Key things to know
Usually comes as capsules, tablets or liquid.▼ More info
If bought illegally, use drug checking services to make sure you know what you have.▼ More info
If taking a counterfeit stimulant, or one that’s not prescribed to you, start with a lower amount. Different types all have different strengths.▼ More info
If snorting, use clean straws and surfaces and flush your nose with a saline rinse.▼ More info
If injecting, visit your local needle exchange for clean needles and information on how to be safer.▼ More info
What to expect
How do prescription stimulants make you feel?
Depending on how you chose to take a prescription stimulant (ie. orally or snorting), the effects can start from 1-30 minutes and can last for 3-8 hours. How they make you feel depends on how much you take, how often you take it, which drug you use (ie. Adderall, Ritalin) and your individual body. When used as prescribed, these drugs can cause increased alertness and concentration. When used in larger doses they can result in euphoria, excessive energy, racing heart and seizures.
It is important to remember that prescription stimulants come in different doses and different types are not all dosed the same. It can be difficult to tell what dose a counterfeit stimulant contains.
Remember a low dose for one person can be a high dose for another, as people’s bodies process drugs differently.
A Reddit user wrote about their experience using a prescription stimulant to study:
“It did allow for more productivity and gave a feeling of reward for doing otherwise useless tasks. But outside of the one task I was doing, my humanness was diminished.”
Increased sex drive or feeling horny
Loss of appetite
Frequent urge to pee
Difficulty falling asleep
Difficulty controlling impulses
Intense focus on a task
Increased blood pressure
Intense mood swings
Shortness of breath or changes to breathing
Very high dose
Loss of consciousness
How can you be safer when using prescription stimulants?
People use prescription stimulants for many reasons, and they can affect everyone differently. It is always a good idea to think about the ways you can be safer when using these drugs.
If your doctor has prescribed you prescription stimulants, it’s best to get their advice about how to take them and what to do if you experience unexpected or unpleasant effects.
Test your prescription stimulants, especially if they are bought illegally. Some people choose to take prescription stimulants that are not prescribed to them. If you are planning on taking prescription stimulants that you have purchased illegally, or been given, it is important not to assume you know what is in them. Some counterfeit prescription stimulants contain other psychoactive ingredients or fillers. You can take your prescription stimulants to a drug checking clinic that uses an FTIR spectrometer to make sure you know what you are taking.
Learn about what dose to take. Even if you know what prescription stimulant you have, remember that different types are dosed differently. The same amount of two different stimulants can be two very different doses. Conversion calculators online such as this one can help to compare different dosages for prescribed stimulants.
If you have a counterfeit prescription stimulant, it is a good idea to start with a lower dose and wait at least an hour before using more. Some of these counterfeit drugs can be much more potent than the ones prescribed by doctors.
Take care if you are snorting prescription stimulants. Snorting prescription stimulants delivers them faster to your blood stream, meaning the effects can be quicker but shorter-lasting. It is important to remember to take a smaller dose if you are snorting these drugs, as the effects come on quicker and you have a higher risk of overdosing. Snorting drugs can cause damage to your nasal passage too. Prescription stimulant pills have lots of binders and fillers in them that can be harmful to snort. Consider taking long breaks between snorting to decrease the risk of damaging your nose. You can also reduce the damage to your nose by doing a nasal saline wash after snorting. For a guide on how to do this, see our 'How to do a sinus flush' article. Make sure to use a clean snorting tool (like a paper straw) every time you use and don’t share these with others.
If you are swallowing, wait 1 hour before re—dosing. If you are swallowing a prescription stimulant it is good to remember that it will take longer to feel the effects. If you plan on using more, avoid redosing for at least an hour so you can feel the full effects. Redosing too early can result in more unpleasant effects and increase your risk of overdose.
Take care if you are injecting prescription stimulants. This delivers them directly to your blood stream, which means that the effects are felt right away but don’t last as long as other ways of taking them. It is important to remember to take a smaller dose if you are injecting these drugs, as the effects come on quicker and you have a higher risk of overdosing. Prescription stimulants have lots of binders and fillers in them that can block blood vessels when not filtered properly and cause permanent damage to your lungs, heart, liver, kidneys and brain. When preparing prescription stimulants for injecting it is important to use a wheel filter to remove the binders, fillers and any other particles. Wheel filters are available from needle exchange outlets.
For more information on how to filter drugs for injection, see the needle exchange's guide for filtering drugs.
If you are injecting, make sure to use clean equipment (including needles) every time and do not share with others. You can access clean injecting equipment from your local needle exchange. It is recommended that you avoid injecting in the same place every time as this can cause more damage and infection to the area.
For more information on how to be safer when using drugs and alcohol, see Safer using.
To order self-help workbooks and other free resources for safer use, see Resources.
If you've had too much
What happens if you have too many stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall?
The negative effects of prescription stimulants can range from feeling mildly unwell to experiencing a potentially life-threatening overdose. There is no specific amount of a drug that will cause an overdose, this depends on what drug you are using, how often you use and your individual body.
For more information on what you can do to decrease you risk of overdosing, see Safer using.
You might: lose your appetite, feel nauseous or have changes to your bowel movements, have a dry mouth, need to pee often, have insomnia, get headaches or stomachaches, feel anxious or dizzy, get mood swings, or experience erectile dysfunction.
- Focus on breathing try taking slow and deep breaths.
- If you are able, call and talk to somebody you trust and ask them to help keep you calm.
- Do not take more prescription stimulants, alcohol, or other drugs, as these can make you feel worse.
- Move to somewhere quiet - try to sit, lay down and do something relaxing.
- Drink water to stay hydrated.
If you: are vomiting, feel jittery or are twitching, are paranoid or acting aggressively, have severe head or stomach pain, have an irregular heartbeat, become very confused or disoriented, have extreme mood swings, have compulsive, repetitive actions or behaviours, call a doctor or Healthline (0800 611 116). You won't get in trouble if you tell them you've used drugs.
Seizures, high fever, experiencing severe chest pain, numbness on one side of the body, acting violently, having psychosis, breathing difficulties and losing consciousness are signs of an overdose. You or the people around you should act quickly. Call 111.
A reddit user talks about why they don’t take Ritalin often:
“It does give me rapid heartbeats, anxiety, trouble sleeping and appetite suppression, so I don't take it unless I'm in a position where I really need it."
If you experience unexpected or concerning effects from prescription stimulants you can notify High Alert to help keep others safe.
What do comedowns from prescription stimulants feel like?
Some people may experience a comedown as the effects of prescription stimulants wear off. The effects of these drugs can last for up to 8 hours and the comedown usually starts shortly after. How long the effects of a comedown last can depend on how much you have taken, which type you have taken and how often you use.
You may have cravings to use more stimulants. You might feel tired, nauseous, anxious, irritable or low. You might get very hungry or feel nauseous. You may have difficulty sleeping or have vivid dreams, and may have difficulty concentrating. You may get headaches.
You can try...
- Get plenty of rest and sleep.
- Remember to eat and drink plenty of water.
- Get moving to release feel-good brain chemicals.
- Reach out and talk with friends and whānau for support.
- Relax and do things that you enjoy to take your mind off not feeling well.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and other drugs.
- Practice mindfulness and deep breathing, and try writing down your thoughts and feelings.
If any of these symptoms intensify or don't go away then call a doctor or Healthline 0800 611 116. They can talk you through the next steps.
If your symptoms worsen or you are with somebody who:
- Experience severe hallucinations
- Act violently
- Experience psychosis
- Are severely dehydrated (from vomiting)
- Have seizures*
- Lose consciousness*
- Have suicidal thoughts
Call 111. These are signs that something more serious is going on. You or the people around you should act quickly.
*The comedown from prescription stimulants is unlikely to cause loss of consciousness or seizures. However, these are included in the list as they can occur from the psychoactive ingredients that are sometimes in counterfeit prescription stimulants.
One regular user on Reddit talks about their experience of coming down quickly off Ritalin:
“I will take it, feel the positive effects for 45 mins to an hour, and then as if someone's hit a light switch I get SLAMMED with anxiety. Which leads to me picking at my skin, ruining my self-confidence, and just making myself more anxious.”
Another Reddit user talks about how they feel coming off Adderall:
“The comedown makes me feel a little lifeless and irritable.”
What are the long-term effects of prescription stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall?
If you are being prescribed a stimulant by a doctor and you are taking it as recommended, you may be less likely to experience long-term impacts than someone who is using it recreationally in higher doses. Speak with your doctor if you are concerned about the long-term medical use of these drugs.
Long-term use of prescription stimulants, particularly in high doses, can result in physical issues such as weight loss, headaches, changes in bowel habits, tremors, irregular heartbeat, heart disease and skin discolouration. It can also cause changes to your brain which can result in difficulty sleeping, depression or feelings of low mood, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, aggression, and hallucinations. The long-term effects of prescription amphetamines can depend on which drug you are taking, how often you are using it, and how much you are using.
Research has found that long-term use of these drugs can impact your brain, including problems with memory and regulating mood. In rarer cases, long-term use can cause people to develop more severe mental health symptoms. Some of the damage caused by prescription stimulants may reduce or go away if you stop using.
How do you manage withdrawal from prescription stimulants?
Whether you will experience withdrawal from prescription stimulants, and how unpleasant these symptoms will be depends how long you have used for, how much you use, and which type of prescription stimulant you use. If you are using these drugs to treat ADHD or other disorders, you may find that your symptoms come back quickly after stopping.
See the 'Making changes' page for more information on how to Manage withdrawal from drugs and alcohol.
- Feel tired, irritable, anxious or agitated
- Have cravings to use more prescription stimulants
- Find it hard to concentrate
- Have insomnia or have nightmares
- Have aches and pains in your body, or a sore stomach
- Feel twitchy or jittery
You can try:
- Consider counselling, or support groups if feelings of anxiety and depression are getting worse
- Lean on a support network of friends, whānau, and professionals
- Stick to a routine: waking up, eating well, keeping active and rewarding yourself with things that bring you joy
- Practice mindfulness by writing down your feelings, doing breathing exercises or meditating
If you're experience intense cravings, agitation, severe headaches or you are vomiting, unable to stay awake, paranoid or experiencing worsening mental health call a Doctor or Healthline (0800 611 116).
If you are still not feeling well, think about:
- Talking to your doctor about other medicines to help you get through withdrawal.
- Talking to your doctor about rehab or withdrawal clinics in your area. Visit Health Point to see what services are available in your area.
If you're experiencing disturbing hallucinations, involuntary muscle contractions, having seizures, losing consciousness, experiencing psychosis, having suicidal thoughts or attempting suicide, these are signs that something more serious is going on. You or the people around you should act quickly. Call 111.
A Reddit user talks about their withdrawal symptoms after stopping Adderall:
“Not only was my anxiety out of control, my heart rate was up all day with constant adrenaline. My mind was catastrophizing every situation. It felt like I had a cloud over me at all times and everything was bad and scary. Along with that were withdrawal symptoms like GI issues, sweating, chills, etc.”
For more information on getting support for drug and alcohol use, see Finding support.
Working and driving
How can prescription stimulants affect your daily life?
People may think that because prescription stimulants can enhance concentration, they will not cause impairment. However, these drugs can cause impairment in many ways, especially at higher doses. The effects of prescription stimulants can last for around 3-8 hours. These drugs can cause impairment even after this period as some people experience ‘hypersomnolence’, also known as ‘excessive tiredness’, as they wear off.
Prescription stimulants especially at higher doses can cause psychomotor agitation (excessive movement), impaired judgement, confusion, and psychosis. When they wear off, they can make you very drowsy. It can be dangerous to operate heavy machinery, drive a car, or do other tasks that require sound judgement or fine motor skills.
Prescription stimulants can also affect your emotions and your behavior. This can make it hard to engage in normal social interactions. People using prescription amphetamines often find they can focus intensely on one task but have difficulty concentrating on anything else.
If these drugs have been prescribed to you by a doctor it is best to speak with them about what impairment you may experience.
If you take prescription stimulants, will it show up on a drug test?
Most prescription stimulants are in the amphetamine family, so they often show up on amphetamine drug tests. They can be detected in urine for 48-96 hours, in blood for up to 46 hours, in saliva for 20-50 hours , and in hair for around 90 days. There are many types of prescription stimulants, so this may vary depending on which one you use and how much you use.
Some prescription stimulants, when they are metabolized in your body are very similar to the metabolites of other drugs in the amphetamine family. This can cause some drug tests to be positive for methamphetamine or MDMA. If you are taking prescription stimulants that have been given to you by a doctor, you can speak to them about the next steps. It is a good idea to do this before you have the test.
Are prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin legal?
Prescription stimulants that are available in New Zealand are controlled under the Medicines Act and the Misuse of Drugs Act. Dexamphetamine and methylphenidate are both ‘Class B Controlled Drugs’ under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Amphetamine is also a Class B Controlled Drug. This may be the main ingredient in counterfeit or imported prescription amphetamines. This means that it is illegal to use, buy, sell, make, import, or possess these drugs.
You are allowed to carry and use these medicines if they are prescribed to you by a doctor, and you are using them as stated in the prescription. If you have been prescribed these medicines overseas, you can usually bring in a 3-month supply of them, as long as you declare and prove they are prescribed to you. You can see more information on Medsafe’s website.
You can also get in trouble with the law if you are found to be ‘impaired’ while driving, and a blood test finds evidence of prescription stimulants in your system.
To find out more about the law around legal and controlled drugs, see Drugs and the law.