By Lauren Smith
Updated: 31 July 2023 & medically reviewed by Dr. Kimberly Langdon
Many students turn to the ADHD drug Adderall to keep them awake during all-nighters and to hone their focus during exams. Most believe abuse of the prescription drug is harmless, but, in fact, it’s associated with adverse cardiovascular and mental health effects. Snorting Adderall is especially risky: it increases the risk of addiction and damages the nose and sinuses.
Table of contents:
What is Adderall?
Adderall is a brand name of a medication that combines several amphetamine salts and treats attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. In 2020, Adderall was the 22nd most commonly prescribed drug in the U.S., with 26 million prescriptions dispensed.
Adderall increases the activity of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine and, as a stimulant, accelerates the body’s central nervous system. It’s believed that people with ADHD have a dysfunction in their brain's dopamine systems, which Adderall corrects.
For people with ADHD, the drug has been found to reduce symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity and promote focus and concentration. Long-term use improves their functioning, academic achievement, and quality of life. Prescription Adderall doses are low, so there's little risk of dependence or addiction.
Can you snort Adderall?
Adderall is often snorted instead of swallowing pills by those who abuse the substance, as the effects of the drug are felt much faster and more intensely. Snorting Adderall is a strong indicator of a substance use disorder and that addiction treatment should be sought out.
Is snorting Adderall dangerous?
Some recreational users snort Adderall to attain a faster, more intense high. While immediate release Adderall takes 45 to 60 minutes to take effect when ingested, snorting can reduce this to 15 to 30 minutes.
Snorting is the second most common method students use when taking prescription stimulants, with 38.1% of study drug users reporting it.
Snorting Adderall is associated with all the risks of general abuse of the drug, including cardiovascular issues, seizures, and psychosis. However, there are additional hazards of snorting the drug, including risks of
- nose bleeds
- reduced sense of smell
- nasal crusting
- congestion and a runny nose
- chronic sinus infections
- damage to the nasal septum, including perforation
Snorting Adderall is also more likely to lead to addiction because it causes a bigger spike in dopamine levels and thus euphoria.
Who abuses Adderall?
When people without ADHD take Adderall or people take much higher doses than prescribed, their brains are flooded with too much dopamine—as it would be if they used cocaine or opiates. This dopamine surge produces euphoria and activates the reward pathway in the brain that underlies addiction.
However, many people who abuse Adderall aren’t seeking this euphoria. They’re taking the drug for its other effects: wakefulness, increased focus, reduced fatigue, and a supposed boost to their brainpower. These effects are particularly seductive for college students facing scrambling to prepare for exams and write papers. Adderall is the most commonly used “study drug” among students, with one in six college students in the U.S. reporting using it.
However, Adderall is not the miracle drug some students think it is.
In students without ADHD, Adderall has been shown to significantly boost mood and moderately improve attention and focus. But it doesn’t increase reading comprehension and working memory—skills needed for studying and writing papers. So you might stay up all night studying but you won’t necessarily remember everything you reviewed.
Dangers of Adderall abuse
In a national survey, 38.5% of 19- to 22-year-olds said they didn’t believe regular use of amphetamine study drugs was dangerous. They’re mistaken: Adderall is a powerful stimulant and can cause serious cardiovascular and psychological problems, including dependence and addiction.
Adderall abuse can cause serious effects including
Increased blood pressure
Additionally, people buying Adderall from drug dealers may unwittingly acquire adulterated or counterfeit pills. Fake Adderall pills have been found to contain methamphetamine and even the powerful and deadly opiate fentanyl. In 2022, three students at Ohio State overdoses after taking what they believed to be Adderall, with two dying, prompting warnings from public health agencies.
Adderall should only be taken as prescribed and obtained from pharmacies.