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Millions of people across the world suffer from depression every year. While it is a curable condition, finding the proper treatment can be a long, strenuous process, especially for someone who is already suffering from other mental health disorders, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Most people are already on medications like Adderall, and receiving a diagnosis of depression in such circumstances can bring additional challenges.
Adderall is one of the most common medications used to treat ADHD. However, its use has also been associated with depression. While many experts consider it an off-label treatment for depression, others deem it a potential cause of depressive disorder. Understanding the association can help people navigate both problems when they co-exist and learn how to manage them together.
What is Adderall and Why People Use It?
Adderall is the brand name for a combinational drug that includes amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. The drug is available in two forms, tablets and extended-release capsules, and can be taken according to the current situation. Adderall is primarily prescribed for controlling symptoms resulting from ADHD. Its daily use helps people manage their actions while maintaining focus to get through the day at work, school, or home. Adderall and other medications remain an essential cornerstone for ADHD treatment, and it is no surprise that their sales are a big business across the United States.
Another reason why a person may use Adderall is to get relief from symptoms of narcolepsy. In such circumstances, the drug helps guard a person from spontaneous bouts of sleep and daytime sleepiness. Alternatively, many people choose to abuse this drug due to its uncanny ability to concentrate without getting distracted, even when they do not suffer from ADHD or narcolepsy.
As a stimulant, Adderall works by targeting the central nervous system and changing the brain chemistry and the neurotransmitter balance. These neurotransmitters are small chemicals that the brain cells utilize to communicate with each other and transmit signals. Adderall, in particular, targets two specific neurotransmitters, norepinephrine and dopamine, which impact behavior and attention.
Despite having multiple benefits, one of the drawbacks of Adderall is it does not possess a one-size-fits-all effect. Hence, it may affect different people in entirely different ways, and they may elicit variable responses despite taking the same form and dosage. One reason behind this variable response is the existence of co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression, that may alter its course of action and potential benefits.
Adderall and Depression: What is the Connection?
Adderall and depression have multiple associations. While some consider it a mode of treatment for depression, others report feeling depressed after taking the drug.
Can Adderall Treat Depression?
Adderall is commonly used as an off-label treatment in patients experiencing ADHD along with depressive disorder. The drug does not act like an antidepressant but carries stimulating properties. Hence, it aims to increase attention, alertness, and energy, which, in turn, boosts mood in people suffering from depression. Therefore, experts may sometimes prescribe Adderall to treat depression, but mostly in cases where the disorder has failed to respond to other treatments. 
For people using Adderall for depression, the regular dosage is very low, and the drug is often used with other medications. However, remember that the use of this medication for depression treatment is minimal and only effective in a limited number of cases.
Can Adderall Cause Depression?
According to the information provided by the FDA, using Adderall can lead to depression as an adverse reaction. However, it is worth remembering that this side effect is relatively rare and generally occurs in people who misuse it or continue using it without a valid prescription. The FDA also highlights that people with a history of bipolar disorder or any other psychotic disorder must be particularly cautious while taking Adderall. In general, people displaying behavioral symptoms must undergo a detailed screening for all such mental health conditions before they start taking Adderall.
The FDA also claims that someone who has been taking Adderall in high doses for a long time may develop depression if they suddenly stop taking it. Moreover, its abrupt withdrawal can also result in high levels of tiredness. Research also confirms that stimulant medication misuse in college students has led to depressive symptoms in many.  However, more investigations are needed for further confirmation of this link.
Adderall Depression: How to Avoid the Emotional Side Effects?
As with other medications, it is crucial to follow a doctor’s instructions while using Adderall, particularly in terms of dosage and frequency of use. Read all label instructions carefully while starting Adderall for the first time and closely work with the physician who has prescribed it to manage the service and evaluate if any changes are needed according to each situation. Moreover, keeping in touch with a physician can also help people responsibly taper off the medication when the time is right to avoid the complications of long-term use and abrupt stoppage.
Ensure you have a detailed discussion regarding the treatment plan for starting Adderall. Additionally, provide extensive family health history to the physician as Adderall may be contraindicated in situations where a specific mental health disorder or cardiovascular risk is involved. Moreover, a doctor must also be aware of any current medications or supplements you are taking to minimize the risk of cross-interactions and the side effects they bring.
Lastly, do not hesitate to get in touch with the doctor if you feel low, tired, exhausted, or develop any other Adderall emotional side effects. Many of these symptoms are easy to mediate with simple adjustments. For instance, if Adderall is disturbing sleep and worsening depression, a doctor may advise taking the pill in the early morning hours as far away from bedtime as possible. However, remember that depression stemming from Adderall can also be dangerous; hence, it must always be addressed as soon as possible. Where lifestyle tips fail to work, professional therapy must be sought to contain the depressive thoughts before they become harmful.
Why does Adderall make me depressed?
Because Adderall is a stimulant, coming off the medication too quickly can sometimes lead to a letdown. This letdown may exhibit itself in the form of depression symptoms.
What are some other side effects of taking Adderall?
In addition to triggering depression in some people, Adderall can lead to the following side effects:
- Decreased appetite
- Serotonin syndrome
- Difficulty sleeping
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Dry mouth
- Blurry vision
- Shortness of breath
Depression and fatigue are more common in people who stop taking Adderall after using it for a long time. Moreover, it is also a common symptom in people who are misusing Adderall and can get so intense that it may lead to suicidal tendencies.
What can I do to minimize the risk of depression and other side effects due to Adderall?
Before starting Adderall, talk to the prescribing physician about any pre-existing mental and medical conditions. The use of this medication is contraindicated in people with specific problems, such as glaucoma, hypertension, heart disease, and substance use disorder. Similarly, combining it with certain psychiatric medications, such as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, is also not recommended. People with bipolar disorder and ADHD must also be particularly cautious about Adderall and its side effects. Those with a history of mania, depression, and psychosis must discuss with a doctor regarding the safety of using Adderall.
1 Pary R, Scarff JR, Jijakli A, Tobias C, Lippmann S. A review of psychostimulants for adults with depression. Federal Practitioner. 2015 Apr;32(Suppl 3):30S.
2 Benson K, Flory K, Humphreys KL, Lee SS. Misuse of stimulant medication among college students: a comprehensive review and meta-analysis. Clinical child and family psychology review. 2015 Mar;18:50-76.