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How Does Adderall Work? A Scientific Explanation - Keep Bizzy

If you’ve been talking to your doctor about Adderall, you may be wondering, “How does Adderall work?”

In this post, we will go over a detailed explanation on how Adderall affects the human body. It includes how it seeks to ease the symptoms of ADD/ADHD and any side effects that can be experienced.

What is Adderall?


Adderall is a drug that combines two stimulants, amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. These two stimulants work together to kick up the production of dopamine in your brain.

Dopamine helps manage many of the activities of the brain and nervous system. It helps the body feel energized and focuses.

Doctors will typically prescribe Adderall in one of two different formulas: Adderall XR and Adderall IR.

  • Adderall XR, or extended release, dissolves into the body slowly. It provides continuous treatment throughout the day. This formula typically works for 10 to 12 hours before the medication wears off.
  • The Adderall IR formula will start working the instant it’s taken. But, it lasts for a shorter duration of about 4 hours. The type of Adderall prescribed depends on how the patient is affected by the medication.

Due to its tendency to be misused, Adderall has been deemed as a narcotic drug.

Since amphetamines are highly addictive, Adderall is only prescribed to patients who have difficulty producing the right amount of dopamine.

Adderall is most commonly prescribed to children and adults who struggle with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But, this can also be given to patients with narcolepsy.

How Does Adderall Work for ADD/ADHD?


Adderall stimulates the production of dopamine. It allows the nerve pathways in the brain to work more efficiently. Communication in the brain depends on the functionality of neurons and the tiny gaps between them known as synapses.

Neurons relay messages to one another by sending chemical messages. These are known as neurotransmitters, which travel through the synapses to the other neurons.

Neurotransmitters attach to the receiving neurons via a receptor delivered the chemical message. After released, the excess portion is reabsorbed by the neuron it originated from.

Clinical scientists found out that patients with ADHD are unable to properly reabsorb the neurotransmitter back into the original neuron. It is often found in brains affected with ADHD that the neurotransmitter is reabsorbed too early. This slows the communication process of the brain.

Stimulants like Adderall can help aid in the increase in the number of certain neurotransmitters, including dopamine and norepinephrine. The production of these chemicals helps to slow down the reabsorption process.

This help keep the neurotransmitter in the synapses areas long enough to ensure the chemical messages are fully received. This seems to help with the areas of the brain that are responsible for managing attention and other important brain functions.

How Does Adderall Work for Narcolepsy?


Narcolepsy is a disease many clinical scientists believe to be caused by a lack of an important brain chemical known as hypocretin. Hypocretin is a chemical in the brain that is tasked with regulating sleep, particularly rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, sudden overpowering sleep episodes, and other sleep-related side effects.

Patients with narcolepsy issues have often prescribed an amphetamine such as Adderall to help alleviate the symptoms of their disorder. The increase of dopamine helps block out the feeling of fatigue and keeps patients awake and active during the day. Many narcolepsy patients are prescribed small doses of Adderall XR, which gives them a boost that will last throughout the day.

Physical Effects of Adderall

There are many physical effects when taking prescription Adderall. Adderall typically kicks in between 20-30 minutes after it is taking. Though this can vary depending on the prescribed type of Adderall.

Increasing the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters helps keep the body energized. It also increases your heart rate and blood pressure. This leaves the user feeling motivated, and can practically eliminate the sensation of body fatigue.

Patients who have difficulty with Adderall often report physical effects. The increase of blood pressure and heart rate could cause heart issues. This happens in patients who are prone to hypertension.

Some users experience difficulty breathing, sudden weight loss and seizures. Side effects such as these should be reported to a doctor immediately.

Mental Effects of Adderall

Adderall is a medication that works in the brain and can cause subtle changes in the brain chemistry. This can lead to mental and behavioral side effects.

At a well-functioning level, Adderall increases the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine to help the brain communicate properly. This helps keeps patients feeling calm and energized. Then, allowing them to focus on the task at hand.

Misuse or an ineffective dosage of Adderall can lead to changes in the brain. It often results in unpleasant mental or behavioral fluctuations.

Some users of Adderall report feeling angry or depressed, particularly when the drug starts to wear off. Other users might develop anxiety and paranoia, or even cause hallucinations.

A user should call the doctor right away if the experiencing any of these symptoms.

Adderall Side Effects

Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

The stimulants found in Adderall cause the brain to work at a high capacity. This motivates the body to stay active. This means that your blood will pump faster, as your brain is convinced to work at peak efficiency.

Stimulants also cause blood vessels to constrict. This then results to constrict blood flow and cause issues with circulation. This also lead to high blood pressure or an elevated heart rate. If left unchecked, these issues can cause severe damage to the body. This happens most especially in patients with a history of heart disease.

Loss of Appetite and Weight Loss

One of the many responsibilities of dopamine neurotransmitters is to deal with the part of the brain that signals satisfaction.

An increase of dopamine will send out a signal to the body that it is working at peak capacity. So, it does not need to refuel on energy. This leads to a lack of appetite, which often translates to sudden weight loss.

Dry Mouth and Bitter Taste

Adderall can make changes in the chemistry of the mouth. It blocks certain receptors or decreases the threshold of certain flavors.

For example, many Adderall users find that the medication blocks the production of saliva. This then leaves them with a dried out mouth. Known to enhance the bitter flavor receptors, other Adderall users report a distinctly bitter taste.

Issues with Sleeping

Adderall can trick the brain into thinking it is fully awake and ready to go.

While this is a positive symptom for those who struggle with narcolepsy, those who take Adderall for ADHD often find themselves awake all night.

This typically happens when the user took a dose too late in the day. This happens especially if it is the extended release formulas. Patients who take their Adderall later in the day will often feel the need to be awake until the dose wears off.

Stomach Pain, Nausea or Vomiting

Adderall can slow the muscles in your digestive system down, which can cause a variety of different stomach issues.

The most common intestinal side effects reported by Adderall users are the following:

  • stomach pain
  • constipation
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting

It can also cause issues with your kidneys and urinary tracts. Common issues are bladder pain, frequent urination, and urinary tract infections.

Nervousness or Anxiety

Since Adderall pushes your brain to an elevated state of activity, many users experience racing thoughts, which can lead to a feeling of anxiety.

Adderall side effects mimic many of the symptoms of a panic attack. This includes an elevated heartbeat and difficulty breathing.

Those who already have issues with anxiety and may feel that Adderall increases their symptoms making them feel on edge throughout the day.

Issues with Sexual Drive

Many men who take Adderall find they have difficulty becoming aroused. They will generally have a lack of sex drive. The cause of this is the constriction of the blood vessel. This vessel directs blood away from the extremities to focus on the core body functions.

Men with Adderall prescriptions may find that they have little interest in sex. Some have reported a visible shrinkage of the genitalia.

Should I Be Taking Adderall?

If you think that you may need to take Adderall, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

Most doctors will only prescribe Adderall to patients they believe are suffering from ADHD or narcolepsy. The side effects outweigh the benefits in most cases.

Adderall is classified as an addictive drug, so it can be abused very easily.

Patients prescribed with Adderall should only take the recommended dosage. They should keep in communication with their doctor should any side effects emerge.

Anyone without a prescription should avoid taking Adderall. Because it may not be the best solution to your health issues. Instead, you should make an appointment with your doctor. Talk to your doctor about better treatment plans.


Featured image: CC BY 4.0 by Neb 401 via Wikimedia Commons


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