Modafinil is a prescription stimulant drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. Modafinil may be prescribed under the brand name Provigil.
Modafinil (Provigil) belongs to a class of non-amphetamine stimulant medications known as wakefulness-promoting agents.
People who take modafinil for an extended amount of time may develop drug dependence. Modafinil can also be abused for its effects.
Although this is less common than the abuse of other stimulant drugs, chronic modafinil abuse may lead to drug dependence and addiction.
What Does Modafinil Do?
Modafinil is a controlled substance that is generally prescribed to treat narcolepsy, shift work sleep disorder, and obstructive sleep apnea. It does not cure these conditions but can help treat symptoms of excessive sleepiness.
Modafinil has also been prescribed off-label for schizophrenia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and cocaine addiction.
Researchers are also studying the potential use of modafinil as an antidepressant, to treat fatigue experienced by some people with depression.
Modafinil is prescribed in tablet form. It may be taken for medical conditions once or twice a day. For narcolepsy, it is usually prescribed for use during the morning time.
For shift work sleep disorder, it is recommended that individuals take it one hour before their shift is scheduled to begin.
Side Effects Of Modafinil
The primary effect of stimulant drugs like modafinil is wakefulness or decreased sleepiness. However, like most drugs, it can cause additional side effects that can be mild to severe in nature.
Short-term side effects of Modafinil may include:
- loss of appetite
- back pain
- difficulty falling or staying asleep
- dry mouth
Serious side effects can also occur. Stop taking modafinil immediately if you experience skin rashes, shortness of breath, fever, dark urine, or swelling.
How Is Modafinil Abused?
As a stimulant, modafinil affects the brain in ways similar to drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine (meth), and other prescription medications like Adderall and Ritalin. However, it is generally believed to be less addictive and has a lower abuse potential.
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Even so, modafinil can still be misused for its effects. When taken, modafinil can increase the amount of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a “feel good” brain chemical that acts as the brain’s pleasure and reward system.
How modafinil can be abused:
- taking higher doses of modafinil than prescribed
- taking it for longer than prescribed
- taking it for reasons other than prescribed
- crushing and snorting it
- taking tablets from someone else’s prescription
Like other ‘smart drugs,’ modafinil may be abused to increase alertness, focus, and energy. It may cause euphoric effects similar to those of cocaine and amphetamines in high doses.
Some people may be at greater risk for misusing cognitive enhancers than others. This can include people with a history of drug abuse, college and high school students, and people with high-stress jobs.
Is Modafinil Addictive?
Modafinil was long considered non-addictive. However, more recent research shows that some people can become addicted to modafinil when misused frequently and in high doses.
Abusing modafinil can also lead to higher tolerance and drug dependence. Tolerance occurs when the body becomes used to a drug dose and is less affected by it. This can require you to increase your dose to feel the same effects.
Drug dependence is when the body becomes dependent on a drug. This can cause physical and psychological symptoms known as withdrawal with any attempt to reduce or stop taking modafinil.
Addiction is a chronic disorder that is characterized by a pattern of drug abuse and continuing to take a drug despite negative effects on health and wellbeing.
Dangers Of Modafinil Abuse
Drug abuse can pose mild to severe risks to physical health and mental health. With modafinil, some of the most serious side effects of misuse are psychological.
When abused, or taken in high doses, modafinil may cause symptoms of psychosis, such as delusions, hallucinations, mania, and thoughts of suicide.
Other dangers of modafinil abuse include:
- aggressive behavior
- impulsive behavior
- impaired ability to drive
- reduced inhibition
- high blood pressure
- chest pain
- trouble breathing
Serious dangers are more likely to occur if you’ve taken high doses, have taken multiple doses within a short window, or have mixed modafinil with other drugs.
Modafinil Overdose: Signs And Symptoms
A drug overdose occurs when you’ve taken too much of one or more drugs. This can overwhelm the body. In severe cases, overdose can become life-threatening without emergency medical attention.
Symptoms of modafinil overdose may include:
- difficulty falling or staying asleep
- heart problems (e.g. chest pain, abnormal heart rhythm)
- hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
- extreme agitation
- uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
People who have overdosed may become unresponsive or lose consciousness. If you or someone you know is experiencing these overdose symptoms after taking modafinil, call 9-1-1 or your nearest emergency department right away.
Withdrawal refers to a set of symptoms that can arise when you’ve become dependent on a drug and then suddenly stop taking it.
Modafinil withdrawal symptoms are not known to be very dangerous, but can still be very uncomfortable without medical support.
Symptoms of modafinil withdrawal may include:
- shaking of the hands (tremors)
- difficulty sleeping
The safest way to withdraw from Provigil (modafinil) is to enter a medical detox program. Here, healthcare professionals can provide treatment and monitor you for health complications during the withdrawal process.
If you’ve been abusing modafinil, detox professionals may recommend an inpatient, residential, or outpatient drug rehab program.
Treatment Options For Modafinil Abuse And Addiction
Overcoming modafinil abuse or addiction may require treatment at multiple levels of care, based on the severity of the addiction and resulting health consequences.
Treatment within an inpatient or residential rehabilitation program is highly recommended for people with severe or chronic substance use disorders. This is the most effective type of treatment, in part because these programs offer around-the-clock care.
Within an inpatient program, or on an outpatient basis, modafinil abuse can be treated. Treatment methods include behavioral therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), as well as peer support groups and family counseling.
Therapy can help shift a person’s thoughts and attitude towards their drug use. For people with co-occurring mental health disorders, additional mental health counseling and medication may be recommended.
If you or someone you know is struggling with modafinil abuse, you’re not alone. Substance abuse is experienced by millions of teens and adults in the United States.
Call our helpline today to learn more about available treatment programs for modafinil addiction near you.
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- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Modafinil
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — PROVIGIL (modafinil) Tablets
- Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics — A rare case of modafinil dependence
- TIME Magazine — Safety Concerns Raised Over Wakefulness Drug Modafinil