Why Adderall Doesn’t Make You More Productive

Posted on - in Health Inspiration
adderall and productivity

Trigger Warning: If you’ve experienced problems with recreational amphetamine abuse in the past, this post could negatively impact you.

Additionally, please note that all discussions about ADHD medication in this post are related to people who do not have ADHD, but take ADHD medication for recreational or ‘productivity’ purposes only. I’ve gotten many comments from people who only half-read this post. Taking ADHD medication if you have ADHD is a positive thing and this post is not disputing that.

There are only 24 hours in a day. Between balancing work with family issues and attempting to maintain a social life, all while completing any other daily tasks, finding the time to complete everything may seem impossible.

One popular options that people take advantage of to get the full 24 hours out of their day is to turn to Adderall. It’s a drug that doctors commonly prescribe to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Adderall can help treat ADHD and make it easier for those diagnosed with it to do things that they previously struggled with, such as paying attention.

Concerning ADHD in children, Adderall could help them perform better in school. Doctors also sometimes prescribe two ADHD drugs simultaneously, such as Dexedrine and Adderall. Under the right circumstances, this decision can lead to better functioning.

However, taking Adderall (or any similar ADHD medication) without a prescription and a doctor’s supervision does more harm than good — and it doesn’t even provide enough “good” to make the drug worth it. Inappropriate usage, such as taking the drug when you don’t have ADHD, is a type of Adderall abuse, and it could have long-term adverse consequences for your life.

Many people think that abusing Adderall will make them more productive – but there’s a difference between being productive and just keeping yourself busy. If you don’t have ADHD or a similar disorder, taking Adderall will likely give you a boost in energy, but is it actually making you more productive?

Let’s take a deep dive into the trend of people using Adderall prescriptions as productivity helpers rather than treatments for ADHD.

Does Adderall Give You Energy?

Adderall is a CNS stimulant, which means it affects the central nervous system. Research shows that the drug increases energy and alertness. However, if those taking Adderall also drink coffee, the two things could create a dangerous combination for people who want more energy. They may think Adderall will amplify the energy-boosting effects of caffeinated coffee, but that’s usually not the case. For example, the two could raise blood pressure too much.

Since the common perception is that Adderall makes people more energetic, it’s especially popular with students. Some of them stick to such rigorous schedules that they’d do almost anything to feel less fatigued. Student athletes, in particular, try Adderall to achieve better performance. Most athletic organizations consider Adderall a banned substance, however.

Some doctors prescribe Adderall as a stimulant medication to people with narcolepsy, a sleep disorder characterized by excessive tiredness. The drug can help them feel more energized throughout the day. However, if you take Adderall without getting guidance from a physician who orders it, you may instead have a hard time maintaining your normal sleep schedule and find it takes you too long to fall asleep — even while ingesting a low dose of the drug.

The Very Real Dangers of Adderall

I don’t want to share this with you, but I will if it helps you understand why I’m so against using Adderall or other, similar medications under the pretext of boosting your productivity.

A very close friend of mine began using Adderall when, like so many other college students, he was experiencing some burnout due to a heavy course load one semester. Over the last four years, my other friends and I have watched him turn into a shell of the person that he was before he started using Adderall. For people with ADHD, Adderall can change their lives positively, but that wasn’t the case for my friend.

Did we do anything to help him? We tried. But by the time we even realized there was a serious problem with him it was too late.

We encouraged him to stop using it, but he didn’t want to. He had excuse after excuse to keep taking his prescription (which he had easily obtained by naming off a few well-known ADHD symptoms to his doctor). It’s easy enough for anyone to research the signs of ADHD and report experiencing them while at a physician’s office. My friend realized that, and his doctor believed him.

It’s not like your friend just comes over to you one day and is suddenly strung out on this stuff. It’s a much slower, subtle process that you might barely even notice at the time.

Your friend mentions that they’ve started taking Adderall to stay up and study, then they start using it to get more done around the house. And eventually they take it to help them do… everything.

Doctors abide by medically reviewed guidelines when treating people who genuinely need Adderall due to ADHD or a similar diagnosis. But in the case of my friend, the first dose of Adderall he took led him down a path where he eventually became someone unlike the person I knew.

How Does Adderall Work?

Normally, people have a baseline level of stimulation. If they consume the likes of caffeine, nicotine, cocaine and amphetamine, their brains go into overdrive.

The opposite is true of ADD/ADHD sufferers, however. If they are given stimulants like amphetamine and dextroamphetamine (both of which are present in Adderall), they experience understimulation. Here, the effect of Adderall helps them focus. The changes that Adderall causes can also help them manage some symptoms that are not as widely associated with ADHD, such as mood swings. Some people with ADHD also experience rejection sensitivity dysphoria, which makes them react strongly to criticism.

That’s why Adderall is often prescribed for the above mentioned sufferers, who usually find it difficult to concentrate on any single task. It’s also worth mentioning here that Adderall is available as an immediate-release version, as well as Adderall XR, an extended-release variety.

What Happens If You Misuse Adderall?

According to Healthline Media, the drug doesn’t have positive cognitive effects in healthy people. Research indicates that it may even impair brain functionality in individuals who don’t need it.

Things get even more complicated if someone has a condition like bipolar disorder, which shares many of its symptoms with ADHD. Remember that Adderall gets categorized with other prescription stimulants. Evidence suggests it can increase the likelihood and severity of manic bipolar episodes.

As mentioned in an earlier section, the pill is also popular with many people who are trying to be more productive, because one of its tasks is to help prevent narcolepsy, or falling asleep at random times.

For people without narcolepsy or ADHD, Adderall makes them feel wide awake and gives them tons of energy to dedicate to whatever tasks they need to get done. Many college students use the drug to help them study for tests, or when they have numerous projects to complete.

One of the reasons why the drug feels so effective is because it stimulates the release of dopamine, a chemical most people associate with “highs” and feeling good.

However, the relationship between the two is more complicated than that. Dopamine is, in fact, an inhibitor. Specifically, it inhibits cells that release another inhibitory agent called GABA, thereby exciting the body’s nucleus accumbens, a.k.a. Pleasure Center. Since ADD/ADHD sufferers have low levels of dopamine, they need all the Adderall they can get.

While taking Adderall, people have the notion they’re being more productive, even when taking lower doses. In reality, it’s likely they’re experiencing the so-called placebo effect, i.e. they do well because of their strong belief the drug helps, not because the drug actually works.

Also, most of the evidence about the drug’s positive effects is anecdotal at best, so take it with a grain of salt.

There’s even evidence to suggest Adderall may make you less productive when it comes to certain tasks.

According to Claire Advokat, a psychology professor at Louisiana State University, drugs like Adderall that are stimulants may improve memory retention, but they can also diminish performance in tasks that require planning, thinking on the spot and thinking outside the box.

Additionally, a study from the University of Pennsylvania found that Adderall has little or no impact on the creativity on the average creative people (though the opposite is true for people who aren’t creative to begin with, for some reason).

And, when you’re taking Adderall or Ritalin every day, you end up missing out on a lot of sleep – and that starts to mess with your brain after a while, too.

When we noticed that our friend had a serious problem with Adderall, it was mostly because of his memory. He couldn’t remember anything: where he put his cigarettes, his car keys or his phone.

Then, he started forgetting other things. Like, what kind of music I liked. And my favorite character from our favorite TV show.

What Are The Dangers Behind Adderall?

People who take the drug without ADD/ADHD run the risk of causing serious harm to themselves. Doctors constantly monitor Adderall prescriptions because it does contain addictive qualities. As previously mentioned, the drug creates sensations of euphoria, so someone who self-administers the drug can become dependent and require more of the drug to feel “productive.”

The dangers behind Adderall include many heart problems — elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, and heart attacks or strokes. Breathing issues may also occur, as well as dry mouth, insomnia, loss of appetite and weight loss.

Mental health can also be seriously affected depending on how you administer the drug. People who snort Adderall have the tendency to become violent and possibly suicidal. If people already have a history of anxiety or depression, Adderall can worsen these feelings and wreak havoc on mental health even if people previously managed those conditions well.

Let’s not forget the ethical questions surrounding people taking the drug without having a medical need.

Is it fair for an Adderall-abusing student to obtain the same — or higher — grades as a student who gets by with sheer hard work and normal sleeping hours? Will office workers take Adderall in order to cope with increasingly high-pressure corporate environments? Is it all right to put your health at risk in the name of improved productivity?

If that’s not enough to dissuade you from taking Adderall, take a look at all these horror stories from others who’ve become addicted. All of them have one thing in common: They all got to the top the quick and easy way — only to crash back down to Earth in the most painful way possible.

The Dangers of Adderall Addiction and the Benefits of Treatment

When estimating the annual societal costs of drug abuse and addiction, the National Institutes of Health cited a $600 billion figure. Because Adderall is a prescription drug, people may not immediately think of it as the possible preferred substance of a drug addict.

The effects of Adderall can be positive for the people who genuinely need the medication. But, you learned above that when people misuse it, the consequences can be serious and range from declines in mental health to heart attack or even sudden death.

Then, as you learned with the sobering example of my friend, abusing Adderall does not happen overnight, but gradually. The potential for abuse also exists when people try Adderall for things other than better focus and enhanced productivity.

For example, since weight loss can be a side effect of taking the drug, people may believe that Adderall could help them lose weight faster than they would otherwise. Although both men and women may want to slim down at certain times of their lives, this misuse of Adderall arguably is a valid women’s health concern — similar to how breast cancer is — since females often feel exceptional pressure to shed excess pounds.

No one anticipates eventually ending up in a drug rehab or alcohol detox facility. But, things often spiral out of control until a point when an addicted person or their loved ones realize that a change must take place.

Sometimes, going into a rehab program is the best way for a person to get their lives on track after becoming addicted to Adderall or other prescription medications. If a person scales back on their use of Adderall over several months, they can often avoid what’s known as an Adderall crash.

The withdrawal symptoms can include cravings, feelings of anxiety or panic, depressed mood, insomnia and others. Ironically, many of those are the opposite of the positive Adderall effects people experience when taking it as a medical necessity.

Addiction treatment professionals can assist people with breaking free from their dependency and teach them how to restructure their lives and routines so that they’re less likely to relapse. It’s especially wise to get expert help if you’re dealing with other substance abuse behaviors beyond Adderall.

Safer Options for Being Productive

As we’ve emphasized here, Adderall is a drug that, when prescribed by a doctor, can help children and adults with ADHD remain calm and focus more. However, it should not be taken recreationally or with the hopes of cramming for a mid-term exam.

Instead of illegally taking drugs that are primarily intended to reduce ADHD symptoms, here are options you can use to be more productive:

  • Create a calendar with a detailed timetable. Instead of trying to finish all your work in one fell swoop (as Adderall addicts tend to do), break it down into manageable chunks. For example, you can read one chapter of the required textbook each weekday, instead of all seven chapters on a Saturday.  
  • Form study groups. The benefits of study groups outweigh that of self-study — as long as you study with people who want to make the most out of the session. You can go off-topic to talk about “fun” stuff once in a while (hey, talking about academics all the time can get boring), but be sure to get back to business as soon as you’re done.
  • Prioritize your tasks from most important to least important. This will keep you from feeling overwhelmed with work. In case you’re having trouble figuring out which is which, you can sort them into the four categories outlined here.
  • Complete similar tasks at the same time. Let’s say you have a required reading and a paper for philosophy, and another paper for physics. Instead of finishing the tasks on a per-subject basis (i.e. finishing everything for philosophy before proceeding to physics), you can finish them according to the type of task. You can take notes for philosophy and physics at the same time, while scheduling the reading for later.
  • Have rewards for completing difficult tasks. All that hard work can be exhausting. Have a tub of your favorite ice cream ready in the fridge once you’re done with everything. If you’re health-conscious, a bowl of fresh fruits can perk up your mood and taste buds at the same time.
  • Get enough sleep each night. Ideally, you should have seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night. Also, keep your bed sheets nice and tidy, turn your thermostat to 65 degrees, and turn off all lights.
  • Ask a friend to keep you accountable. Consider confiding in a trustworthy friend or loved one that you’re trying to become more productive. Tell them about some of the things that distract you from getting your work done and ask them to give you some gentle coaching if they see you start to stray into procrastination territory.

Even if you feel like you don’t have enough time in the day to finish everything, Adderall is not the answer.

Besides causing actual harm to the body, Adderall does very little to actually help increase productivity; instead, it just makes you feel as if you’re being more productive.

There’s a reason why the drug should only be administered by a doctor. The risks of taking Adderall without a prescription are not worth any of the perceived benefits.

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Kayla Matthews writes Productivity Theory and is constantly seeking to provide new tips and hacks to keep you motivated and inspired! You can also find her on Huffington Post and Tiny Buddha, and follow her on Google+ and Twitter to stay up to date on her latest productivity posts!


  1. Cliff

    i was taking adderall for a while, but then i switched for smart drugs, currently I’m on Nootropic Plus… are you against stuff like that too?

    4 years ago
    • Kayla Matthews

      Hi Cliff,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      To clarify, I’m not necessarily against Adderall as a prescribed medication – I’m simply trying to warn people about the dangers of taking Adderall recreationally. The audience I’m targeting with this post is people who use Adderall as a “study drug,” even though they don’t have a diagnosed condition that might improve with the use of medication.

      As far as Nootropic Plus goes, or any similar kind of supplement marketed as a “smart pill,” I certainly have my reservations, but what people choose to put into their bodies is their business so the call is up to you.

      I personally use caffeine to get things done productively, so that is the use of a substance in itself. It would be hypocritical to say, “Don’t use any substance to try to work better, period!” But I do think it’s beneficial to really consider what you’re putting into your body, and if the pros outweigh the cons. In the case of Adderall, I tend to think they don’t.

      Thanks for reading!


      4 years ago
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  4. Jennifer

    I was first prescribed Adderall about 10 years ago after being diagnosed with ADD – and yes, I answered all of the questions truthfully. Today, I am 36.
    I would describe my feeling after taking the Adderall (40 mg in the morning) as awake, ready to get things done, a lot of times I feel a bit jittery or anxious. And my appetite is suppressed, which I will not complain about.
    I occasionally will hyper-focus on one task for a really long time and I will have a hard time pulling myself away. This often results in me being late for work or just throwing my whole day off.
    As far as “negative” side effects: I have been writing creatively since I was a child. Until I started the Adderall.
    While I found that missing even a single dose in the morning caused me to be unable to complete a whole work day, I also found that I was unable to get in touch with the creative side of my mind.
    Now, 10 years in, I still feel as if the Adderall is necessary to get through a work day, but at the same time I don’t think it is helping me the way it should. I actually think it’s holding me back from being able to fully organize my life and stay on task. I am still forgetful, my vocabulary and spelling have gotten so bad it’s embarrassing.
    So basically I’ve been under the impression that I have ADD, so taking Adderall is necessary. But now I’m not so sure and I don’t know how I’d respond to life without the Adderall.

    Am I the only one in this boat? What is my true diagnosis???

    3 years ago
    • George Augoustakis

      hey jennifer i have the same feeling. did you ever come to a conclusion or get a new diagnosis?

      2 years ago
  5. Doug

    I was on all those meds to help with ADD ADHD depression anxiety etc. the thing is, they failed me for one simple reason. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had all this energy and no desire to do anything particular. So I’d stare at walls all day and night for years on end. I’m gonna be 38 soon. I still haven’t decided what I wanna do with life. I mean, I work. Same place for 18 years now. A machine shop. But other than work, I have zero interest in anything that I actually can do. And drugs can’t help that. I’ve seen this problem with many ppl. Thy all have the same problem I do and nobody has any answers. Not even therapy has helped and I’ve been in therapy, wow, for 30 years now. I had a trauamatic childhood. Forced me into therapy at a young age. Over a dozen therapists. Still, nothing. I wake, work, come home, eat, feed cats, masturbate, shower, snack, sleep and repeat. Pretty much my entire adult life now.

    2 years ago
  6. Doug

    Here’s the screwed up part about my story. The main reason I can’t do the things I wanna do, live he life I wanna live, is because it requires more money then I have. The screwed up part is that if I had every dollar that ever spent in doctors and drugs over the last 20 years, I’d have more then enough to be living the life I want right now. They don’t tell ya that when they first suggest going in meds. Because they want more money too.

    2 years ago

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