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Cold-Turkey Detox from Adderall: Dangers and What to Expect

Adderall is the brand name for an amphetamine-based prescription medication that treats symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults and children. It is sometimes prescribed off-label to treat narcolepsy. The drug is composed of both amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, and the current formula prescribed by doctors is extended-release (XR), which is designed to be tamper-resistant and not cause an immediate high.

Adderall’s Effects

Many people abuse Adderall for its stimulant effects. People who have attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do not get high from a regular, prescribed dose of this medication, but people who do not have this behavioral condition will experience intoxication, with symptoms including:

  • Higher blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Decreased blood flow
  • Higher blood sugar
  • Opened breathing passages for faster breathing

Many people who abuse Adderall do so because they are under a lot of pressure at work or school. They believe that Adderall enhances performance, allowing them to focus and study hard, stay up all night writing a paper, or spend very long hours at work. They also experience a euphoric high, making them feel good while the drug is active in their bodies. Then, when it is metabolized out, they will experience a crash that includes signs like depression, anxiety, extreme fatigue, hunger, and paradoxical insomnia or sleeplessness.

Adderall was the second most-prescribed medication to children between 2002 and 2010. While children who need this drug, along with behavioral therapy, do not develop an addiction to the substance, many adolescents and young adults without ADHD struggle with addiction to the drug, starting in school. Researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that nonprescription consumption of Adderall among young adults went up 67 percent between 2006 and 2011, and associated emergency room visits shot up 156 percent.

woman expressing depression and anxiety in college

If you are one of the many people who struggle with addiction to and abuse of Adderall, you may have tried to quit before and struggled with symptoms of withdrawal. These are uncomfortable, but rarely life-threatening unless you relapse, which increases your risk of overdose. While there are no medications to ease withdrawal symptoms, like there are for alcohol addiction and opioid addiction, working with medical professionals to manage your symptoms is an important form of support, which reduces your risk of relapse and increases your chances of staying sober.

While you can theoretically detox at home, it is important to remember that getting support greatly increases your chance of success. Without professional help, you put your health and safety at risk.

  • Physical aches and pains
  • Irritability, anxiety, and restlessness
  • Depression and overall sadness
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Changes to sleeping habits, both sleeping more and struggling with insomnia
  • Difficulty functioning in social environments

The experience of withdrawal symptoms lasts for about five days, although some people may develop a prolonged stimulant withdrawal syndrome that includes cravings, and this lasts for one-to-three weeks. Typically, the first one to three days involve psychological symptoms and sleep difficulty. The next week to 10 days involve increasing physical discomfort, which will eventually taper off.

An Australian study found that, among people who attempted to quit cold turkey without medical supervision, relapse typically occurred within one month after stopping the drug, even after the most intense withdrawal symptoms dissipated. In the study, participants did not report cravings as the cause of relapse, but they did report that enjoying drug abuse, peer pressure, depression, boredom, prolonged withdrawal symptoms, and the availability of the drug all led to relapse.

People who abuse Adderall “as needed,” for intense study sessions or long nights at work, are less likely to suffer intense withdrawal symptoms compared to people who abuse the stimulant drug consistently, just to get through the day. More intense symptoms of the Adderall crash include:

  • Struggling with phobias and paranoia
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Intense hunger
  • Sleeping too much

These symptoms can lead to relapse if you do not have encouragement and support to stay sober. If you can get social support from your family and friends as you detox from Adderall, you have a better chance of success than quitting cold turkey by yourself.

Tips for Home-Based Detox

If you do quit cold turkey and stay home, get your loved ones involved. Ask for them to check in on you regularly. They can help you prepare simple, nutritious meals so that you don’t have to think about what to eat if you are fatigued, depressed, or anxious. If you need a reminder to eat regular meals, you can have a friend or family member set a reminder for you, or come over and eat with you.

Make sure to drink enough water. Amphetamine withdrawal does not cause dehydration like some other types of withdrawal, but if you feel physically uncomfortable and tired, you will need to be reminded to stay hydrated.

Your physical aches and pains may benefit from soothing baths, gentle stretching, and relaxing on the couch with a good movie or book. You can also ask your friends and family for help exercising. Take walks, go to a gentle yoga class, or participate in other low-impact forms of exercise until you feel well enough to increase your workout routine.

Trouble sleeping is another aspect of withdrawal. You may oversleep, struggle with insomnia, or experience both for a week. You can set regular alarms and follow advice about how to overcome insomnia by creating a regular sleep schedule. You should also consider taking time off work to allow yourself to rest whenever you need to.

It helps to assure yourself that cravings are temporary and find a way to distract yourself when they occur. This is another place where your loved ones can help you. Ask one or two people you trust to be available to reassure you if cravings for Adderall become intense. Mindfulness or meditation apps, online videos, and written meditations can be helpful during this time.

Help From Medical Professionals Leads to Safe, Successful Detox

The discomfort of withdrawal symptoms is hard to manage without understanding the process and getting support to stay focused on your goal. For many people, medical supervision during the detox process works best. Even if your withdrawal symptoms are mild or moderate, and your doctor believes you can detox safely at home, a high level of support is needed to ensure success.

With the help of a detox program, you can manage the symptoms, get counseling as needed, and even get referrals to rehabilitation programs after detox. If you just detox at home without medical help, you will not have immediate access to rehabilitation, and this behavioral therapy is crucial to understanding addiction and how to manage compulsive behaviors to avoid relapse.

doctor with hand on patient

Regardless of how you detox, you may experience mild mood swings, irritation, and occasional discomfort for a few weeks, with improvements occurring one to three months after the main withdrawal symptoms have dissipated. There are no approved withdrawal medications to manage any type of stimulant detox, including Adderall withdrawal, but working with a doctor means you can get recommendations for over-the-counter medications, referrals to help, and even prescription substances in small, carefully monitored doses. If psychological symptoms of withdrawal remain intense for more than a week, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants to ease your mood.

While you can withdraw from Adderall at home, you won’t get the benefit of medical knowledge if you do not work with an evidence-based detox program. It takes time for your brain chemistry to return to normal, and getting social and medical support during this time is crucial to your success. The process of overcoming addiction starts with detox, which ends your body’s dependence on drugs, but without rehabilitation and an aftercare plan, you are at greater risk of relapse back into substance abuse.

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