and older typically start with 5 mg once or twice daily. The dose is gradually increased to a maximum dosage of 40 mg per day. The first dose is typically given in the morning right after the child wakes up.

Contraindications for children

Children with the following medical conditions shouldn’t use Adderall:

  • known structural cardiac abnormalities
  • cardiomyopathy
  • serious heart rhythm abnormalities
  • nervous, anxious, or tense state

Adderall can cause side effects, but they’re usually not serious. The most common side effects of Adderall include:

  • loss of appetite
  • headache
  • dry mouth
  • insomnia
  • dizziness
  • weight loss
  • nausea
  • nervousness
  • diarrhea
  • reduced growth in children

These side effects will usually go away with time as your body adjusts to the medication.

It’s also possible to have an allergic reaction to the active ingredients in Adderall. Signs of an allergic reaction include swelling of the tongue, throat, or face. An allergic reaction is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment.

You should always tell your doctor about any medications that you or your child take. Adderall can interact with a number of other medications, including:

If you’ve been taking this drug for longer than a few weeks, you may need to taper off of the drug slowly to avoid withdrawal symptoms. These can include:

  • anxiety
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • trouble sleeping

Having mild withdrawal symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve developed a dependence on Adderall.

Doctors will prescribe Adderall at the lowest dose possible to treat your symptoms effectively. When used as directed, the medication carries a low risk for dependence.

When used in ways other than what’s directed on the label — such as taking a higher dose or taking the drug more often than what’s prescribed by a doctor — Adderall can be habit-forming. This is especially true for people who don’t have ADHD to begin with.

Some people misuse Adderall recreationally to increase their productivity and boost mental performance. Although Adderall comes in pill form, some people may try to snort it or inject it to increase its stimulant effects. For this reason, Adderall is listed as a federally controlled Schedule II substance.

Misusing Adderall can lead to increased tolerance. This means that more of the drug is needed to feel its effects. This can put a person at risk for a potentially fatal overdose.

Stimulants like Adderall are considered the most effective treatment option for ADHD.

There are several other stimulants approved for ADHD, including:

For the most part, these other stimulants work in a similar way to Adderall and are equally as effective. Some people find that one stimulant works better than another, but scientists don’t fully understand why that might be so.

Your doctor might decide to prescribe Adderall over another stimulant medication depending on how your insurance company covers each of these medications.

Another reason your doctor might choose Adderall over another stimulant is that it’s available in extended-release form. This means that it’s released into the body more slowly and can be taken less often. Long-acting Adderall has an advantage over short-acting stimulants because people with ADHD are likely to forget to take their pills three or four times a day.

Nonstimulant medications for ADHD

Stimulants might not work for everyone. According to recent research, up to 20 percent of people with ADHD don’t respond to stimulants.

You may want to consider taking a nonstimulant medication for ADHD instead if:

  • Adderall or another stimulant isn’t working well to control your symptoms
  • you can’t tolerate stimulants because of side effects
  • you have another psychiatric disorder, such as bipolar disorder
  • you have high blood pressure
  • you have a history of substance abuse

Nonstimulant options aren’t as effective as stimulants, but they’re also not as habit-forming. There are three nonstimulant drugs approved by the FDA to treat ADHD in adults:

Generics

Adderall is a brand-name drug that’s also available as a generic. Generics cost less than the brand name and may be preferred by your insurance company. Generic Adderall contains the same active ingredients as the brand name.

Your pharmacy may choose to give you the generic version of Adderall when you pick up your prescription. Speak with your pharmacist if you have any concerns.

Behavioral therapy

In addition to medications, behavioral therapy may also help with ADHD. This type of therapy helps a person change their way of thinking and creates behavioral patterns that will be useful over the course of a person’s life. Behavioral therapy is typically used in conjunction with medication.

Adderall is considered a safe and effective option for treating ADHD in both children and adults when used as directed by a doctor. To avoid an addiction and to minimize side effects, you should follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. Don’t take a larger dose or take it more often than your doctor tells you to do so.

Never share your prescription Adderall with someone who doesn’t have ADHD or their own prescription for Adderall.

If you think that your prescribed medication for ADHD isn’t helping your symptoms or is giving you bad side effects, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor for a different medication.