Adderall is a prescription stimulant medication designed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, as well as daytime narcolepsy.
It is regularly abused both for the euphoric “high” it can produce as a “party drug” and perhaps more commonly for the energy and concentration boost it gives as a “study” or “smart” drug. Over 6 percent of fulltime college students (between the ages of 18 and 22) reported using Adderall nonmedically in the year prior to the 2006-2007 national survey, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) publishes.
As a Schedule II controlled substance, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) imposes strict regulations for Adderall as it has a high abuse and addiction rate. SAMHSA reports that nearly a half-million American adults (aged 12 and older) battled a stimulant drug use disorder in 2014.
When someone takes Adderall regularly for a prolonged period of time, changes are made to the structure and chemistry of the brain. These changes may make it difficult for a person to stop taking Adderall, creating first a tolerance to the drug and then a physical dependence. Adderall dependence can cause withdrawal symptoms to occur when the drug stops being active in the bloodstream, somewhere between four and six hours for an immediate-release (IR) formulation of the drug and around 12 hours for an extended-release (XR) form, the journal Molecular Psychiatry publishes. Withdrawal side effects can be both emotionally and physically uncomfortable, encouraging a person to continue taking the drug.
An inability to control drug use is one of the hallmarks of addiction, which is considered a brain disease. Addiction can negatively impact multiple areas of a person’s life, including their emotional and physical wellbeing.
Behavioral Effects of Addiction Involving Adderall
When someone suffers from addiction, their social circle is likely to change. Increased secrecy, withdrawal, and a lack of interest in previously important activities can negatively impact relationships. An individual battling addiction often spends the majority of their time thinking about getting Adderall, using it, and then recovering from Adderall’s effects. Financial and legal trouble may become prevalent in the person’s life. Individuals may spend savings trying to get Adderall or become involved in criminal activities trying to obtain it.
Addiction involving Adderall can cause a person to become less dependable and behaviors to become erratic. Work and school production, which may have been initially boosted by Adderall abuse, may start to decline. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that individuals who regularly abuse a prescription ADHD drug like Adderall actually do worse in school and have lower grade point averages (GPAs) than those who don’t use these drugs without a licit medical purpose. Drop in work production may lead to difficulties with an employer and even potentially the loss of a job, resulting in unemployment and even possibly homelessness.
Adderall changes the brain’s chemistry, causing a flood of dopamine and some of the other neurotransmitters responsible for helping to regulate moods and emotions. High levels of these brain chemicals make individuals feel happy and energetic, increasing libido and cognitive functions. When Adderall wears off, however, a crash may ensue, making people feel fatigued, depressed, anxious, lethargic, hungry, and “foggy.”
Individuals may abuse Adderall in a binge pattern in an attempt to avoid this crash, or other drugs may be used in order to smooth it out. Using other drugs and/or alcohol in conjunction with Adderall can increase all of the potential hazards of both substances, however.
High levels of Adderall taken regularly may possibly cause psychotic symptoms, like hallucinations, paranoia, mania, delusions, and an altered mental state akin to schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The journal BMC Psychiatry reports that 8-46 percent of individuals taking amphetamine drugs regularly may suffer from drug-induced psychosis. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publishes warnings in the prescription guide and labeling information for Adderall XR regarding the potential for the drug to significantly alter moods and induce psychotic symptoms. In addition, regular Adderall abuse may lead to anger and hostility, making it more likely for someone to become violent or aggressive.
The journal Molecular Psychiatry reports that high and regular levels of amphetamine drugs can have neurotoxic effects on the brain and its dopamine system. This alteration in dopamine production by the brain as a result of chronic Adderall use can cause significant depletion of this pleasure-inducing chemical when the drug isn’t active in the bloodstream.
When Adderall wears off, or someone stops taking it, withdrawal symptoms may occur in those battling drug addiction involving stimulants. Drug cravings as well as both physical and psychological side effects can be extremely uncomfortable during Adderall withdrawal.
For this reason, it is not recommended for a person who is dependent on the drug to stop using it suddenly.
- A person may have difficulties feeling pleasure without the drug, and SAMHSA’s Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) 33 warns that intense anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations, irritability, aggression, and violent outbursts may all be common during withdrawal from a stimulant drug. Suicidal ideations may be common in individuals who battle addiction involving a stimulant drug as well, particularly for those who also suffer from a co-occurring mental illness, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) warns. In the United States in 2013, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death when averaged out across all age groups, and the second leading cause of death in those between the ages of 15 and 34, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.
Insomnia, changes in appetite, tremors, chills, memory issues, dehydration, fatigue, vivid dreams, lack of energy, mental confusion, and muscle aches are additional symptoms of stimulant withdrawal. The extreme nature of Adderall withdrawal side effects makes it ideal for detox to be performed in a specialized medical detox facility where trained professionals can keep clients safe from harm.
Depression, Suicide Risk, and Withdrawal Symptoms
Abusing a drug such as Adderall for a lengthy period of time may cause shrinkage and abnormalities in the white and grey matter of the brain, the journal Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences publishes. This can cause difficulties controlling impulses and keeping moods balanced as well as interfere with cognitive abilities, memory and learning functions, and the ability to make sound decisions. These side effects may be even made worse when Adderall addiction occurs in young people whose brains are not fully developed.
Damage to the Body Due to Addiction Involving Adderall
As a stimulant drug, Adderall speeds up heart rate and increases blood pressure. Long-term and regular abuse of Adderall can therefore damage the heart and cardiovascular system, putting a person at a potentially higher risk for stroke, hypertension, heart failure, sudden cardiac death, irregular heartbeat, circulation issues, or other cardiovascular issues. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) of 2011 reports that over 17,000 Americans sought treatment in an emergency department (ED) for an adverse reaction to the abuse of a prescription drug containing amphetamine or methylphenidate (another stimulant contained in ADHD medications).
Significant weight loss and even anorexia may be side effects of regular Adderall abuse, as it serves to decrease appetite levels in those who take it. Rapid weight loss can be unhealthy, leading to a myriad of health concerns due to the depletion of some of the body’s necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Headaches, vision problems, and disturbed sleep patterns are additional consequences of addiction involving Adderall. Stunted growth may occur in children who use the drug.
Individuals taking Adderall may experience an increased sex drive, lending them to engaging in sexual practices that may be unsafe and increasing the risk for contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Long-term and regular Adderall use also makes it more likely that a person may be involved in an accident, or become injured from taking bigger risks and getting into potentially hazardous situations while under the influence of the drug.
As someone takes Adderall regularly, their tolerance level to the drug will increase, making it more likely that they will increase the dosage to counteract this. Higher dosage amounts also increase the odds for suffering from an Adderall overdose. An overdose on Adderall can be life-threatening and may be recognized by the following signs:
- Racing heart and fast pulse
- Shallow breathing
- Tremors or seizures
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Chest pain
An Adderall overdose requires immediate medical attention.
Crushing and snorting Adderall can heighten the risk for overdose. When Adderall is commonly snorted, it can cause damage to the nasal and sinus cavities, as well as to lung tissue, and lead to chronic nosebleeds, runny nose, and respiratory issues. Regular abuse of Adderall via ingestion of the tablets may create gastrointestinal problems. When mixed with other drugs or alcohol, side effects are compounded.
The Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) published that in 2012 approximately 7 percent of all substance abuse treatment admissions nationwide were for stimulant use concerns. Addiction involving Adderall can be costly emotionally, physically, socially, and financially. Thankfully, it can be managed and addressed in a comprehensive care facility specializing in addiction treatment.