The Connection Between Adderall and Depression

Medications

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, a stimulant, has been linked to depression for many reasons, both as an off-label treatment and a cause of depression.

Adderall

Adderall is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. A stimulant, it 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.

Adderall is not an FDA-approved treatment for depression. The FDA warns that Adderall in patients with combined mental health disorders, such as ADHD and bipolar disorder, should be cautious of adverse effects. Additionally, patients with underlying mental health problems, such as psychosis, mania, or depression, should consult with their doctor before taking Adderall. 

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, it is best to treat depression first, he explains. Once mood is regulated, cognitive function can be evaluated.

Though depression is classified as a mood disorder, there are many forms of depression, including, but not limited to: major depression, manic depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), clinical depression, and treatment-resistant depression.

Medications used to treat most forms of depression include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or SNRIs or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and Buprorian, also classified as antidepressants.

Off-Label Usage of Adderall

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. However, the depression should be treated separately by a medical professional and you should not take Adderall without a medical consultation and personalized prescription.

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

Other treatment options for depression, in addition to or in place of medications, may include alternative therapies such as dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), mindful-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

When taking Adderall for ADHD or narcolepsy, patients can experience adverse side effects, and though Adderall may help patients who suffer from ADHD and depression, there are many side effects that can occur in the short term and long term.

Side Effects

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

  • Stomach ache
  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Nervousness
  • Seizures 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty sleeping 
  • Eyesight changes or blurred vision
  • Serotonin syndrome 

Patients who stop taking Adderall for an extended period of time may also experience extreme fatigue and depression. Depression can also occur when patients abuse Adderall.

Unfortunately, Adderall is commonly misused (taken without a prescription) or abused. Non-medically deemed the “study drug,” Adderall is widely known for its ability to improve cognitive abilities and many students (high school and college) have used it to concentrate for long periods of time.

The problem is that many individuals 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 or suicidal thoughts.

“Adderall can be habit-forming, and people with depression may abuse the substance because it can provide a high,” says Nicole Arzt, M.S., L.M.F.T., a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Though Adderall can instantly improve your mood, it is not a treatment for depression.

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

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.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 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.

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