Headaches and other Side Effects when using Adderall

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Written By Dr. Marcus Yu Bin Pai

MD, PhD. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Physician from São Paulo - Brazil. Pain Fellowship in University of São Paulo.

Adderall, one of the most prescribed and commonly abused medications, can be life-changing for those who genuinely need it.

ADHD and migraine headaches are two conditions that can significantly impact an individual’s ability to function effectively. Although there isn’t much literature on the relationship between ADHD and migraines, it is worth exploring the connections between the two, as treating one condition might alleviate the other. In this blog post, we will discuss the possible relationship between ADHD and migraines and how stimulant medications could potentially affect both conditions.

In this article, we will explore what Adderall is, its relationship with headaches and migraines, why doctors prescribe it, the possible side effects, and tips for success while taking it.

The Connection Between ADHD and Migraines

Migraines are a type of intrinsic headache of the brain, not caused by tumors, sinus infections, aneurysms, or meningitis. They are thought to occur when a nest of cells deep in the brain becomes irritated and sends out pain signals. Some individuals may be genetically predisposed to migraines, and stress can be a significant trigger.

ADHD, a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, can cause significant stress in an individual’s life. The stress resulting from ADHD may be a trigger for migraines in some individuals. Furthermore, when a person with ADHD experiences a migraine, it can make it even more challenging for them to function effectively, creating a vicious cycle.

Stimulant Medications and Their Role in ADHD and Migraines

headache aderall

Stimulant medications are commonly prescribed for individuals with ADHD, helping them to think and function better. While these medications are not a direct treatment for migraines, they can potentially make a significant difference if the migraines are triggered by underlying ADHD.

By treating the ADHD effectively, stimulant medications might help reduce or prevent the migraines for some individuals. It’s essential to understand that this approach is not about treating the actual pain of the headache, but rather preventing migraines from occurring in the first place.

Additionally, stimulant medications can sometimes mask tiredness, which could also help with headaches caused by a lack of sleep. Some people use stimulant medications for shift work disorders or sleep disorders, which can also contribute to headaches.

Understanding Adderall

Adderall is a brand name medication containing amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, both of which are stimulants.

It is primarily used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder characterized by sudden overwhelming drowsiness and sleep attacks. Adderall increases the availability of dopamine, a chemical in the brain believed to be deficient in individuals with ADHD.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)Adderall is indicated for the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It is used to improve concentration, focus, reduce impulsivity, and decrease hyperactivity.
NarcolepsyAdderall is also indicated for the treatment of narcolepsy, a sleep disorder characterized by uncontrollable episodes of deep sleep.
DepressionAdderall has also been used off-label to treat certain cases of depression, particularly in combination with other medications.

Forms and Availability

aderall headache

Adderall is available in two forms: immediate-release and extended-release.

The immediate-release version can be taken every 4-6 hours, while the extended-release version is taken once daily, lasting for about 10-12 hours. Both forms are available as generic medications.

As a Schedule II controlled substance in the United States, Adderall requires a hand-signed prescription or a special secure electronic form from your doctor. It cannot be refilled, and each prescription must be new. Due to these restrictions, Adderall and other stimulant medications can be challenging to obtain and manage.

The Importance of Structure

For those with ADHD, creating structure in daily life is crucial for success. This can involve establishing a morning routine, incorporating healthy habits such as eating well and getting sufficient sleep, and being mindful of time management.

By focusing on building routines and incorporating healthy habits, you can create an environment that promotes success and personal growth. Additionally, taking advantage of the increased nerve growth factors from medications can help solidify these routines and improve overall brain function.

Potential Side Effects

When taken as prescribed, most people experience minimal side effects. However, it’s essential to understand what to expect while taking Adderall, so you can identify any side effects that may occur.

For ADHD, the primary goal is to improve focus, complete tasks, sit still, decrease impulsiveness, and enhance overall behavior. For narcolepsy, the aim is to improve alertness and reduce episodes of falling asleep.

In children, common side effects include difficulty sleeping if taken too late in the day, and decreased appetite. Appetite suppression is often the primary reason for stopping Adderall in younger children, as it can lead to growth delays if persistent. Other side effects may include headaches, stomachaches, mood swings, irritability, and tics.

In adults, potential side effects include increased risk for high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, appetite loss, blurry vision, dry mouth, and an increased risk of seizures and tics. Additionally, Adderall may make it difficult to urinate.

Dangers of Adderall Abuse

headache using aderall

Abuse of Adderall is a widespread problem, particularly among high school and college students who use it as a study aid. However, taking Adderall without a prescription significantly increases the risk of severe side effects and addiction, such as constant headache and migraines.

Common side effects of abuse include nervousness, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, shaking, headaches, changes in libido, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Overdosing on Adderall can lead to hyperactivity, hallucinations, agitation, rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, increased body temperature, dilated pupils, loss of consciousness, irregular heartbeat, heart attack, and even death.

Moreover, combining Adderall with other medications, especially antidepressants, can cause dangerous interactions if not monitored by a doctor.

Overcoming Stimulant Crashes

While stimulant medications can be effective in managing ADHD symptoms, there are times when they might seem to stop working. Here are some common scenarios and potential solutions:

  1. Midday slump: If you experience a slump between 1-3 PM, consider whether you’re taking your medication only once a day or not eating and drinking enough during the day. Adjusting your medication schedule or ensuring you’re consuming enough nutrients and water may help combat this slump.
  2. Late afternoon or early evening slump: If you experience a slump between 4-6 PM, several factors could be contributing. This could include a major shift or transition in your daily routine, poor nutrition, or home-related stressors. In some cases, long-acting medications may not last long enough for some individuals, leading to a decrease in effectiveness during the late afternoon.
  3. Task-specific fatigue: If you notice a decrease in focus after working on a specific task for a few hours, consider taking short breaks to reset your mind. This can help you maintain focus and productivity throughout the day.

Tips for Success on Adderall

  1. Set realistic expectations and discuss them with your doctor. Use these expectations to measure Adderall’s effectiveness.
  2. Remember that Adderall is not a fix-all solution, especially for children. Utilize other resources, such as counseling, diet and sleep adjustments, limiting screen time, and parenting classes.
  3. Consider trying non-stimulant medications like Atomoxetine (Strattera) before turning to stimulants, as they may still be effective and
  4. pose fewer challenges.
  5. Take Adderall early enough in the day to avoid sleep issues. If sleep problems persist, consider adjusting the dose or timing before resorting to sleep aids.
  6. Never take Adderall if it has not been prescribed to you. It is illegal, dangerous, and potentially life-threatening.


Adderall can be a beneficial medication for the right individuals and conditions. However, it is crucial to use it under the care of a doctor to minimize risks of side effects, such as headaches or migraines.

Understanding Adderall, its uses, and potential side effects will help you make informed decisions about your health in collaboration with your healthcare provider. Remember to use all available tools and resources to ensure the most successful outcome while taking Adderall.

Individuals with ADHD who experience frequent migraines might benefit from focusing on treating their ADHD, as this could potentially help prevent and mitigate migraines down the line. Treating the underlying ADHD, rather than just addressing the migraine symptoms, can be a more effective approach to improving overall well-being and functionality.

While not all individuals with ADHD and migraines will experience relief from their migraines through ADHD treatment, it’s worth exploring this option if you suffer from both conditions. By preventing migraines from occurring, individuals can enjoy a happier and more productive life.

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MD, PhD. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Physician from São Paulo - Brazil. Pain Fellowship in University of São Paulo.

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