Adderall is a common ADHD medication. Adderall belongs to a group of medications called stimulants. Stimulants are the most widely prescribed drugs to treat ADHD (also known as ADD). They’re also the most effective for the majority of kids with ADHD.
Here’s what you need to know about Adderall.
What Is Adderall?
Adderall is an ADHD stimulant medication that’s been in use since 1996. Like all stimulants, Adderall works by improving the way parts of the brain communicate with each other.
But Adderall is a different type of medication than some other common brands. It’s an amphetamine-based drug. Brands like Concerta and Ritalin are methylphenidate drugs.
Adderall Side Effects
Adderall has the same potential side effects as all stimulant drugs. The most common are decreased appetite and trouble falling asleep at night. Other less common side effects include stomach pain and nausea. These side effects can be more pronounced with Adderall XR in a small number of kids, especially if it’s taken on an empty stomach.
There are other side effects that are even less common. These include:
If your child experiences side effects, your doctor may recommend adjusting or changing the medication. That’s especially true if your child has these rarer side effects. (See a list of signs your child’s medication may need adjusting.)
Adderall Dosage and Timing
Adderall is a short-acting drug that lasts in the body for four to six hours. It also comes in an extended-release preparation, known as Adderall XR. Extended release means it is slowly released into the body throughout the day and can last six to 10 hours in kids.
Adderall comes in seven dosages: 5mg, 7.5mg, 10mg, 12.5mg, 15mg, 20mg or 30 mg. Kids typically take it two times a day. During the school day, they generally go to the nurse’s office for their second dose.
Adderall XR comes in six dosages: 5mg, 10mg, 15mg, 20mg, 25mg or 30mg. The extended-release version is designed to stay in the body for up to eight to 10 hours. Some kids only need to take it once a day.
How long Adderall XR lasts depends on each child’s unique metabolism. Some kids may need to take a “booster” dose of the short-acting version later in the day. This isn’t uncommon when kids are in high school and need to study in the evening.
Adderall XR comes in a capsule form that kids can swallow whole. You can also open the capsule and sprinkle the contents on food, like applesauce.
Common Questions Parents Have About Adderall
Adderall is a well-known drug that’s been in the spotlight in recent years. If you’re considering it for your child, you may have questions about how it works, and how it might affect your child. Here are answers to common questions parents ask about Adderall.
What’s the generic name for Adderall?
Adderall is a combination of two stimulant drugs, amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. The generic name for Adderall is dextroamphetamine/amphetamine. But on the prescription it might be shortened to mixed amphetamine salts or MAS.
Learn about the difference between brand-name and generic medications for ADHD.
Is Adderall addictive? Does it lead to substance abuse?
Adderall seems to appear in pop culture more than other ADHD medications. It’s been the focus of recent books and films that suggest it may be addictive or raise the risk of substance abuse.
But the research is clear. When taken as prescribed, Adderall is not addictive and doesn’t increase the risk of substance abuse. In fact, when kids with ADHD take Adderall as prescribed, it actually lowers their risk of abuse.
It’s true, though, that amphetamine-based ADHD medications are more likely to be misused. That’s because they help with attention in everyone, not just in people with ADHD.
So kids and adults without an Adderall prescription may get access to it and abuse it. For instance, high school and college students may use amphetamine drugs to help them study. They may also be used by people who have other addictions.
Like all stimulant medications, Adderall is a controlled substance. That means there are restrictions in place to reduce the potential for abuse and addiction. For instance, prescribers can only write prescriptions for one month at a time.
Learn more about ADHD medication misuse, sharing and abuse.
What if Adderall keeps my child from sleeping?
It’s common for kids with ADHD to have sleep problems, whether they’re on medication or not. But stimulants can delay sleep in about half of kids. The average delay is about 40 minutes, so good bedtime routines are very important. If you’re seeing this or any other side effect, talk to your child’s prescriber. The prescriber may adjust the dose, medication or timing.
It may also be helpful to work on creating a bedtime routine that sets the stage for sleep. Read an expert’s advice for helping kids with ADHD wind down at night.
Can Adderall help with anxiety?
Kids with ADHD often have some degree of anxiety. Adderall isn’t an anxiety medication. In fact, stimulant drugs can make anxiety worse in a small percentage of kids with ADHD. But for others, reducing the symptoms of ADHD can make kids less anxious. This is because as they concentrate better, kids experience school in particular as less stressful.
Learn more about the connection between ADHD and anxiety.
How will I know if Adderall is right for my child?
Not all kids have the same degree of ADHD symptoms, or the same exact challenges. If an ADHD medication is working well, you should see a significant reduction in your child’s core symptoms. For example, you might notice your child is much better able to think things through before acting. Or you might see that your child doesn’t interrupt people as often.
One way to tell how well the medication is working is to complete an ADHD rating scale before and after your child starts taking it. Chances are, you (and maybe your child’s teacher) filled out these questionnaires as part of your child’s evaluation for ADHD. Doing it again will let you see how much your child’s behavior has changed.
You can also use this printable medication log to keep track of how well any ADHD medication is working for your child.
What if Adderall doesn’t work for my child?
If it looks like Adderall isn’t working well for your child, talk to your child’s prescriber. A change in dosage or timing might help. Or the prescriber may recommend trying a different stimulant or switching to a non-stimulant medication. You can also try behavior therapy for your child, with or without medication.
Learn more about steps to take if your child’s ADHD medication isn’t working.
How can I decide if my child should take Adderall?
Putting your child on any type of ADHD medication is a personal choice. And it can be a tough one for some parents. Talk to your child’s doctor about the options, and share any concerns you may have. If you’re considering medication, ask yourself these questions.
If you decide not to use medication, or if it doesn’t work well for your child, there are alternatives you can look into. Behavior therapy, for instance, is a helpful approach for many kids with ADHD. What matters most is finding ways to manage ADHD symptoms so your child can learn, succeed and enjoy daily life.
Understood is not affiliated with any pharmaceutical company.
Adderall is available in a short-acting form or an extended-release form called Adderall XR.
When taken as prescribed, Adderall doesn’t increase the risk of substance abuse.
If you have questions or concerns about Adderall, it’s important to talk to your child’s doctor.
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About the author
About the author
Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.
Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.