Does Adderall make your smarter?
Adderall is probably int he top 5 most abused drugs in the US and Canada. This might sound ridiculous, but it’s true; the use of Adderall is already off the charts, and usage rates are still accelerating. Obviously this is in no small part to the explosion in ADHD diagnoses in the US.
But there is also a different trend happening; a growing number of people are using Adderall as a study aid or productivity enhancer. In other words, they’re using it without a prescription for the purposes of cognitive enhancement. A small minority of traders, programmers, students and athletes are avoiding the dangers of Adderall by using OTC Adderall alternatives, but off-label use of Adderall is still extremely widespread.
Yet most users of Adderall don’t properly understand how the drug works. They have no idea why it makes them seemingly so much more productive, or engaged, or motivated. Many assume that Adderall actually makes them smarter – that it enhances brain function in some way that makes them more intelligent.
Is this the case? Can Adderall really make you more intelligent?
How does Adderall work?
Let’s delve a little deeper and try to answer these questions together.
How Adderall works
Adderall is a central nervous system stimulant. It rapidly increases the release of a number of neurotransmitters, namely dopamine and norepinephrine. Of these, the most relevant to explaining the effects of Adderall is norepinephrine.
When you consume Adderall, your norepinephrine levels immediately start rising. Norepinephrine is your body’s main “fight or flight” neurotransmitter. When released, it sharpens focus, elevates blood pressure, elevates heart rate, increases motivation, accelerates decision-making, increases excitability; basically, it does all of the things you might need to survive an imminent threat.
This is why people find Adderall to be so useful for staying awake and motivated for long periods of time. It produces a state in which your brain is completely wired to deal with a threat even though there is no actual threat. So all of that jittery, nervous energy gets directed to the task at hand, such as an assignment or project that must be finished before the 9am deadline.
But does Adderall actually make you more intelligent?
Can Adderall make you more intelligent?
Adderall does not make you smarter. It does not improve any measure of intelligence in any way. One could argue that Adderall makes you smarter int he sense that it harnesses focus and improves discipline and motivation, but this is not really making you “smarter”; it is just making you more focused and energized on a given task.
There is no mechanism by which Adderall can make you more intelligent. It works by raising norepinephrine levels, and to a lesser degree dopamine levels. This has the effect of making you extremely excitable, motivated, focused, and energized. These are not measures of intelligence or cognitive ability.
Now, there is one way that Adderall could be said to make you more smarter. The clinical data makes it clear that you can positively influence IQ through learning. If you suffer with ADHD and it makes you completely unable to focus at school – or in any learning context – then Adderall might help you become smarter by allowing you to focus and learn. Over months and years, the focus that Adderall can give you can make you a more effective learner, which will make you smarter over long periods of time (studies indicate that you can boost IQ by up to 15 points through years of mental engagement and learning).
But for any body who does not have ADHD limiting their ability to focus, Adderall cannot make you smarter.
Can Adderall make you smarter? The answer is a firm “no”. Adderall cannot make you smarter. Adderall increases noreprinephrine, which makes you more excitable, energetic, and motivated. There is no mechanism by which Adderall can enhance cognitive function beyond raising energy, motivation and excitability.