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Adderall Abuse effects men and women differently
August 17, 2016

Adderall Abuse Statistics

AdderallDoes the abuse of the prescription drug Adderall and its long-term effects on the brain differ between men and women? The answer is both a “yes” and a “no,” depending on what aspects of the addiction are in focus. Adderall is a highly addictive drug, after all—the stimulant/amphetamine can be an effective treatment for the psychiatric conditions Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), but as a Schedule II substance it also carries a high potential for abuse and the possible risk of an Adderall overdose is present.

Both the rates and causes of Adderall misuse, as well as susceptibility to dependency, are one important factor of a look at Adderall abuse statistics in men versus women. Another eye-opening facet concerns the long-term health effects of Adderall abuse and whether there are gender differences here, with respect to how Adderall affects the brain, for example, especially when one is snorting Adderall. This article will answer these questions.

Causes of Adderall Abuse

The causes of Adderall abuse in men and women are—at least on the surface—largely very similar. They have to do with why people generally start taking the stimulant in the first place, and the most common reason driving both men and women to use Adderall is the drug’s touted wonders as a so-called study drug. That is why the biggest demographic for Adderall abuse remains college students, ages 18 to 24, who are looking to improve their academic performance, as the latest findings confirmed. Increasingly, this age bracket is widening to include older workforce professionals, such as young adults in their late twenties and late thirties who are taking Adderall to boost productivity and get ahead in their careers, as The New York Times reported just last year.

Related to the motivation to enhance school performance by boosting attention, energy and productivity, is what a study at the University of Butler coined “role overload” among those who misuse Adderall and other stimulants. Role overload is a function of feeling unable to fulfill the multiple roles that today’s college students now traverse socially, academically and in jobs and extracurricular activities. Students experiencing role overload (both young men and young women) were more likely to report that they used Adderall for “improved attention/concentration and improved study habits,” according to the Butler study.

Susceptibility to Adderall Addiction

The phenomenon of role overload also accompanies a reported increase in stress levels on college campuses. That’s important to note because stress (and the experience of stressful or traumatic events) is a major risk factor for any form of substance abuse—whether Adderall or another chemical dependency. And stress—for women especially—may be associated with higher susceptibility to drug abuse and other psychiatric disorders.

Dr. Nora Volkow heads the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the lead U.S. federal agency charged with advancing addiction science. In congressional testimony before the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources, she explained the connections between stress, life stressors and women’s greater vulnerability to abuse of prescription drugs like Adderall:

First, women are more likely than men to suffer from depression, anxiety, trauma, and victimization, all of which frequently appear with substance abuse in the form of comorbidities. Second, girls and women report using drugs to cope with stressful situations in their lives.

Added to these combined vulnerabilities is the fact that women are “significantly more likely than men” (in Volkow’s words) to be prescribed “an abusable drug” such as Adderall.

There are supposedly even biological sex differences that make women, because of higher levels of estrogen at various phases of menstruation, more likely than men to get addicted to amphetamines and cocaine. One study found a link between high estrogen levels during particular phases of the menstrual cycle and positive subjective measures following amphetamine administration in women. Moreover, in animal research, the administration of estrogen increased stimulant-seeking behavior.


Women’s reportedly higher propensity for Adderall addiction would seem to predict higher rates of Adderall abuse in women than in men. Strikingly, the contrary seems to be true. Multiple studies like this one, conducted at an unnamed Midwestern university, tend to agree that, at least on college campuses, men abuse Adderall at higher rates than women. Among college men in fraternities, the rates of abuse dramatically escalate: as high as 55 percent of fraternity members misuse Adderall, according to another estimate. Such findings help to explain the following statement by Business Insider: “The typical college student who uses Adderall without a prescription is white, male and in a fraternity.”

Men in another world also—that of professional baseball—have been prone to abuse stimulants like Adderall for performance enhancement. The practice in baseball reportedly is not new.

Long-Term Effects of Adderall Abuse

The gender differences with respect to how Adderall abuse affects the brain are another interesting point of contrast. Here women are prone to suffer more from the long-term effects of Adderall abuse. Research released just last year found women who abuse stimulants like Adderall experience “critical, long-term decrease in brain volume as well as changes that affect crucial emotional and decision-making abilities—even after extended periods of abstinence from drug use.”

How do the brains of men who misuse Adderall fare? Apparently, they suffer less damage. The same research concluded that men who abuse stimulants, on the other hand, “undergo no significant brain volume changes.”