Adderall Associated with Serious, Life-Threatening Side Effects


Adderall and Adderall XR, schedule II controlled substances composed of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, have several Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved uses. However, both prescribed and recreational use of these drugs, especially among young people, is associated with serious, life-threatening side effects.

The FDA requires that all amphetamines, including Adderall and Adderall XR (the long-acting version of Adderall), carry a black box warning, which means that medical research has demonstrated that these drugs carry a significant risk of serious, or even life-threatening, adverse effects. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, both of these drugs have a “high potential for abuse” that “may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.” In an attempt to stem such abuse, the federal government limits the amount of these amphetamine drugs that can be manufactured each year.

Adderall is a central nervous system stimulate approved by the FDA to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Studies show that the side effects associated with Adderall XR include abdominal pain, anorexia (loss of appetite), asthenia (feeling of weakness), diarrhea, dizziness, dry mouth,elevated blood pressure, fever, headache, heartburn, infection, (including urinary tract infection), insomnia, nausea, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), and weight loss.


The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders notes that “Amphetamine, as with cocaine, can induce symptoms similar to those seen in obsessive disorder, panic disorder, and phobic disorders.” The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual notes that “high doses and long-term use of amphetamines are associated with erectile disorder and other sexual dysfunction. Use of Adderall can also induce schizophrenic-like states in children who are taking prescribed doses, according to The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

In 2005, Adderall XR was pulled off the market in Canada after use of the drug was linked to 20 sudden deaths and 12 strokes. All of the strokes were in children, as were 14 of the deaths. None of these incidents were associated with overdose, misuse, or abuse of Adderall XR, according to Canadian regulators. Although the FDA put out a public health advisory at the time, it said that its evaluation of the Canadian report did not warrant pulling the drug from the US market.

Jack M. Gorman, MD, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, deputy director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and author of The Essential Guide to Psychiatric Drugs, noted that “abrupt cessation of Adderall and Adderall XR can cause extreme fatigue and severe, even suicidal, depression in adult patients.” He also noted in a 2005 article that “Adderall is now abused throughout college campuses, where it is bought, sold, stolen, borrowed, snorted and injected.” While he acknowledged that it is a very powerful medication that can help patients who have ADHD, “there are alternatives with less abuse potential that should be tried first.”

In a study recently published in Substance Use and Misuse, researchers at the University of Kentucky interviewed 175 undergraduate students at a public southeastern research university and asked how they conceived of ADHD stimulates and their illegal use. The students believed that use of Adderall and similar stimulants is physically harmless and morally acceptable. Given this attitude among young people, and the known serious, life-threatening side effects associated with Adderall use, it seems apparent that much remains to be done to help people understand the dangers of misuse and abuse of Adderall and other amphetamines.

DeSantis AD, Hane AC. Substance Use and Misuse 2010; 45(1-2): 31-46
Gorman, JM. The Essential Guide to Psychiatric Drugs, St. Martins Press, 2007.
Sadock BJ et al. Kaplan and Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2007.
Surles, LK et al. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine 2002 Nov-Dec; 15(6): 498-500



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