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What to expect when using Adderall 

Boy writing with pencil, concentrating on schoolwork

If you have ADHD, your doctor may prescribe Adderall to help you stay focused. Find out how it works and what you might feel like while taking it. 

Loren Freed

By Loren Freed

Have you noticed that you have difficulty completing tasks? Or that you struggle to focus on school or work? Everyone has trouble paying attention occasionally, but if you find that it’s a consistent problem, you may have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Additional symptoms can include:

  • Engaging in rash or risky behavior
  • Always feeling anxious or depressed
  • Struggling in social situations 

And Adderall® (amphetamine dextroamphetamine) can make it easier to manage them. Adderall is one of the most common medications for people with ADHD. It can help improve attention span and focus in both adults and children.

This article will help you understand how the medication works. It will also go over how to steer clear of potentially dangerous side effects.

If your doctor prescribes medication to help you with ADHD, remember to bring your free discount coupon card to the pharmacy — it can save you up to 80% on medication costs. 

What is Adderall and how does it work? 

Adderall is a central nervous system stimulant. “Adderall — and drugs like it [Ritalin®, Concerta®, Vyvanse®] — can improve attention span, decrease distractions and make it easier to focus on a specific task,” says Zara Risoldi Cochrane. She’s an associate professor of pharmacy practice at the Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy. “It causes your brain to release more of the chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine. Those are important for carrying signals throughout your nervous system.” 

Non-stimulant medications work differently on ADHD symptoms. These can include Strattera® (atomoxetine), Intuniv® (guanfacine), Kapvay™ (clonidine hydrochloride) and some antidepressants. They can affect norepinephrine, serotonin or other chemical messengers in the brain. They don't work as well as stimulants for treating ADHD. And they take longer to kick in — from a few days to several weeks. So they’re not given as often as stimulant medications such as Adderall.

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What should you expect when taking Adderall? 

For many people who start on the medication, it begins working within 30 minutes to an hour. You may have improved focus and short-term memory. And you may notice more balanced energy levels. You could also find that you can complete tasks and set goals more easily. When taken over several months, Adderall may have helpful effects on the brain. This can cause ADHD symptoms to improve.

Adderall tends to work in similar ways in both adults and children. For kids, besides helping them focus at school, it allows them to ignore distractions. It may also help them do better in social situations.   

Recommended reading: How parents can get kids with ADHD prepared to start school. 

What are the potential side effects of Adderall? 

The most common side effects include decreased appetite and headache. They can also include dry mouth and trouble sleeping. These usually go away within a few days or weeks. If they don't, talk to your doctor about lowering the amount of medication. Or take it at a different time of day.

The medication can also have more serious side effects. “Adderall can cause heart problems in some people,” says Risoldi Cochrane. “It could raise blood pressure and increase your heart rate. This can lead to serious problems such as heart attacks in rare cases. People who already have heart problems shouldn’t use Adderall.” 

Taking ADHD medication for a long time increases the chance of serious side effects. Besides heart disease, these risks include:

  • High blood pressure 
  • Seizure 
  • Uneven heartbeat 
  • Abuse and addiction 
  • Psychiatric issues 
  • Skin discoloration 

In children, taking Adderall over long periods of time may affect growth rates. Research shows that kids who take these stimulants for several years may be ⅓ inch to 1½ inches shorter than projected when they reach adulthood. It's unclear whether children catch up on that growth after they stop the medication.

But in general, children who take Adderall remain in the normal growth range. Both kids and adults may also lose weight when they start taking Adderall. But the effect is more noticeable in children because of their rapid development. (Check out the grown-ups' guide to ADHD for more info on adults.)

How to use Adderall safely 

All stimulants come with the risk of addiction. So safe usage is important. Taking too high a dose increases the chances that your brain will acclimate. The same is true of using it in any other way than ordered by your doctor. This means that you'll need more to get the same effect. To avoid addiction risk, be sure to take Adderall only as directed.

Children using Adderall should get yearly checkups so that a doctor can watch their height and weight. 

Do not stop taking Adderall suddenly, even If you experience side effects. It can cause withdrawal symptoms that will make you feel even worse. Instead, talk with your doctor. He or she can lower your dose slowly to reduce your risk of withdrawal.

The bottom line: Medication is just 1 tool for managing ADHD. It should be used with other approaches such as behavior management and educational interventions. All of these things together can help improve quality of life. Work with your doctor to determine the treatment that's best for you.   

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