Stimulants for ocd

Adderall And ADHD Medicines For OCD

  • Overview
  • What is Adderall?
  • Can ADHD meds help with OCD?
  • Do stimulants make OCD worse?
  • What about dependence or addiction?
  • What is the best medication for OCD?
  • The lowdown
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Adderall is a medication that combines amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Doctors typically prescribe it for ADHD and use it for narcolepsy where necessary. It is a central nervous system stimulant that helps people with ADHD focus better and stays calmer.

It is one of several stimulant-type medications for ADHD. About 62% of children¹ with ADHD take medication, and many adults also use it. However, it can be habit-forming, and it is crucial to take it exactly as prescribed and not overdose.

OCD and ADHD are both conditions that affect executive function and show deficits in similar parts of the brain network. So it is reasonable to think that ADHD meds may help OCD symptoms in some cases.

The reality is more complex. First of all, it is possible to have OCD and ADHD² at the same time. This can manifest as impulsivity, making it harder to resist compulsions. Both disorders originate in the frontostriatal-insular-cerebellar regions, which play a role in self-control, foresight, and decision-making.

However, the two conditions have opposing deficits despite possibly being comorbid.

In people with OCD, the frontostriatal region is overactive. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) dampen brain activity. In people with ADHD, the region is underactive, so stimulants increase brain activity in that area.

If you have both conditions, there is evidence that stimulant treatment improves obsessive-compulsive symptoms. It's vital to treat both, as not treating  ADHD increases the risk of an OCD relapse. Despite their apparently opposing effects, your doctor may prescribe an SSRI and a stimulant.

However, due to anecdotal evidence that stimulants can make OCD worse and the need to isolate side effects, you will likely try SSRI first.

Some people who appear to have OCD alone also benefit from stimulants, although this might be because they have undiagnosed, milder ADHD.

While extremely rare, stimulants can sometimes cause obsessive-compulsive symptoms. If you show new compulsive behavior after starting ADHD meds, you may need your meds discontinued or changed. It could indicate that the stimulants are overcorrecting the reduced brain activity and pushing you to the other extreme.

While people commonly believe stimulants make OCD symptoms worse, there is no evidence of this.

Another reason to be careful about using ADHD meds for OCD is the risk of dependence. People with OCD are more likely to abuse substances. One study³ estimates that 24% of people with OCD have an alcohol use disorder and 18% have a drug use disorder. Rates are 2–6% higher than the general population.

This may result from self-medication, but we need more research in this area. However, people with OCD or OCD and ADHD have to be particularly careful to avoid potential dependence on stimulant medications.

Some people take Adderall or other stimulants as "study aids."⁴ This behavior often leads to mental health problems, unusual conduct, sleep disruption, and cardiovascular side effects. You should not take these drugs unless prescribed by a doctor, as you may have underlying conditions that make stimulants dangerous. 

The gold-standard medication for treating OCD remains SSRIs. These medications can relieve symptoms by normalizing activity in the brain. However, they are best in combination with exposure and prevention therapy (ERP), which trains you to stop engaging in compulsions.

Therapy has fewer side effects, and its positive effects last after discontinuing the initial treatment.

Many people with OCD will need to take SSRIs for a while. Some may also need other medication. However, Adderall and other stimulants are typically only necessary when ADHD symptoms are apparent.

Adderall and other stimulant medications are not a first-line treatment for OCD. In some anecdotal cases, they may worsen OCD symptoms. There is also a higher risk of dependency. However, doctors commonly prescribe them for people who have both OCD and ADHD.

You should not attempt to self-medicate with Adderall as it carries some nasty side effects and risks. This includes using it as a study aid.

However, there is evidence that it may be helpful for some people with OCD, especially if standard treatments are not working well. While relatively unusual, some people do find these drugs reduce their symptoms.

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