The Connection Between Adderall and Depression

adderall and depression

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Millions of Americans experience depression every year. Finding the right treatment can be a long, strenuous process, especially when you’re dealing with other mental health disorders. Working with a doctor or mental health professional is crucial when considering treatment options. Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine) is a stimulant medication most commonly used to treat ADHD but has been linked to depression both as an off-label treatment for depression and as a cause of depression.

What Is Adderall?

Adderall is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. As a stimulant, Adderall affects chemicals in the brain and nerves that contribute to hyperactivity and impulse control. It is used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. It is often used as part of a treatment plan, which can include psychological, education, or social measures.

Connection Between Adderall and Depression

Adderall and depression are linked in multiple ways. Adderall has been used as an off-label treatment for depression in patients who experience depression in combination with ADHD. Because stimulants can increase alertness, attention, and energy, they can feel like mood boosters for those experiencing depression.

But Adderall can cause depression, especially if a person is taking a high dosage of the drug and suddenly discontinues use. Adderall is also commonly misused and taken without a prescription. Non-medically deemed the "study drug," Adderall is widely known for its ability to increase attention for long periods of time. Many high school and college students also use it recreationally.

The problem is that many people don’t know how stimulants work, what side effects can occur, and how the drug impacts the body in the short and long term. Adderall dependence and withdrawal can be dangerous and can cause depression, suicidal thoughts, fatigue, sleep problems, and more.

Using Adderall for Depression

Though ADHD and depression can be diagnosed separately or together, says Alex Dimitriu, MD, founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine, it’s better to treat one condition at a time. Even though ADHD can cause depression and stimulants like Adderall can help with symptoms of both conditions, it's often best to treat the depression first, Dr. Dimitriu explains. Once mood is regulated, cognitive function can be evaluated.

"It is important to realize that certain treatments in psychiatry, like stimulants, are more of a bandaid than a fundamental treatment," says Dr. Dimitriu.

Often, medications that are FDA-approved to treat depression like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are better treatment options for depression symptoms even in people with ADHD.

Other treatment options for depression, in addition to or in place of medications, may include alternative therapies such as:

While other medications are often more effective for treating depression, Adderall also comes with additional risks. "Adderall can be habit-forming, and people with depression may abuse the substance because it can provide a high," adds Nicole Arzt, MS, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Though Adderall can "provide a high" and instantly improve your mood, it is not an approved treatment for depression. Depression should be treated separately by a medical professional and you should not take Adderall without a medical consultation and personalized prescription.

Before Taking Adderall

Talk to your doctor or mental health professional about any preexisting medical conditions you have prior to taking Adderall.

You shouldn't take Adderall if you have heart disease, moderate to severe high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, glaucoma, a history of substance use disorder, or if you've had a bad reaction when taking other stimulants in the past.

It's recommended that you do not take Adderall if you are taking—or have taken within the past 14 days—a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI).

The FDA warns that patients with combined mental health disorders, such as ADHD and bipolar disorder, should be cautious of adverse effects when taking Adderall.

Additionally, patients with underlying mental health problems, such as psychosis, mania, or depression, should consult with their doctor before taking Adderall. 

If you have Tourette's syndrome, liver or kidney problems, thyroid problems, seizures, or circulation problems in the hands and/or feet, the FDA recommends that you consult with your doctor prior to taking Adderall.

Tell you're doctor if you are pregnant (or planning to become pregnant) or if you are currently breastfeeding.

Side Effects of Adderall

The following are some common and not-so-common side effects of Adderall:

People who stop taking Adderall for an extended period of time may also experience extreme fatigue and depression. Depression can also occur when patients misuse Adderall. Abruptly stopping Adderall can lead to suicidal thinking.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Using Adderall for long periods of time (prescribed or not) can cause many serious physical and mental health issues. Even if you are diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Adderall, you should be extremely cautious when taking it.

Warnings & Interactions

Serious cardiovascular events, some resulting in sudden death, have occurred in people who take stimulants and have preexisting heart conditions such as cardiomyopathy or serious heart rhythm abnormalities.

Stroke and myocardial infarction have occurred in some people taking prescribed stimulants for ADHD.

Stimulants cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, so people taking them should be monitored to make sure these levels are within a healthy range.

People with preexisting medical conditions that are adversely affected by an increase in heart rate and/or blood pressure—such as ventricular arrhythmia or hypertension—should especially be monitored by their doctor when taking Adderall.

Peripheral vasculopathy, a circulation disorder, has occurred in people taking Adderall. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you notice any pain in your extremities, especially in your fingers and legs.

Talk to your doctor about any other medications you're taking before taking Adderall. Some medications may have adverse reactions with Adderall including but not limited to:

  • Antidepressant medicines including MAOIs
  • Blood pressure medicines
  • Blood thinner medicines
  • Cold or allergy medicines that contain decongestants
  • Seizure medicines
  • Stomach acid medicines 

People with preexisting psychiatric conditions like psychotic disorder and bipolar disorder should consult with a doctor prior to taking Adderall. Stimulant drugs have worsened psychiatric symptoms for some people, including increasing manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder.

Symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, mania, and increased hostility have also been observed in adults and children taking Adderall, even without a history of mental illness. Let your doctor know right away if any concerning side effects occur as you're taking Adderall so they help you safely discontinue treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Adderall is an effective drug for ADHD and narcolepsy, but it should still be monitored by a medical professional, especially when taken daily and for long periods of time.

Adderall should not be a go-to treatment for depression. If you believe you have depression, you should speak with a mental health professional to discuss your symptoms, how best to treat them, and what lifestyle changes, medications, and/or therapies are best for you.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Pary R, Scarff JR, Jijakli A, Tobias C, Lippmann S. A review of psychostimulants for adults with depressionFed Pract. 2015;32(Suppl 3):30S‐37S. PMID:30766117

  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Label for Adderall. Revised January 2017.

  4. Rolland, Amber D. Smith, Patricia J. Aided by Adderall: Illicit use of ADHD medications by college students. Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council.

  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What are prescription stimulants?. Published June 2018.

By Sarah Sheppard
Sarah Sheppard is a writer, editor, ghostwriter, writing instructor, and advocate for mental health, women's issues, and more.