No substantive proof exists that Adderall is effective in treating symptoms of depression.
A 1999 study published in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience concluded that treatment with stimulant medications like Adderall, in addition to conventional antidepressants, “had a beneficial effect on the outcome of depression.”
Yet, that same study observed just 65 patients, where a little more than half of them exhibited significant improvement.
If anything, Adderall is more likely to cause depression, which is a withdrawal symptom associated with the drug. What’s more, Adderall remains a drug of abuse, especially among college students, athletes, and working professionals who rely on it for cognitive enhancement.
Read on to learn more about the effects of taking Adderall for depression and the drug’s inherent dangers.
What is Adderall?
Adderall is made up of four amphetamine salts. They are dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine aspartate, dextroamphetamine sulfate, and amphetamine sulfate. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ADHD and narcolepsy in children and adults in 1996.
When taken in tablet or capsule form, Adderall treats ADHD symptoms like impulsivity, hyperactivity, fidgeting, lack of focus, and disorganization. In effect, it reduces the symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity and improves focus and attention.
Adderall accomplishes this by boosting norepinephrine and dopamine levels, ramping up brain activity in the process. These effects are in line with Adderall’s classification as a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant.
Adderall and Depression
Adderall is prescribed “off-label” to people who battle depression. According to this report in Mental Health Daily, for people with depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Adderall “may be the single most effective treatment option.”
The reasons people may opt for Adderall for their depression is due to these following effects:
- Increased confidence
- Increased energy levels
- Improved focus
- Immediate mood improvement
- Increased sociability
Why Adderall Should Not Be Used to Treat Depression
On the flip side, there are significant reasons why Adderall should not be employed to address depression symptoms. According to Mental Health Daily, the following reasons highlight the dangers of Adderall and why it should not be used to curb depression:
- Dependency and addiction potential can result.
- Antidepressant effects wear off.
- It is not intended to treat depression.
- Users can quickly build up a tolerance.
- Depression is worse during withdrawal.
When Adderall is abused, it produces an overabundance of dopamine in the brain. This causes the brain to try to overcompensate by stripping out dopamine receptors to achieve internal stability.
With the reduced amount of dopamine receptors, an Adderall user will require more and more of the drug to experience the euphoria it once offered them. When the drug leaves the body, it can have users experiencing feelings of depression.
Depression and the Adderall Crash
The collection of withdrawal symptoms associated with Adderall is known as “Adderall crash.” When users crash, they experience intense symptoms — the exact opposite of how they felt when they were experiencing its effects.
According to Medical News Today, the following are symptoms of Adderall crash:
- Vivid and unpleasant dreams
- Adderall cravings
- Agitation and irritability
- Anxiety or panic
- Feelings of depression
- Increased appetite
While these crash symptoms are not severe, they are enough to cause people to binge Adderall to feel better. When taken at exceptionally high doses, users can succumb to overdose, which can cause numerous adverse, life-threatening effects. Not to mention permanent damage.
What is Depression?
Depression or major depressive disorder (MDD) negatively affects how you feel, think, and act. It is a condition that causes people to experience feelings of sadness and/or lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. It is also one of the most prevalent mental health disorders in the U.S. and around the world.
How prevalent? It is estimated that 16.2 million adults in the U.S. — or 6.7 percent of all adults in the country — have experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. It is also believed that 15 percent of the adult population in this country will experience depression at some point in their lifetime.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the symptoms of depression include the following:
- Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
- Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
For someone to be diagnosed with depression, they must have symptoms that last at least two weeks.
There also are different kinds of depression people can exhibit. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) details the following as forms of depression:
- Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia), which is a depressed mood lasting for two years or longer
- Postpartum depression, which involves depression and associated anxiety that develop two weeks to six months after giving birth
- Psychotic depression, which occurs when someone has severe depression plus some type of psychosis, like hallucinations or delusions, which typically have a depressive theme
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a depressive condition affected by the amount of sunlight during different seasons. This most often occurs during the winter, but some people experience SAD during the summer.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a form of depression with symptoms that appear or get worse during hormonal cycles related to menstruation
- Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, which can be diagnosed in both children and adults
There are also risk factors that can put people at a greater risk of developing depression. Those factors include genetics, personality, biochemistry, and environmental factors.
Adderall and Psychosis
When you abuse Adderall recreationally, it can produce severe psychological effects beyond depression. Those effects represent a collection of symptoms that impact the mind known as psychosis, which includes delusions and hallucinations.
A 2019 study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that the new onset of psychosis occurred in about 1 in 660 adolescents and young adults with ADHD who received prescription stimulants. The study’s lead researcher said the study only focused on patients recently diagnosed with ADHD and started taking Adderall and other medications for the disorder.
This is a rare effect, but due to overprescribing practices, thousands of cases of psychosis occur from ADHD meds every year.
According to MedlinePlus, the symptoms of Adderall overdose include:
- Hallucination (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
- Feelings of panic
- Coma (loss of consciousness for some time)
- Rapid breathing
- Aggressive behavior
- Upset stomach
How Professional Treatment Can Help You
If you believe you or a loved one is battling depression and an Adderall use problem, then a mere detoxification program will not help you. A program of this kind will only address the physical impairments of the drug problem and not the symptoms of depression.
A reputable, professional treatment program will provide dual diagnosis, a therapy option that addresses substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders like depression. You will undergo medical detoxification, the first step of drug treatment.
Medical staff will flush the Adderall from your body and treat withdrawal symptoms that arise. You will be supervised around-the-clock to ensure a safe and comfortable detox process.
Dual diagnosis patients are best served in a residential program where they receive treatment and are provided room and board on site.
You will receive therapy and counseling tailored to address the psychological and emotional effects of the addiction. Plus, you will be administered approved medications to treat your symptoms of depression.
The services offered through residential treatment include an array of evidence-based and alternative therapies like:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Contingency management
- Therapeutic communities
- Community treatment
- Peer support groups
These models have been proven effective in treating individuals with stimulant use issues and mental health conditions.