Prescription stimulants like Adderall are most often prescribed in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Adderall (dextroamphetamine-amphetamine) and other prescription drugs such as Ritalin (methylphenidate) can help people with ADHD to feel more focused. Unfortunately, illicit use of Adderall has become far too common, especially among high school and college students who look to the “study drug” for enhanced performance, but do not realize the dangers of misuse.
What is Adderall Used For?
As we mentioned before, Adderall is most commonly prescribed for the treatment of ADHD. Individuals diagnosed with ADHD are unable to focus on tasks, often cannot sit still, and may be impulsive. Adderall offers relief from these symptoms, helping those with ADHD to focus their minds and bodies and control impulsivity. The only other FDA-approved indication of Adderall is for the treatment of narcolepsy.
Since college and high school students under intense pressure are often looking to increase attention and wakefulness so that they can cram for exams or pull an “all-nighter,” many turn to Adderall, which can be very dangerous when it is not prescribed for a medical condition. Those interested in weight loss may also misuse Adderall, as it can cause a decrease in appetite.
How Does Adderall Affect the Brain?
Individuals with ADHD usually have lower levels of dopamine, which is a chemical released in the brain that makes you feel good. This lack of dopamine causes people with ADHD to constantly seek stimulation. Adderall works by increasing levels of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, thus bringing the brain from a state of overstimulation to a normal state of stimulation.
But what does Adderall do to the “typical” person who does not have ADHD? For a person starting out with normal levels of dopamine, they may feel a state of euphoria, increased wakefulness, and a better ability to cope with stress. Although this is certainly not recommended, this can make it easy to understand why Adderall is commonly misused by students who are feeling the pressures of exams, term papers, or sports.
Does Adderall Actually Make You Smarter?
Although Adderall use among adolescents and young adults is common in an attempt to achieve better grades, studies have shown that Adderall does not improve academic performance in those without ADHD. While it may make studying less distracting or more enjoyable, Adderall doesn’t actually make you smarter or improve cognitive function.
What are the Dangers of Misusing Adderall?
Adderall is considered safe when taken as prescribed by a physician. Taking Adderall without a prescription or taking more than prescribed is very dangerous.
Side Effects of Adderall
Prolonged misuse of Adderall increases the severity and risk of side effects, some of which may be permanent. Side effects include:
- Decreased appetite and weight loss
- Irregular or increased heart rate
- Dry mouth
- Digestive problems
- Mood swings
- Suicidal thoughts
- Increased risk of stroke or heart attack
Adderall is categorized as a Schedule II controlled substance, which means that there is a high risk of addiction. When taken at high doses for a long period of time, your body builds up a tolerance, so higher and higher doses are needed to feel the desired effects.
Adderall that is not obtained legally with a prescription is often counterfeit and dangerous. This means it could be cut with anything, including fentanyl or methamphetamine, which could lead to serious health complications, overdose, and even death.
Adderall Overdose and Drug Interactions
While Adderall overdose is unlikely, it is possible, especially when it is taken outside the supervision of your healthcare provider. When Adderall is taken in combination with other recreational or prescription drugs, the risk of overdose is much higher. Adderall can interact with antidepressants, cold medicines, and blood pressure medications, as well as many others. Mixing Adderall with alcohol can be very dangerous as well.
How to Safely Withdraw from Adderall
Stopping Adderall suddenly can cause serious withdrawal symptoms including loss of energy, intense cravings, panic attacks, tremors, body aches, mood swings, inability to focus, depression, mental health issues, and short-term memory loss. If you have been taking Adderall for ADHD, talk to your doctor about tapering off slowly. Prolonged use of high doses may require medical treatment and therapy.
If you or a loved one are worried about your Adderall use or fear that you may be addicted to Adderall, Caron is here to help you get the treatment you deserve. Call us today or learn more at Caron.org.
By Caron Medical Staff
By Drug and Alcohol Dependence Journal
By Kristin Sowada
By Adam Scioli, D.O., FASAM, DFAPA