Adderall and Weight Loss: Side Effects, Misuse, and What You Need to Know

Adderall and Weight Loss
Amanda Stevens

Written By

Amanda Stevens
Dr. Po-Chang Hsu -

Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

Last Medically Reviewed on January 8, 2024

  • Adderall is an ADHD medication that may cause weight loss as a side effect because of its effects on appetite and metabolism.
  • Adderall may be legally prescribed off-label for weight loss in certain patients.
  • Because of the weight loss side effect, people may abuse or misuse Adderall as a weight loss aid.
  • Adderall carries risks of addiction with proper use, but misusing or abusing the drug can increase the likelihood of addiction and adverse health effects.

Adderall is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that’s prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Because of its stimulant effects, Adderall can have the side effect of weight loss.

In some cases, Adderall may be legally prescribed off-label for weight loss under a doctor’s supervision. In addition, some people may misuse Adderall for its weight loss effects, which can compound the dangers of the drug.

Adderall and Its Side Effects

Adderall is a combination medication that includes both amphetamine and dextroamphetamine – stimulant drugs that improve alertness and focus. It’s prescribed to treat ADHD and narcolepsy but may be misused or abused illicitly for its euphoric effects, as a study aid, or as a weight loss aid.
Adderall has several side effects, including:[1]

  • Dry mouth
  • Stomach upset and pain
  • Nausea
  • VomitingDizziness
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Nervousness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Weight loss

Some of the serious side effects include:[2]

  • Circulation problems
  • Unusual wounds
  • Mental or behavioral changes like aggression or mood swings
  • Uncontrolled movements
  • Teeth grinding
  • Sudden outbursts
  • Changes in sexual ability or desire

More dangerous side effects may include:[3]

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest, jaw, or left arm pain
  • Fainting
  • Severe headache
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Swelling of the ankles or feet
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Blurred vision
  • Weakness on one side of the body
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Confusion

In rare cases, Adderall may increase serotonin, leading to a serious condition known as serotonin syndrome. The risk increases if you’re taking other drugs that increase serotonin or you’re taking Adderall at higher doses or more frequently than prescribed.

The symptoms of serotonin syndrome include hallucinations, rapid heartbeat, loss of coordination, dizziness, severe nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, twitching muscles, unexplained fever, and extreme restlessness.

If you or a loved one experiences serious side effects or suspects serotonin syndrome, seek emergency medical help immediately.

Why Does Adderall Cause Weight Loss?

One of the common side effects of Adderall is weight loss, which is due to the medication’s influence on the neurotransmitters in the brain and body, including dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters affect appetite and metabolism, so increasing them can reduce the appetite while increasing the metabolic rate. The body expends more energy while consuming less, leading to weight loss.

Weight loss as a side effect is common in all stimulant drugs, not just Adderall. Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse), dexmethylphenidate (Focalin), and methylphenidate (Ritalin) also cause weight loss because of their mechanism of action, which isn’t seen with non-stimulant ADHD medication.

Adderall Misuse for Weight Loss

Struggling with weight loss is a common complaint among many people, leading to so many supplements and miracle weight loss drugs. Because of the weight loss side effect, Adderall is a common option for some people who are looking to lose weight quickly – but doing so brings considerable risks.[4]

People may misuse Adderall for weight loss, which means taking the drug at higher doses than prescribed, more frequently than prescribed, or for a longer period than prescribed. Though Adderall can be safe when taken under the direction of a doctor, it’s not without risks, including the risks of adverse effects like serotonin syndrome, tolerance, and abuse or addiction.

On its own, even as prescribed, Adderall has a high risk for abuse. Both immediate-release and extended-release formulations are prescribed only to certain people to avoid potential harm. People with a previous history of drug or alcohol addiction may not be prescribed Adderall, for example, as the risk of misuse is high.
Adderall misuse is also especially risky for people with certain health conditions like heart and blood pressure problems. Because Adderall increases the heart rate and blood pressure, misusing it can increase the risk of stroke or heart attack.

Misusing Adderall can worsen symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety or psychiatric disorders like bipolar disorder. In some cases, Adderall psychosis may occur, which includes hallucinations, delusional thinking, and manic episodes.

There are risks associated with Adderall weight loss specifically as well. The suppressed appetite can lead to undereating. Prolonged periods of low caloric intake can cause malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies that lead to subsequent health problems, such as severe fatigue and anemia. This effect is particularly concerning in adolescents who misuse Adderall for weight loss, as they require adequate nutrition to develop properly.

In children, Adderall can cause growth suppression instead of weight loss. Clinical trials show that Adderall temporarily slows children’s height and weight development.[5] Children’s growth should be monitored closely during treatment to ensure that Adderall isn’t negatively impacting appetite, weight maintenance, or growth.

Understanding Off-Label Use and Adderall

Understanding Off-Label Use and Adderall

Adderall is currently FDA-approved to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, but it’s not approved for any other uses. Still, doctors are permitted by the FDA to prescribe drugs “off-label” to patients to help with certain conditions, which is when a drug is prescribed to treat a disease or condition outside of the approved uses.[6] This could be because no comparable drug exists to treat the condition or because a patient has exhausted all other treatment options with no benefits.

This is due to the FDA’s drug approval process. Before a drug can be approved to treat a specific disease or medical condition, the pharmaceutical company must submit clinical data for review to prove that it is safe and effective for its intended use.

Note that “safe” doesn’t mean the drug is without side effects, only that the benefits of taking it for a specific condition outweigh the potential risks. Approval indicates that the FDA conducted an evaluation of the benefits and risks and found supporting data to indicate that it is effective and can be used safely and effectively for specific conditions. Approval also provides instructions for prescribing a drug for certain conditions and information a doctor should provide patients.

So, when patients struggle with weight loss and haven’t gotten benefits from other drugs, Adderall may be prescribed off-label to harness its weight loss side effects. Keep in mind that Adderall is not considered safe and effective by the FDA for an unapproved use (weight loss), so it’s important to discuss the benefits and risks of off-label Adderall use with your doctor.

As with any drug, approved or off-label, always follow your doctor’s instructions for how to use it safely.

Adderall Addiction

Adderall is a Schedule II controlled substance because of its limited medical uses and high risk of severe psychological or physical dependence. There’s a risk of becoming addicted to Adderall with a legal prescription, but the risks are higher if you abuse or misuse Adderall. Taking Adderall at high doses or over long periods increases the tolerance to the drug, leading people to take more to achieve the same effects. Over time, addiction can develop.

Adderall addiction may look different in everyone, but some signs may include:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Significant behavioral changes like anger and suicidal ideation
  • Severe skin conditions
  • Intense positivity and feelings of invincibility
  • Fearing running out of Adderall
  • Severe insomnia
  • Needing more frequent refills
  • Drug-seeking behaviors, such as visiting different doctors for prescriptions
  • Financial issues or legal troubles
  • Experiencing withdrawal when stopping or cutting back on Adderall use

Stimulants are highly addictive drugs. If you feel that you or a loved one is developing an addiction, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. The longer misuse or abuse occurs, the more likely that someone will experience adverse effects.

Fortunately, there are plenty of people standing by to help. Adderall addiction treatment centers offer detox services to manage stimulant withdrawal and addiction treatment programs to address the psychological causes of addiction. With addiction that arose from Adderall misuse for weight loss, this can include therapy to address body image issues and develop healthier relationships with weight, exercise, and food.

Get Help for Adderall Misuse, Abuse, and Addiction

Adderall is addictive on its own with prescribed use, but misusing it for weight loss benefits can quickly lead to tolerance and addiction – as well as significant risks. If you or a loved one is struggling with Adderall misuse or addiction, help is available. Undergoing addiction treatment for Adderall can help you overcome the power of the drug and develop better habits to maintain a healthy weight.

Frequently Asked Questions About Adderall and Weight Loss

Can ADHD Medications Cause Weight Loss?

All stimulant-based ADHD medications, including Adderall, can have weight loss as a side effect because of their effects on neurotransmitters that influence appetite and metabolism. Non-stimulant ADHD medications do not generally have weight loss as a side effect.

Can ADHD Medications Cause Weight Gain?

Weight loss is a more common side effect of stimulant ADHD medications because they increase metabolism and appetite. Though rare, some people may experience weight gain, but ADHD medications typically cause weight loss or have no effect on weight.

How Can I Maintain My Weight on Adderall?

If you’re concerned about losing weight on Adderall, make sure to speak to your doctor. In some cases, adjusting the dose or switching medications can reduce the risk of weight loss.

Tracking your weight and food intake with a journal can help you monitor any side effects and ensure you’re getting the nutrition you need while undergoing treatment. Always speak to your doctor if you have concerns about your medication and possible side effects to explore your options.

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Sources


[1][2][3] WebMD. (n.d.). Adderall oral: Uses, side effects, interactions, pictures, warnings & dosing. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-63163/adderall-oral/details on 2024, January 11.  

[4] Benotsch, E. G., Gullette, D. L., Haley, C. C., Kensinger, G. J., McCabe, S. E., Ozier, A. D., Zachor, D. A., Arria, A. M., French, S. A., & Harring, H. A. (2013, January 29). Misuse of prescription stimulants for weight loss, psychosocial variables, and eating disordered behaviors. Appetite. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0195666313000287 on 2024, January 11.

[5] Goldman, R. D. (2010, February). ADHD stimulants and their effect on height in children. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2821235/#:~:text=In%20most%20of%20the%20studies,expected%20height%20(and%20weight) on 2024, January 11.

[6] Commissioner, O. of the. (n.d.). Understanding unapproved use of approved drugs “Off label.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/patients/learn-about-expanded-access-and-other-treatment-options/understanding-unapproved-use-approved-drugs-label on 2024, January 11.

Amanda Stevens

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work.

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