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Understanding Modafinil Abuse

Providing Trusted, Evidence-Based
Treatment for Three Decades and Counting

If you or a loved one is experiencing addiction, we’re here to help.

Modafinil is a drug used to treat extreme bouts of sleepiness. It is commonly prescribed for people with narcolepsy—a disorder in which the brain does not adequately control sleep cycles—and for those who have unusual work schedules that disrupt normal sleep patterns (such as shift work sleep disorder).1 Modafinil does not cure any sleep disorders, but it works by allowing patients to stay awake when they would naturally be sleeping.

In a culture that values efficiency and productivity, almost everyone has wished for more hours in the day, to be able to function well without the need for sleep. It stands to reason that the benefits of modafinil would be quite appealing, which is why this drug comes with a high potential for abuse. For many people, it can feel like nothing is ever enough and there’s no time to slow down, so the appeal of a drug that can keep you awake and alert without crashing may be impossible to turn down.

Modafinil’s Effects

Modafinil works similarly to Ritalin and cocaine in the brain as a stimulant that increases dopamine levels. However, it does not have nearly the same strength of effect as cocaine. Modafinil, in contrast to other stimulants, does not induce the same type of crash or depressive feelings after the drug wears off. It does however have some potential side effects—common to stimulants—including the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Back pain
  • Dizziness
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Running or stuffy nose2

Risks of Abuse

Man taking white pillThe risk for dependence and addiction to modafinil increases with higher doses and with long-term use. However, the effects themselves can be addictive, particularly for those who work in competitive environments. Modafinil is known for cognitive enhancement and prolonged wakefulness and is considered among a group of “smart drugs” that people may seek prescriptions for apart from approved disorders like narcolepsy and shift work sleep disorder.

There has been a sharp increase in the recreational consumption of cognitive enhancement drugs, like modafinil, in recent years. And with that increase comes a much higher rate of emergency department visits.  Although they are well known on college campuses, smart drugs like modafinil is often a drug of choice among those in occupations requiring long hours or tight deadlines, such as in the military, in the medical profession. Just like performance-enhancing drugs are illegal in professional sports, many feel cognitive-enhancing drugs should be illegal in academia and in the workforce.3

Getting Help

Any time you are, or someone you know is, using a prescription medication for purposes outside of the prescription or without a prescription, it is considered abuse. Modafinil has such a strong appeal because of its effects, and the appeal extends from high-end executives to high school teenagers, who are more likely to ignore warning signs of abuse, which can lead to an accidental overdose.

The warning signs of a modafinil overdose include the following:

  • Restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Trouble falling and staying asleep
  • Uncontrolled shaking
  • Hallucinations
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nervousness
  • Agitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea1

If you suspect an overdose, call 911 immediately. Any overdose is extremely dangerous and can lead to life-threatening complications.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to modafinil, we want to help. Here at Michael’s House, we understand the extreme pressures of performing well at school and work, and we offer specialized treatment in learning healthy coping mechanisms to appropriately deal with performance anxiety and stress. We offer modafinil detox under the care of consulting physicians along with group and individual therapy as well as ongoing support groups for long-term success.

Please call our 24-hour, toll-free helpline at 760.548.4032 now to talk with our admissions coordinators about how we can help.


1 "Modafinil." Medline Plus. 15 February 2016.

2 "Modafinil." 7 February 2018.

3 Khazan, Olga, "The Rise of Work-Doping." The Atlantic, 27 August 2015.