Total Shape is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission. Learn more.

Are Nootropics Addictive? (Backed by Science)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico | Co-Founder & Marketing Director
Last updated: August 13, 2023
We personally test every product featured in our reviews and guides. By ordering products anonymously and getting a group of independent testers, we are able to get first-hand experience and provide data-driven recommendations. Learn more.

Recently, one of my colleagues at the gym shot down the idea of supplementing the diet with nootropics because they claimed it could lead to addiction problems.

However, labeling a whole group of supplements as addictive because of misuse or low-quality products can be problematic. So, I decided to delve into the subject of nootropics and addiction and examine the available scientific literature behind it.

I spent a week reading various articles and discussing them with a dietician and psychiatrist to get deeper into the matter.

This article will answer the question: Are nootropics addictive?

Quick Summary

  • Addiction to any substance is a result of misuse, tolerance, or overuse.
  • While natural nootropics (nootropics from plant and food sources) aren’t addictive, certain synthetic nootropics might be.
  • Certain prescription smart drugs might not be the best fit for persons who have a history of addiction and substance misuse.

Are Nootropics Addictive?

A stack of different nootropics

No, nootropics are not addictive. Natural nootropics, like any other organic foods, aren’t addictive in themselves.

However, certain synthetic nootropics (prescription medications) may be addictive.

Nootropics cannot be addictive because a nootropic, by definition, shouldn’t induce harmful effects in and of itself.

To better understand the mechanism behind addiction and nootropics, we need to distinguish between the two kinds of nootropics and understand the mechanism of addiction.

Natural Nootropics Vs Prescription Nootropics

Natural nootropics are organic cognitive enhancers.

They’re primarily from botanical sources, but many foods and supplements are also considered natural nootropics, provided they contain only organic ingredients.

Prescription nootropics (or synthetic smart drugs) are prescription drugs that have the same effect as nootropics but are usually much more intense.

They’re almost always synthetic, i.e., lab-made, and they’re illegal to use without a doctor’s prescription.

In fact, many prescription smart drugs like Adderall, Ritalin, and other stimulants are classified as Schedule II controlled substances, putting them in the same category as addictive drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines because of their high potential for dependence and abuse.

What Do We Mean By Addiction?

Overdosed person holding lots of pills

Addiction is formally defined as the inability to stop using a substance or engaging in a behavior even though it causes psychological and physical harm [1].

When a person stops using a substance or engaging in that behavior, they may experience symptoms of withdrawal.

Addiction should not be confused with misuse; not everyone who misuses a substance is addicted to it.

However, smart drugs can be addictive if they are misused.

Natural nootropics can’t be addictive in themselves, but certain behavioral patterns can lead someone to depend on them in the same way people can become addicted to food or certain habits.

“Drugs, drinking, and other addictive behaviors (like gambling or sex) change the way brain cells communicate with each other. Addiction is a powerful disease that restructures the way you think and feel.”

- Dr. David Zoeller, MD, Specialist in Brain and Addiction Science

What Makes a Smart Drug Addictive?

Top view of white smart drugs

Chemical dependence on a smart drug can make it addictive.

However, this is mostly the case in prescription medications (or smart drugs) and not natural nootropics.

There are many reports of people who abuse prescription medication to the degree that it has damaging and long-lasting effects on the brain.

Certain chemicals in these medications combined with misuse can get users addicted to them.

Most Addictive Smart Drugs

These are some of the most addictive smart drugs:


  • Use: Prescribed for obesity, narcolepsy, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) [2].
  • Brand names: Adzenys, Dyavanel, Adderall, and Evekeo.


  • Use: Prescribed for treating ADHD and sleep narcolepsy [3].
  • Brand names: Adderall, Mydayis, Dexedrine, ProCentra, and Zenzedi.


  • Use: Prescribed for treating ADHD [4].
  • Brand names: Focalin.


  • Use: ADHD and binge-eating disorders [5].
  • Brand names: Vyvanse

Are Cognitive Enhancers Safe for Consumption?

Getting cognitive enhancers from its sealed pack

Yes, cognitive enhancers — natural and synthetic — are safe for consumption when taken in moderate dosage.

And if you’re on medication, it’s best to speak with your physician before taking any natural or synthetic nootropics to prevent any side effects of medication.

Natural nootropics are almost always safe for consumption. The only time they’re ever dangerous or even fatal is when you overdose on them.

As discussed, this could result from accidental or intended misuse or developing a dependence on them.

Prescription smart drugs may also safely boost cognitive performance without side effects.

However, there is a higher chance of falling into addictive behaviors with them. And addiction to these smart drugs can lead to all kinds of side effects.

Side Effects of Smart Drugs

Every smart drug has its own set of symptoms [6].

These are some of the most common side effects:

  • Insomnia
  • Blurry vision
  • High blood pressure
  • Fast heart rate
  • Circulation problems
  • Addiction

Treatment for Nootropic Abuse

Seeking professional help from nootropic abuse

Treatment for nootropic abuse should be seen the same way as any other drug abuse.

Here’s what you need to do if you find yourself addicted to nootropic drugs:

  • Firstly, you need to seek mental health counseling to learn how to stop depending on nootropic drugs.
  • Secondly, you may need medical intervention to detox and alleviate any withdrawal symptoms.
  • Lastly, you may overcome the physical and psychological addiction of using a cognitive enhancer drug, but you’ll need to replace it with healthier options.

“The brain is very plastic and does reset. If you stop using drugs, your dopamine receptors will increase. If you take away the drugs and participate in a rehab program, you can actually heal your brain.”

- Dr. Richard Friedman, MD, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry

Non-Addictive Alternatives

Person stretching outdoors

If you’re prone to addiction or recovering yet still want to receive the benefits of nootropics, we recommend the following alternatives.

Note that you’ll need to do two or more of these in conjunction to improve brain function holistically and see results quickly.

1. Exercise Daily and Get Plenty of Sleep

Research shows that exercising for 30 minutes or more every day for 3–5 days a week may improve symptoms of depression and anxiety [7].

Exercising daily can also reduce your risk of cognitive decline and increase performance in working memory and cognitive flexibility [8] [9].

Sleep is essential for your mental health and overall cognitive functioning.

Losing even a few hours of sleep can have detrimental effects on your attention, language, reasoning, decision-making, learning, and memory skills [10].

2. Consume Herbal Nootropics

Spilled herbal nootropics supplement

However, one could end up accidentally overusing herbal nootropics.

Many of them are known to cause unpleasant nootropic side effects when taken above the recommended dosage. And if you’re under any medication, some nootropics can negatively react to them.

So, if you plan on taking any nootropic herbs, make sure you carefully plan out how much you take, and speak to your physician about your medication and potential side effects.

3. Eat Nootropic Foods

Certain foods are known for boosting mental performance and cognitive function. They don’t need preparation and are very easy to incorporate into your diet.

Here’s a list of nootropic foods we recommend for cognitive enhancement:

  • Green, leafy vegetables like kale, collard greens, spinach, and broccoli
  • Berries
  • Tea and coffee (in small amounts)
  • Walnuts
  • Fatty fish

4. Take Natural Nootropic Supplements

One of the most highly recommended options for boosting your brain health is taking natural, safe, and clinically tested supplements. These supplements, while synthetically produced, use only natural ingredients.

They also contain the best mix of herbal nootropic extracts in optimal dosages.

Because all their ingredients are natural, you can take them every day (according to the recommended dosage) to improve cognitive functions without worrying about the adverse effects of stimulant drugs.

Remember, everyone's response to various substances or lifestyle changes can differ but it’s best to consult professionals for alternatives.

Dr. Shara Cohen, CEO and Founder of Cancer Care Parcel, reminds us that it's important to approach any cognitive enhancement method with caution and consult with a healthcare professional who can provide personalized advice based on your specific needs and health condition.


What Does Piracetam Do to the Brain?

Piracetam increases your brain’s blood supply and oxygen and glucose consumption — especially for people with mental impairments [11]. This allows your brain’s cells and blood vessels to function better, enhances cognition, and aids long-term memory formation [11].

Do Nootropics Affect Hormones?

Yes, nootropics can affect your hormones. When taken in safe dosages, they have a positive effect on your hormonal levels. Additionally, they also alter the levels of neurotransmitters and enzymes in your brain by increasing the brain’s oxygen supply and stimulating nerve growth [12].

Play It Safe With Natural Nootropic Supplements

It’s best to stay away from smart drugs if you don’t have a doctor’s prescription.

If you want to see a noticeable improvement in your cognitive abilities, we recommend playing it safe by taking a natural nootropic supplement.

These products have clean, safe, and science-backed ingredients. We know this because we personally tested these products at TotalShape.

Even on the most mentally fatiguing days, these supplements can boost mental clarity and clear brain fog. Browse through our list and find one that matches your needs.


Was this article helpful?

About The Author

You May Also Like

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *




Learn More