Adderall and Anxiety: Managing Anxiety Caused by Adderall

Adderall and Anxiety: Managing Anxiety Caused by Adderall

Reviewed by:
Camille Mendez-Maldonado, MD
Staff Psychiatrist
at Talkiatry
August 29, 2023
In this article

While Adderall can be incredibly helpful in relieving ADHD symptoms, some people can experience mild anxiety including a racing mind, rapid heartbeat, and panic, as a side effect of the medication. You should always consult your licensed prescriber to discuss any medication side effects but in the meantime, there are things you can do to help manage and alleviate anxiety caused by Adderall.  

In this article, we’ll dive into this connection between Adderall and anxiety and share some psychiatrist-backed tips to help manage and alleviate this side effect.

What is Adderall?

Adderall is a prescription stimulant that is FDA approved to treat ADHD. It contains a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, two stimulants that increase the release of neurotransmitters. That is, chemical messengers in your brain like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. When taken as prescribed and under the supervision of a licensed provider, Adderall can help provide relief from symptoms of ADHD.

When is Adderall prescribed?  

Adderall is commonly prescribed to help manage symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), including inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. It works by raising dopamine levels in the brain. People with ADHD generally have lower levels of neurotransmitters, like dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine promotes feelings of reward and norepinephrine plays a role in your fight-or-flight response. As a result of these lower levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, people with ADHD tend to be easily distracted and seek constant stimulation for feelings of pleasure and reward. Adderall helps balance the levels of neurotransmitters.  

Another condition that Adderall is also often prescribed for is narcolepsy, a chronic neurological condition that impacts the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. People with narcolepsy also have lower levels of neurotransmitters associated with arousal, and Adderall can help increase them, thereby promoting wakefulness.

Related article: Learn the difference between Wellbutrin and Adderall

Can Adderall cause anxiety?

Similar to other prescription drugs, Adderall does have some side effects – a common one being mild anxiety. Though the severity and symptoms can vary from person to person, they often include: nervousness, a sense of worry or fear, fast breathing, and increased heart rate.

If you’re experiencing side effects Adderall, it’s important to make an appointment with your prescribing doctor. Psychiatrists are highly trained in medication management and can work with you to adjust your medications, either the dose or the type, to minimize side effects.


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Why might Adderall contribute to anxiety?  

While Adderall can help those with ADHD manage their symptoms, its effects on your central nervous system (CNS) combined with other physical common side effects like increased breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure can cause or worsen anxiety.

Some people also find that when the effects of Adderall wear off, they are left with feelings of worry, low self-esteem, and overwhelm. All of these feelings are typical in people who are living with unmanaged ADHD.

It’s also important to note that Adderall abuse and addiction can worsen and increase anxiety. Despite being a controlled substance, Adderall, ADHD medications, and other amphetamines are commonly abused under the guise that these medications improve performance and aid in energy.  Taking Adderall without a valid prescription or not taking it as prescribed can lead to an Adderall addiction or dependency, causing anxiety and withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug. If you are struggling with Adderall addiction or dependence, reach out to a healthcare professional like your PCP or a psychiatrist. They can advise you on how to safely wean off the medication.  

How can you manage Adderall-related anxiety?

If you’re struggling with anxiety while taking Adderall – whether it’s a new prescription or you’ve taken it for some time now, here are some psychiatrist-backed tips to help you manage anxiety.

Consult your doctor

If you experience persistent symptoms of anxiety after taking Adderall, connect with your doctor right away. Your doctor may adjust the prescribed dosage, recommend another type of medication such as anti-anxiety medication, or explore other treatment options that might work better for you, like talk therapy.  

Limit caffeine

Starting the mornings with a caffeine boost via coffee or tea is a ritual loved by many – and for good reason: caffeine influences your central nervous system (CNS) – and helps lift your mood, revs up your energy, and shakes off brain fog. It works by blocking  adenosine, a chemical in your brain that promotes sleep, lowers your heart rate, and makes it harder for you to maintain your focus and concentration. When you sip on a caffeinated brew, the caffeine blocks adenosine and promotes the release of dopamine.  

Caffeine in moderation can have a positive effect, but if you’ve ever had one cup too many or have an anxiety disorder, you probably already know that too much caffeine can lead to problematic side effects like jitters, restlessness, increased heart rate, headaches, and racing thoughts. Put simply: it worsens anxiety.  

The thing is, both caffeine and Adderall are stimulants that influence your brain’s dopamine system, though they work in slightly different ways.  When combined, their effects on your central nervous system are intensified and can lead to increased arousal and heightened anxiety symptoms. For this reason, it’s best to limit or avoid caffeine altogether if you’re experiencing uncomfortable side effects.  

Try meditation and mindfulness techniques

If anxiety is overwhelming your thoughts and body, practicing meditation and mindfulness can help. The foundational practice of it helps ground you in the present moment and activates your body’s parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is your body’s natural counterbalance to stress and anxiety. It slows your body’s responses and helps reach a state of balance, allowing your body to relax.  

Meditation unwinds your body physically and mentally; it decreases your heart rate and blood pressure but also helps harness a sense of calm and quiets your mind from the overstimulation caused by Adderall. Not only are mindfulness techniques helpful when you’re feeling anxious, but practicing the techniques regularly can help train your nervous system to respond effectively in times of stress and anxiety. These techniques can be especially helpful if you are prone to panic attacks.  

Maintain a consistent sleep schedule

With busy schedules, going to bed at the same time each night is already a challenge, but add racing thoughts and overwhelming stress and anxiety – you’re guaranteed to stay up tossing and turning. The reason being: sleep deprivation can impair cognitive function, making it harder to process information and manage your anxious thoughts. Sleep is a period for rest and restoration – it allows your brain to replenish its neurochemical balance to reduce anxiety during your waking hours but also helps you better manage symptoms if an anxiety attack occurs. In other words, sleep is key for your mental wellbeing and quality of life.

 Prioritizing a consistent sleep schedule is key to getting restful shuteye. It keeps your circadian rhythm, your biological clock in sync with your day and night schedule, so your body understands when to relax and when to unwind for sleep.


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Address underlying mental health conditions

People with pre-existing anxiety disorders like, generalized anxiety disorder, or other mental health conditions may be more prone to experiencing anxiety as a side effect of Adderall. If your anxiety or other mental health conditions are unmanaged, Adderall may intensify underlying anxiety symptoms or trigger anxiety in those who are predisposed to the condition. In some cases, the symptoms of ADHD can also overlap with those of certain anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It’s important to seek treatment for underlying mental health conditions and to get an accurate diagnosis from a qualified healthcare provider.  

Both psychiatrists and therapists are trained to help people living with anxiety. If you’re struggling with anxiety as a result of Adderall, extra support—with medications such as anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants, talk therapy (like cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT), or both—may be necessary to control your symptoms.

Professional support with Talkiatry

With Talkiatry, you can see a psychiatrist from the comfort of your home, and you can schedule your first appointment in a matter of days. To get started, take our free online assessment, to see if Talkiatry is right for you and get matched with a psychiatrist.

About Talkiatry  

Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety disorders, depression, trauma, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.

The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger or is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away   

Sources:

Adderall | Drugs

Physiology, Neurotransmitters | NIH

Understanding ADHD | ADD

Amphetamine (Adderall) | NAMI  

Amphetamine | NIH

Too much coffee? | APA

Dr. Mendez-Maldonado is double board-certified in general psychiatry and geriatric psychiatry. She received her medical degree from the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine. She then moved to New York to complete her residency training At Mount Sinai Beth Israel where she stayed to complete her fellowship in geriatric psychiatry. After her fellowship, she proceeded to work at Woodhull Hospital where she worked as an attending before becoming unit chief and running their Special Pathogens Unit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She focuses on medication management and offers this in conjunction with supportive therapy, cognitive-behavioral techniques, a focus on nutritional psychiatry, and 30-minute follow-up visits.

Dr. Mendez-Maldonado focuses on integrating nutrition, physical activity, and mindfulness techniques alongside pharmacotherapy to achieve a well-rounded approach to mental health.

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