Adderall and anxiety: Two things that don’t mix too terribly well.
Adderall® is a medication used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This mental health condition can make it tough to focus and is characterized by feelings of impulsivity and hyperactivity.
If those things are causing you to experience anxiety, taking medication to manage your ADHD symptoms could remedy your anxiousness.
At the same time, some people with ADHD claim they experience anxiety as a side effect of their medication. Which group do you believe? Well, if you look at the facts, it may be both.
Adderall is actually a combination of two things — dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. The medication is in a class of prescription drugs called central nervous system stimulants, which work by altering the amounts of certain neurotransmitters in your brain. The neurotransmitters are dopamine and norepinephrine in the case of Adderall.
These two stimulants help people focus or control their impulses and may also be used to treat narcolepsy. But they could also stimulate anxiety.
Below, we’ve weighed how Adderall might help anxiety, how it could make it worse or cause anxiety, and how to manage anxiety with Adderall if you’re experiencing it.
First things first: There’s no evidence that Adderall helps with the treatment or management anxiety disorders. Adderall is not an anxiety medication, and neither the medical community nor the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) thinks there’s any benefit to taking this medication for the treatment of anxiety.
So why would we even bother talking about this topic? Because Adderall may indirectly help people with anxiety avoid their triggers.
Anxiety is fairly common. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), around 40 million adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder. This includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder (or social phobia) and panic disorder, as well as related stress disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
If someone is diagnosed with ADHD, the symptoms, such as forgetfulness, distractibility, and disorganization, can cause life problems that lead to feelings of anxiety, which could ultimately amplify the condition. So if your anxiety is caused by ADHD, taking taking Adderall (which is designed to help diminish the symptoms of ADHD) may help.
On the other hand, Adderall might make everything worse. Why? Adderall is a stimulant, so it could make those without ADHD feel jittery and nervous.
One study on 13 healthy college students looked at how Adderall affected those who didn’t have ADHD. Overall, the researchers determined that the medication didn’t have much effect on the participants’ neurocognitive performance.
More research needs to be conducted before anything can be said with more confidence about whether Adderall can actually increase anxiety.
The explanation lies in side effects. Yes — Adderall does come with the risk of some side effects.
The common side effects and symptoms of Adderall abuse include:
Painful menstrual cramps
Increased heart rate and blood pressure
Weight loss or loss of appetite
Nervousness and an increased heart rate are both clear physical symptoms of anxiety, by the way. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between anxiety and the side effects of Adderall.
For those trying to distinguish ADHD vs. anxiety, symptoms of anxiety include:
Increased heart rate
These are some of the most common anxiety symptoms, but everyone’s experience with the mental health condition is unique.
As you can see, Adderall is not a solution for treating anxiety unless the anxiety is caused by symptoms of ADHD.
Both people who have and don’t have ADHD can get anxious or potentially experience an Adderall panic attack by using or misusing the medication. So while it may help anxiety in some ways, Adderall can also cause anxiety on its own.
Adderall is a serious ADHD medication. It can cause heart attacks and potentially death if misused. Plus, there’s the question of addiction: If you stop taking stimulant medications (like Adderall) quickly after a period of chronic misuse or overuse, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.
If you have anxiety that’s not caused by ADHD, though, treating it with Adderall isn’t the right way to go about things. Some medical experts and mental health experts believe in three main pillars for treating anxiety (and none of them include stimulants).
Treatment options for addressing anxiety include:
Medication. Anti-anxiety medication is one way to get a handle on your anxiety. Some medications prescribed for anxiety are antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), benzodiazepines and beta blockers. These medications can help you manage the symptoms of anxiety.
Therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often suggested for many mental health disorders, including anxiety. In this type of therapy, you work with a therapy provider to identify behaviors that add to your anxiety and figure out ways to stop them.
We have a guide here if you want to learn more about therapy for anxiety.
Meditation. Though meditation may not be the only solution for erasing anxiety, it can be a good thing to use in conjunction with other treatments. A very small study from 2014 found that 20 minutes of meditation helped lower anxiety — most likely because it temporarily lowers brain activity.
What it boils down to is this: If you don’t have ADHD, using Adderall to treat anxiety is not the way to go. However, if you have adult ADHD that’s causing anxiety, Adderall may help by easing the symptoms of ADHD.
Here are the main takeaways for those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder who are concerned about anxiety symptoms:
There are differences between ADHD and anxiety. If your anxiety is caused by your ADHD, you may notice it goes away when taking Adderall.
Adderall is not an appropriate treatment for anxiety. It is, however, a medication that can be prescribed for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
In very rare cases, Adderall can cause a heart attack — especially in those who have existing heart conditions.
If you’re dealing with anxiety outside of ADHD, you’ll need to explore other treatment options, as Adderall isn’t prescribed for anxiety and can make anxiety worse.
Treatments for anxiety include therapy, medication and more.
If you get to a point where you’d like to stop taking Adderall, always speak to a medical professional first to come up with a plan for weaning yourself off it.
If you want to learn more about Adderall or discuss treatment options for anxiety, the first step is to speak with a medical professional.
We can assist — our mental health services are a great place to get support.
Daniel Z. Lieberman, MD is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at George Washington University, where he has received awards for teaching and research.
During his 26-year tenure on the full-time faculty at George Washington University, he taught both medical students and psychiatry residents, and served as the Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs, the Chairman of the Institutional Review Board and the Director of the Clinical Psychiatric Research Center.
Dr. Lieberman is the co-author of the international bestseller The Molecule of More, which has been translated into more than 20 languages, and is also the author of Spellbound: Modern Science, Ancient Magic, and the Hidden Potential of the Unconscious Mind. He has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and leading psychiatric textbooks.
Dr. Lieberman is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He also has provided insight on psychiatric topics for the US Department of Health and Human Services, the US Department of Commerce and the Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy.
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