What Is Modafinil?
Modafinil is a prescription stimulant, meaning it promotes wakefulness in those with sleep disorders. The medication is prescribed as an oral tablet and it’s safe to take with or without food. When prescribed by a physician, Modafinil is also considered safe for long-term use, as long as the dose is managed properly. However, taking Modafinil in higher doses than your physician prescribes or without a prescription puts an individual at risk of dependence and addiction.
Modafinil is the generic form of the drug, and Provigil is the prescription form. Both forms are listed under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) as Schedule IV substances by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Schedule IV drugs like Modafinil are regulated, but not monitored as closely as things like opioid narcotics or stimulant drugs based on amphetamines, like Adderall.
Aside from not being based on amphetamine drugs, Modafinil also made its way to the Schedule IV list, which is less restrictive than other lists because it’s considered safer than many other prescriptions, and the FDA has determined it presents a small risk of addiction and misuse. Modafinil also rarely leads to serious withdrawal symptoms. However, Modafinil is still a stimulant and it can produce euphoric and psychoactive effects, especially in those without drug tolerance (i.e., new users).
How Does Modafinil Impact The Brain?
Modafinil is a stimulant, which means it can lead to psychoactive and euphoric effects when taking in too high of a dose or if taken without a prescription. These effects include changes in mood, perception and cognition, as well as a euphoric or “high” feeling. Individuals can become addicted to Modafinil’s feel-good effects and, over time, can develop a tolerance to Modafinil. As tolerance develops, an individual will begin increasing their dosage in order to continue getting the same effects.
What makes Modafinil addictive is how it works. Like other stimulants, Modafinil works by interacting with receptors in the brain to trigger the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that tells the body that it is happy, awake and energetic. The release of dopamine is natural, and it is addictive in itself.
Through thousands of years of evolution, dopamine has helped shape human behavior by telling a person when they’ve done something good. Dopamine is necessary for human survival, so it’s released to reinforce activities that support human survival, like doing a good deed, working out at the gym or eating a tasty meal. However, when a stimulant like Modafinil triggers the release of dopamine, this can cause a person to take more of the drug to get another or bigger dopamine rush.
In some studies, it was shown that Modafinil can lead to reinforcement because of its mood-lifting effects. This means that a person who takes Modafinil may be inclined to take it again because they felt more energetic and happy after consuming it. This can lead to patterns of misuse, creating tolerance, dependence, and addiction. However, the severe addictions, withdrawals, and relapses associated with other drugs, like those containing amphetamines, have not been seen with Modafinil, which is why it’s considered safer.
Despite Modafinil having a lower risk of addiction and less severe side effects, it’s still critical that Modafinil usage is closely monitored, especially in those who have been known to abuse alcohol and other substances because these people are at a higher risk of misusing Modafinil.
Modafinil Side Effects
Taking Modafinil can produce some negative side effects, especially if taken in higher doses. Some of the most common side effects Modafinil users experience include headaches, dizziness, nausea, nervousness and trouble getting to sleep because of the stimulant qualities of Modafinil. If trouble sleeping comes as a result of taking Modafinil, most doctors will change the dosage and/or the time of day that the person takes Modafinil to help minimize its impact on sleep quality.
For people who are prescribed Modafinil to treat narcolepsy, which is a severe sleeping disorder that makes people tired all the time, there is one reported withdrawal symptom. For those patients, not taking Modafinil leads to the return of their excessive sleepiness, but researchers explain that, for those experiencing sleep disorders, the return of sleepiness in the absence of medication is normal and not unique to Modafinil.
For most people, taking Modafinil will not lead to the development of an addiction, and part of that is due to the mild and absent withdrawal symptoms of this drug. In the case of many drugs, as soon as the drug begins to wear off, withdrawal symptoms can set in—like nausea, paranoia, fatigue or irritability. Those withdrawal symptoms can lead to a pattern of misuse, where the person takes the drug again to avoid the withdrawal symptoms, and the cycle repeats.
In the case of Modafinil, withdrawal symptoms are rare, which means misuse or developing a dependency or tolerance for the drug are less likely. Still, if someone is taking more than prescribed, it can lead to Modafinil tolerance. The issue with drug tolerance is that a person will continue to increase their dose to experience the same effects, which can quickly cause an overdose.
How Does Someone Develop Modafinil Tolerance?
When a person takes a drug long enough, their body will grow accustomed to the presence of the drug. Once that happens, the person is said to have developed a tolerance because the substance will no longer produce the same effects. For stimulants like Modafinil, an individual with a drug tolerance will no longer experience the increased energy, improved awareness and lifted mood, or “high” feeling, that it originally produced–at least not as strongly.
People who take Modafinil without a prescription are most likely to develop a tolerance to it, and are also most likely to increase their dose, which can lead to an overdose. However, a long-term prescription can also lead to Modafinil tolerance if the dose is not managed properly.
Some believe that therapeutic doses (meaning doses prescribed by a doctor) are unlikely to create a Modafinil tolerance, but one study from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) found that 70 percent of Modafinil users needed to increase their initial prescription over a 12-month period in order to continue seeing the same effects.
When discussing the likelihood of Modafinil tolerance, it’s important to note how it affects the brain. It’s understood that Modafinil triggers an increase of dopamine in the body, but the precise way in which it does so is not yet fully understood.
Modafinil works differently from Adderall and other amphetamine-based stimulants, but both Modafinil and Adderall produce similar levels of cognitive enhancement and stimulation. However, Modafinil does not have as many side effects and withdrawal symptoms as Adderall does, which makes it easier to stop taking Modafinil. Still, for those misusing Modafinil, the lack of negative side effects can put them at a greater risk of continuing to use Modafinil, leading to tolerance and overdose.
Just like with other forms of addiction, ending prescription or non-medical use of Modafinil is best done with a slow tapering off, meaning the dose should be gradually decreased. This helps bring an end to tolerance and dependence when managed by a doctor and helps avoid withdrawal symptoms, even though they are rare in Modafinil users.
Why Do People Misuse Modafinil?
According to the European Medicines Agency (EMA), just 485 cases of misuse, dependence and tolerance regarding Modafinil were reported between the years 1999 and 2007. Of those cases, Modafinil was most frequently misused as a type of “performance enhancer,” which means people misuse Modafinil in an attempt to improve their work or studying performance. This is similar to how other stimulants, like Adderall, have been misused in the United States.
With that said, Modafinil misuse reports show that it’s much less likely to be misused, particularly because Modafinil can not be easily injected or snorted. Drug users choose to inject or snort drugs because it creates a faster, more intense high, so being unable to do that with Modafinil makes it less appealing and its effects weaker and less addictive.
Another factor that contributes to Modafinil’s minimal misuse is that it isn’t prescribed as often as other stimulants because it is more expensive. However, it is becoming more common for people to misuse Modafinil as a performance enhancer.
Risks of Modafinil Overdose
Modafinil is considered safe, and it is safer than amphetamine-based stimulants, but overdosing is still possible. Accidental overdoses happen because an individual does not know how much is safe to take, or because they have developed a tolerance and continue to take more of the drug. Overdoses can also happen when Modafinil is combined with other drugs.
A person is most at risk of an overdose in two situations: When they have become tolerant and are continuing to take the drug, allowing it to build up in their system, or when they have tried to stop taking the drug, and then relapse back into Modafinil misuse. Overdosing a serious scenario and a person requires immediate medical help to survive.
The symptoms of overdose may begin with mild restlessness and trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. A person then may grow agitated, confused, anxious, nervous and/or paranoid. Hallucinations, uncontrollable shaking, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are also symptoms of Modafinil overdose. Chest pain and a rapid, pounding heartbeat or a paradoxical slowed heart rate are also warning signs.
How to Treat Modafinil Tolerance
It’s unlikely that someone who is taking Modafinil as prescribed by their doctor will become tolerant of the medication. However, histories of substance misuse and other factors can lead to tolerance. Non-medical use of Modafinil is also likely to lead to tolerance and potential overdose.
If you begin to feel like the amount of Modafinil you’re taking is not enough to treat your symptoms, the first step should be talking with your doctor. Your doctor can adjust your prescription or talk about switching medications to help you continue experiencing the positive effects of Modafinil safely. To avoid tolerance, a doctor may also suggest taking a break from the medication or temporarily switching to something else, but this requires a doctor’s oversight to ensure your safety.
You’ll know that you’re developing a Modafinil tolerance when you experience withdrawal symptoms as the effects of your dose wear off. The most common withdrawal symptoms of Modafinil include unclear thinking, trouble concentrating, low energy, fatigue, exhaustion, shortness of breath, depression and oversleeping.
If you’re struggling with substance use of Modafinil or any other drug, seeking help from an addiction specialist is the best step to take. Although Modafinil produces very few physical symptoms of withdrawal, it can still put you at risk of misuse, dependence and overdose. With the help of supportive professionals, you can break the tolerance and successfully end your substance dependence; you just need the right team on your side.
Seeking Help for Modafinil Misuse
If you or someone you love is struggling with Modafinil tolerance or misuse, it’s time to reach out to an addiction specialist who can help you safely end your use in a way that avoids withdrawal symptoms and relapse. At Windward Way Recovery, we are proud to walk with you and help you overcome the power of medications like Modafinil so that you can reclaim your life.
Are you interested in learning more about how Windward Way Recovery can help you stop using Modafinil and get on the path to a fulfilled life through a personalized combination of therapy, wellness, nutrition and goal-setting guidance? Reach out to our team today to talk about your situation and get the help you need.