Friday January 19th 2018

Trusted Helpline
Help Available 24/7

How does Adderall work?

Adderall is a prescription drug that’s used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.  Adderall shows up in urine tests as an amphetamine up to four (4) days after a single dose and up to a week or longer after chronic use.

But how exactly does Adderall affect the body and brain? Does it have the same effects for everyone? Although Adderall peaks in 1-2 hours after you take it, can you make Adderall effects last longer or work better? We’ll explore these questions and more in this article. And we invite your questions about how Adderall works at the end.

How does Adderall work in the body?

In general, Adderall or amphetamine salts work in the body by affecting the brain and nervous system. Adderall can also have unpleasant, and sometimes dangerous, side effects. Most commonly, this includes stomach pain or headache. But even at normal doses Adderall can sometimes cause more serious adverse effects, including shortness of breath, seizures, heart problems, hallucinations, or changes in behavior. There’s no way to predict who will experience these adverse effects, but they’re more likely to occur when Adderall is taken in a way other than directed by a doctor. But in general, how much Adderall is safe is up to 40 mg per day for children, and 60 mg per day for adults, more or less dosage depending upon physical tolerance to amphetamines.

How does Adderall affect the brain and nervous system?

The aphetamine salts found in Adderall are central nervous system stimulants. At its most basic level, Adderall works by increasing the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. This is why people who use Adderall for non medical reasons may experience euphoric effect. And pursuing an Adderall high can get you addicted to amphetamines.

But therapuetic use of Adderall rarely develops into addiction. Adderall works in people with excessive sleepiness (narcolepsy) by stimulating the central nervous system. In people with ADHD, it has a paradoxical effect, helping them focus and remain calm. People using Adderall to treat ADHD won’t get “high” from their medication. Adderall’s stimulant qualities can affect the brain and nervous system and result in:

  • difficulty with sleep
  • nervousness
  • restlessness

How fast does Adderall work

Adderall reaches its peak level in the blood in 1-2 hours. At that point, Adderall has taken full effect. Sometimes people will crush and snort the powder from the tablets to try to get more immediate effects. Although possible, this practice is very dangerous. Snorting Adderall can result in increased adverse effects, overdose, or even sudden death.

Trusted Helpline
Help Available 24/7

How long does Adderall work?

Adderall stays in the body for several days, with a half life averaging around 10-11 hours. The extended-release formula will remain effective throughout the day, while the immediate release may need to be taken more frequently and is prescribed two or more times daily.

What makes Adderall work better?

Adderall works best when it’s taken exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Taking Adderall only when you feel you “need” it can actually make the medication less effective. Taking Adderall with large amounts of vitamin C may also lessen the effects of Adderall. However, Adderall can be taken on an empty stomach to get the best effect.  And contrary to popular belief, mixing alcohol with Adderall does not enhance Adderall effects.  Instead, drinking while on Adderall increases your risk of alcohol poisoning and related accidents or death.

Does Adderall work for everyone?

No, Adderall is not right for everyone. Amphetamine salts shouldn’t be prescribed to anyone who doesn’t need it for a legitimate medical purpose due to the risks of side effects, including possible Adderall addiction. Adderall is addictive and should be avoided by people with a history of addiction. And in some people, Adderall can trigger serious side effects, particularly people with a history of seizures or cardiovascular conditions.

How Adderall works questions

Do you still have questions about how Adderall works? Please leave your questions here. We will try our best to answer you personally and promptly. And if we don’t know the answer to your questions, we’ll refer you to someone who does.

Reference Sources: NHTSA Drug and Human Performance Fact Sheets: Methamphetamine (And Amphetamine)
Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Violence Prevention: Prescription Stimulants: Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, Dexedrine
FDA Medication Guide: Adderall XR
Toxnet: Amphetamine 

Leave a Reply

34 Responses to “How does Adderall work?
9:42 pm June 20th, 2012

“Adderall is addictive and should be avoided by people with a history of addiction.” Does this mean anyone who is addicted to any drug, or only individuals addicted to amphetamines?

5:27 pm June 21st, 2012

Hi Matthew. Great question, thanks. Adderall is prescribed with caution to anyone with a personal or family history of ANY drug, alcohol or substance addiction. Adderall can cause euphoria, and there is a higher risk of developing an amphetamine addiction in these populations than in people with no prior history of substance abuse.

4:25 am July 31st, 2012

How dangerous is it to take a low dose say 10-15mg with no previous conditions for study purposes?

1:00 am August 1st, 2012

Hi Annonomous. While it may not be too dangerous to take a low dose of Adderall, it is ILLEGAL. If you are caught taking someone else’s prescription, you can be jailed. Also, Adderall has been known to cause adverse side effects such as heart palpitations, dry mouth, rashes or impotence. Sudden death has also been reported on Adderall, although these cases are rare. We DO NOT RECOMMEND taking Adderall to study…the enhanced focus and concentration can compel you to use Adderall more often, and even become addicted to it. Did we answer your question?

6:55 pm August 2nd, 2012

Yes thank you. I did not like the side effects anyways.

9:08 am August 29th, 2012

When comparing a 20 and 30mg Adderall IR, does the 30 last longer or have stronger effects? Or both? Thanks!

11:49 am September 3rd, 2012

Hi Matt. Thanks for your question. It seems to be both. Effects of stimulants are dose-dependent and higher doses can lead to better therapeutic responses, depending on medical use. Furthermore, the time of peak effects and the duration of action can increase with increased doses of Adderall. You can read more by searching for “ adderall dose length of action” in your internet browser.

10:25 pm December 7th, 2012

I have been prescribed Adderall IR 10mg twice per day. Is this a medication that has to be taken on a regular basis in order to be effective? And how long before I notice any benefit from the medication?

9:37 pm December 8th, 2012

Hi Janet. This is a question best fielded by your prescribing doctor or a pharmacist. Please let us know if need additional help.

9:05 pm February 20th, 2013

Hi, I was formally diagnosed with narcolepsy in 2005, tried provigil and nuvigil on and off for years, new doctor just prescribed adderrall 20mg 2x per day. I am very nervous about taking it, have tried it 2x so far and gave me bad insomnia which is horrible for someone already sleepy. Should I be nervous about taking it? Has it been shown to be beneficial in treating excessive daytime sleepiness? Thanks

2:22 pm February 21st, 2013

Hi Jeff. Adderall can work for some people to treat daytime fatigue. But if you find yourself wired, note the symptoms, the time and dosage of Adderall and report them to your prescribing doctor. It’s possible that amphetamines are not right for you.

1:36 pm September 26th, 2013

My wife takes Adderall for ADHD and she tells me that if were to take it it acts like speed. Well that may be true what I need answered is will Adderall not only help her excutive funtions but in some way act like speed to her? Will it keep her awake or perk her up after she takes it. Because it is an Amphetamine not only does it add dopemine to her brain but will stimilate her heart and body??? thank you

10:07 am September 27th, 2013

Hello Glen. Thanks for your question. Adderall affects each person differently. She’ll have to give it a try (at the lowest therapeutic dose possible), record the side effects and report back to her prescribing doctor for adjustments, when needed. But it’s really quite impossible to predict the outcome of an ADHD medication until you start it.

5:59 pm May 8th, 2014

My doctor switched me from Vyvanse 40MG to Adderall IR 20MG.
The Adderall doesn’t feel like the Vyvanse at all, although they both are Amphetamines.
Question time: Vyvanse works by turning on your body’s Fight or Flight Response. Does adderall do the same thing, or is it doing something different, because like i said before, It doesn’t feel like the Vyvanse did.

4:06 am June 9th, 2014

I was prescribed adder all for years for excessive day time sleepyness and it worked great for me. I was able to stay awake and get my daily tasks done no problem and actually got my daily activities done quicker then normal but I had noticed I was becoming dependent to it also after about a couple of months my doctor would have to up the dosage because I was getting used to it. I have quit taking it since then because I didn’t want to form a full on addiction to it. I took it for about 3-4 years been off it for about 3, 3 1/2, 4 years and have learned to work through my day without it. Also had to stop taking it because the perscription is expensive and I don’t have insurance to help cover it. I was taking 50mg once a day.

Lyn Row
5:14 pm June 11th, 2014

What about taking adderall at the same time as levoxyl and Wellbutrin.

8:01 am January 28th, 2015

Would an overdose occur during the peak? Im not prescribed it and I never do it. But today I used 3 15mg Ir throughout the day. Its been 9 hours since the last dose. I have a little bit of a fast heart rate but nothing debilitating. I think its more of me being scared I took to much. Should I be okay?

Lyn Row response
3:08 pm August 13th, 2015

Can anyone answer Lyn Rows question regarding Adderall, Levoxyl, and Wellbutrin. I am on all three as well. My docs do not know I am taking the adderall. I am also on Testim1%.

3:57 am January 13th, 2016

I accidentally grabbed the wrong bottle of medicine and took my nine year Olds adderall 15 mg by mistake. I’m 43 and weigh 200 lbs. I am on a prescription for buproprion and I’m scared of what it’s going to do. I tried to make myself throw up and couldn’t do it. Should I be worried

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
4:03 pm January 14th, 2016

Hi, Lynn. Vomiting may not help eliminate drugs from the system if they have not been metabolized, and will not help you feel better. Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222, or if you don’t feel well, call 911 ASAP.

7:17 am March 2nd, 2017

Can half a 30 mg adderall (pill not capsule ) Enhance your performance in physical sports like Football,MMA, Boxing, or Hockey? Or will it affect performance negatively

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
2:19 pm March 3rd, 2017

Hi Jose. Adderall is used only as prescribed by a doctor. So, I suggest that you speak with your doctor about your concern.

10:26 am April 16th, 2017

I’m wondering how the adderall xr 10mg works. how many times does it release (from what i understand it is a times release so it lasts about 12 hours?) and how many mg does it release each time?

11:04 pm April 18th, 2017

In response to Lynn, and Lyn Row’s questions, I am on Wellbutrin, and take the generic version called Buproprion. My psychiatrist knew this, and gave me a script for adderall, 20 mg 2x daily. So there is not a problem with the mixture, assuming you do not have other chemical input to sway the dynamic. He did tell me not to take nuvigil (armodafanil is the generic) while taking adderall, because they are both uppers, and can compound each others affects for potentially adverse and unpredictable affects, given my needs and situation. You also do not want pseudophedrine added to the chemical composition in your body, again, because sudafed and others including this medication serve as uppers.

another insight or observation from conversing with my doctor and my own research, Adderall speeds up the neuro transmitters within your brain, and for a person with ADD, whose frontal cortex (controlling the executive functions of the brain, i.e. decision making) is firing super speed compared to normal brain function, Adderall does not slow that part of the brain down, but rather speeds up the communication with the rest of the brain, so that decisions and thoughts do not get lost or distracted from before the executive decision has a chance to reach the part of the brain or body that will “remember” it or carry it out. The “upper” effect of adderall, on a person with ADD, has a calming affect because it balances the wobbliness in the brain as it functions.
With those who do not have ADD or the symptoms of ADD are affected in the opposite way, because an Upper for them will actually amplify everything in their brain and body, accellerating it beyond the speed of the Frontal Cortex, creating a gap between stimulus and the ability to process it.

Like imagine a pair of vehicles driving side by side. This is normal, balanced brain function.
For an ADD brain, vehicle A is far ahead (the frontal cortex) and Adderall speeds up Car B (the rest of the brain and the ability to execute messages from A) so they can drive side by side again.
For a non-ADD brain, Adderall speeds up car B, creating antic energy in the execution side of the brain as well as the body, while Car A stays put, and the decision making ability of that brain is no longer able to effectively deliver messages to the other parts of the brain because they are no longer paying attention.

Just hoping to help explain in layman’s terms what is going on.
Be Blessed.

3:45 pm May 8th, 2017

My son has ADDH, as a child he took ridlin. His dr’s say it won’t work for him (adderaol). What can be done to let him at least try it for a trial period. He is now an adult. Is there any other drug that will work for ADDH? TKANKS

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
5:20 pm May 10th, 2017

Hi Sheila. Have your son tried functioning without medications? First, I suggest that your son consult with his doctor, and runs some tests to see whether he can manage without medications.

7:37 pm May 22nd, 2017

My son who is 15 weighs around 140ibs, started to take adderal extended release at 10 mgs per day. Its been almost a week now and he claims to not feel any different and thinks that it is not working. Does he need to give it more time, increase the dosage, or is it not the one for him. There are alot of stimulants to choise from. What do you think? Please help….

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
3:43 pm May 26th, 2017

Hi Jennifer. Wait for a while, and see if there’s an effect. If there’s still no effect, I suggest that you consult with your son’s doctor.

9:36 pm June 1st, 2017

If you are unable to get your prescription refilled for several weeks can this make you unusually sleepy if you take adarell for sleep apnea?

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
2:49 pm June 5th, 2017

Hi Snadra. One of Adderall withdrawal symptoms is uncontrollable sleepiness.

5:06 pm August 23rd, 2017

Should Adderall be prescribed to someone who has not been properly diagnosed? My husband was put on it just because he told his dr that he couldn’t focus. That is all the dr needed to hear and now this is the fourth time he has been on it in a little over a year and he forgets things he says, gets mean and says things that my husband would never say. Every time he comes off of it he doesn’t remember saying any of these things. What can I do?

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
4:31 pm August 24th, 2017

Hi Help. I suggest that you consult with another doctor, and seek help from a professional for your husband’s behavior.

6:36 am September 23rd, 2017

Hi! I have a gene mutation that makes me a super metabolizer for Adderall! I was curious if you were familiar with what does I should take, since I metabolize it quickly, what would a safe dose be for me? If you would need specifics of the gene mutation and weight in order to calculate it, I can put those in my reply. I have an appointment next Friday, so I’d like to show my doctor a suggested dose. I finally did my psychological testing and was diagnosed with ADHD at 29, I’ve been in need of something for focus for so long and I really hope this is the one that helps me find some order in my head. Thank you!

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
2:45 pm September 28th, 2017

Hi Meg. I suggest that you consult with your doctor about the dosage.

Leave a Reply

Trusted Helpline
Help Available 24/7