Amy B. Gragnolati, PharmD, BCPSJoshua Murdock, PharmD
Written by Amy B. Gragnolati, PharmD, BCPS | Reviewed by Joshua Murdock, PharmD
Updated on April 13, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • Stimulants, such as Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts), are the most commonly used medications to treat ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) in children and adults. 

  • Prescription stimulants have been thoroughly studied and are generally well tolerated. Still, they have potential side effects, including raised blood pressure, restlessness, and erectile dysfunction.

  • Stimulants like Adderall are controlled substances, which can cause dependence and addiction. Talk to your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of prescription stimulants before taking them.

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ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) affects 3% to 6% of adults. And many adults take medication to help treat their ADHD. Surveys from 2015 and 2016 found that about 7% of U.S. adults were prescribed stimulant medication. 

There are many medication options available to treat ADHD. Stimulants — like Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts) and methylphenidate (Ritalin) — are some of the most commonly prescribed

Despite their widespread use, if you’re taking a stimulant, you should be informed about it — like any other medication you take. Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know about Adderall and other stimulants for adults with ADHD.

What are stimulants and how do they work?

Stimulants are the most commonly used medications to treat ADHD in children and adults. They raise the amount of certain chemicals — norepinephrine and dopamine — in the brain. These chemicals play a role in managing our attention and mood.

Norepinephrine affects attention and stress responses in the brain. Dopamine affects complex thinking and how we react to rewarding experiences. A higher level of these chemicals in the body can lead to increased alertness, energy, and attention

Are Adderall and other stimulants FDA approved for adults?

Yes, stimulants like Adderall are FDA-approved to treat ADHD in adults. 

There are two categories of stimulant medications that treat ADHD. They are:

  1. Amphetamines: like Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts) and Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine)

  2. Methylphenidate: like Ritalin (methylphenidate), Concerta (methylphenidate ER), and Focalin (dexmethylphenidate) 

Adderall and Ritalin are also FDA-approved to treat narcolepsy, and Vyvanse is approved to treat binge eating disorder in adults

Buy Vyvanse 30mg online

What are the side effects of Adderall and other common stimulants in adults?

Prescription stimulants like Adderall have been studied extensively. Hundreds of studies have evaluated the effects of stimulant medications. 

In general, prescription stimulants are well-tolerated. But like all medications, side effects are possible. Possible short-term side effects of Adderall include:

  • Racing heart

  • High blood pressure

  • Anger, restlessness, or irritability

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Dry mouth

  • Diarrhea or constipation

  • Weight loss

  • Hair loss

  • Muscle twitching

  • Erectile dysfunction

  • Changes in sex drive 

There are some more serious potential short-term side effects, too. These include seizures, serious heart problems, and even sudden death.

And there are some serious potential long-term side effects. Adderall may cause worsening heart problems, dementia, and mental health issues. These long-term side effects are not as well studied, so we need more data before we can say just how serious these risks are. 

There’s also the risk of dependence or addiction with long-term use of Adderall. We’ll talk more about this later in this article.

Can you take Adderall and other prescription stimulants during pregnancy?

Product labeling for stimulants — including with AdderallRitalin, and Vyvanse — state that these medications shouldn’t be used during pregnancy unless the benefit outweighs the risk. 

Taking prescription stimulants during pregnancy may raise the risk of negative effects on the baby. But severe ADHD during pregnancy can have negative consequences, too. It can affect an expectant mother’s daily functions if not treated. 

What does the research say?

One study looked at close to 5,000 women who took a stimulant to treat their ADHD while pregnant. Compared to women who didn’t take a stimulant, there was a higher risk of having high blood pressure and protein in the urine (preeclampsia). 

And continuing to take a stimulant later in pregnancy was linked to a greater chance of an early delivery (preterm labor). Though, overall, the risk is still extremely low. In fact, the researchers suggested that women with severe ADHD could potentially keep taking their stimulant medication during pregnancy.

But in another study, which looked at over 350,000 pregnancies, taking methylphenidate was linked to a higher risk of cardiac defects in babies. 

If you take prescription stimulants, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should continue them during pregnancy. Together, you can discuss the pros and cons of taking these medications while pregnant.

Is Adderall bad for your heart?

In adults with no cardiovascular disease (heart disease), the chances of Adderall causing new heart problems is low. But if you have existing heart problems, taking Adderall or other prescription stimulants is more risky. This is because changes in blood pressure or heart rate can be dangerous if you already have heart problems. 

If you have a heart condition — like an abnormal heart rhythm (e.g., atrial fibrillation) — talk to your healthcare provider before taking Adderall. They’ll help you weigh the risks and benefits.

Anyone taking Adderall will likely be monitored for changes in blood pressure and heart rate during their treatment. If you take Adderall and experience chest pains or loss of consciousness, seek emergency help as soon as possible.

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