Nearly half of U.S. adults diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also have some form of anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Having both conditions at the same time often adds to the struggle to function normally.
Anxiety is a mental health disorder characterized by excessive worry and fear, and ADHD makes it challenging for people to control their inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Together, two can make life very difficult.
ADHD does not necessarily cause anxiety, but it can lead to an anxiety disorder in some people. The symptoms of both conditions often overlap, making it harder for people with ADHD to tell if they have an anxiety disorder.Healthline shares that while it can be hard to tell the two apart, experiencing both together can result in extreme conditions of symptoms that the two share. It gives the example that a person with ADHD may find it challenging to focus on what they are doing or following through with tasks they are responsible for completing.
Taking Adderall for ADHD When You Have Anxiety
Adderall is a popular medication doctors prescribe to treat people with ADHD and narcolepsy. The stimulant, a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, is taken to elevate or enhance one’s mood. The drug’s chemical makeup is akin to methamphetamine and MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy.
When people with ADHD take Adderall in prescribed therapeutic doses, they do so to improve their attention span and ability to concentrate for prolonged periods. People with narcolepsy take it to help them stay awake. Adderall doses can range between 5 mg (milligrams) and 30 mg and be taken once or twice a day.
Because of these effects, Adderall has attracted recreational users, particularly those in high school or college. They abuse the drug to give them more staying power to boost their sports or academic performances.
These reasons are why some refer to the addictive, habit-forming medication as a “smart drug” or “study drug.” Adderall also has appealed to people with eating disorders, who use it to curb their appetites.
Side effects of Adderall include elevated blood pressure, headache, appetite loss, weight loss, stomach pain, nervousness, agitation, dry mouth, diarrhea, nausea, and insomnia, among others.
Adderall is dangerous and deadly when it is used in ways non-medically or in ways that are inconsistent with its purpose. Chronic use can lead to a hard-to-end addiction. If addiction has developed, affected persons are advised to seek professional help at an accredited facility that specializes in treating substance use disorders (SUDs).
Living with ADHD and Panic Disorder
People with ADHD may struggle with panic disorder, one type of anxiety disorder. It is characterized by:
- Trouble breathing
- Sped-up heart rate, heart palpitations, a pounding heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Trembling or shaking
- Feelings of choking or smothering
- Feeling a shortness of breath (hyperventilation)
- Feeling a sense of impending doom
- Feeling like you are out of control
Generally, the symptoms of a panic attack usually peak within 10 minutes after they start. While the event does not last long, it is the fear it leaves behind that does. Feeling unprepared to deal with panic attacks can leave people upset and disrupt their lives. This can be a stressful state to live in, and anxiety can overwhelm a person, leaving them too tired to deal with much else.
For the person with ADHD, who already has trouble with concentration and focus, this can make their condition worse.
Panic attacks are common in people who have panic disorder, which can overwhelm the brain if they are left untreated. It is best to seek professional help to manage them. A person with ADHD must take their condition into consideration if seeking panic disorder treatment.
Anxiety Can Be a Side Effect of Taking Adderall
The ADAA notes that research shows that stimulant drugs like Adderall and non-stimulant medications can help people with ADHD improve their ability to concentrate, pay attention, and control their impulsiveness.
However, because medications affect people differently, it is possible that a person taking Adderall can feel increased anxiety when they take the drug to treat their ADHD symptoms. If a person feels more anxiety, this could increase their forgetfulness or hurt their ability to focus. It could also impair their willingness to try new things, as clinical psychologist Ari Tuckman tells PsychCentral.
“People who are anxious are less likely to try new things for fear of them not working out—this includes new strategies to help them get on top of their ADHD,” Tuckman said.
As WebMD explains, ADHD drugs speed up the brain and alter how its nerve cells send messages to each other. As a result, mood disturbances can happen, including anxiety. This is especially the case if a person takes Adderall in high doses.
This means some Adderall users may feel more stress or fatigue or worry about things more. People who are anxious also feel uptight or on edge and have trouble falling or staying asleep. Other symptoms of anxiety include irritability, muscle tension, and struggling to control feelings of worry.
Things to Consider When Treating ADHD, Anxiety
People with ADHD who have anxiety may know they might require medication for one or both conditions. However, this could present a health dilemma for them. Both conditions are usually treated with medicines whose effects are opposite each other.
Because of this, they may wonder if they can safely take stimulant drugs to treat their ADHD without affecting their anxiety or if treating their anxiety with an antidepressant or benzodiazepine, a central nervous system depressant, could affect treatment for their ADHD.
The best thing to do is to speak with a doctor or another medical professional for health advice that is specific to your situation. It is also important that you inform your doctor of any other drugs you are taking that could affect your treatment for ADHD or an anxiety disorder.
Drugs for ADHD Can Interact with Anti-Anxiety Medications
Adderall can interact with anti-anxiety medications, and these interactions can be life-threatening.
As Medical News Today highlights, it is highly important for people with ADHD who use Adderall with an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication to do so under the direction of a medical professional who knows their medical history and has prescribed such treatment.
Medical News Today also advises people to avoid taking Adderall within 14 days of taking a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MOAI) antidepressant because combining both drugs can make the effects of Adderall stronger.
If this happens, a person is at risk of having a stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, or death. Using Adderall with an antidepressant can also cause serotonin syndrome and result in health complications or death.
The medical site also advises against using Adderall if you are using an antidepressant that is a serotonergic drug. Antidepressants that are serotonergic are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants.
If these types of antidepressants are used while Adderall is one’s system, it could lead to a condition called serotonin syndrome, which is characterized by anxiety, agitation, profuse sweating, disorientation, rapid heart rate, tremors, muscle stiffness, and other symptoms.
Non-Stimulant and Non-Medical Treatment for ADHD and Anxiety
While stimulant drugs are used to treat ADHD, non-stimulant drugs that address ADHD symptoms are also an option, according to WebMD. Among these drugs are blood pressure medications, antidepressants, and non-stimulant drugs that are specifically used for ADHD.
It is best to consult with a medical professional about the use of any medication, particularly if it can lead to side effects that could worsen your condition. It should be noted that Adderall’s side effects are much like those of other stimulant drugs, and a person can experience them when taking their usual dosage of Adderall. Any side effects that are particularly concerning should be discussed with a physician or other health care professional.
It may help to keep in mind that anxiety that increases as a result of ADHD medications could be a normal reaction to the medication that may have no bearing on taking medications for both conditions at the same time.
One approach to addressing this issue is to determine which disorder is more prevalent under a medical professional’s supervision. They may be able to adjust the dosage of medications used to treat both conditions, or they may use a non-medical behavioral therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to help the person manage their anxiety.
CBT is a widely used therapy that helps people understand how their thoughts, emotions, and behavior are connected and helps them face irrational beliefs that could help them adjust their perspective so that it is more rooted in reality and not fear or another negative emotion.
It also gives them strategies to examine factors of a situation so that they can create and choose a healthy response over a negative one, which can be helpful when faced with anxiety-inducing situations.