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Adderall Abuse
May 7, 2019

Effects of Adderall Abuse

Adderall is a popular psychostimulant predominantly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), although it is also used to treat narcolepsy. Adderall is legally available in refillable prescription form and widely abused—particularly by adolescents. College students, for example, habitually abuse the drug, snorting it to fuel all-night study sessions and popping pills to help boost their academic performance.

The intensely focused and alert state Adderall induces was originally believed to offer academic advantages; however, emerging evidence shows that students who recreationally abuse the drug suffer from lower grade point averages (GPAs). The scope of Adderall abuse has broadened at an alarming pace. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), approximately 16 million amphetamine prescriptions—including Adderall—were written in 2012. This figure represents a dramatic increase over previous years. The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) further reports that over 42 percent of those using Adderall had no legitimate prescription and 7 percent of all college students abused the drug for non-medical reasons.

CHEMICAL COMPOSITION AND MECHANISM OF ACTION

Adderall is made from a salt-based mixture of amphetamines and dextroamphetamines—potent central nervous system (CNS) stimulants that are highly addictive and dangerously unpredictable when combined with other legal or illicit substances. The mechanism of action involved in producing Adderall’s desired effects is the acceleration and intensification of certain mental and physical processes. This stimulant effect is useful in treating hyperactivity, lack of focus, disorganization, fidgeting, over-talking, narcolepsy, and forgetfulness in children as well as adults. One of the primary benefits associated with Adderall is that it is longer-acting than Ritalin and many users feel it has less of a drop-off effect, making it more desirable by comparison.

The extended-release form of Adderall XR lasts from 7 to 12 hours, with most patients requiring two daily doses, although most insurance companies only cover one.  Adderall IR—an immediate release version of the drug available in tablet form—lasts approximately four hours or less, and requires three daily doses in order to achieve maximum benefit.

ADDERAL DIVERSION AND ABUSE

Adderall is extremely habit-forming, and individuals with documented histories of substance abuse should exercise caution when considering taking it for any reason. Although pharmaceutical companies still market the drug as an effective ADHD medication, it is increasingly abused for non-medical reasons.  Problems may also develop when the drug is taken in excessive quantities—at higher doses than would otherwise be prescribed in those legitimately taking the medication. Common methods of Adderall diversion and abuse include:

  • Ingesting higher or more frequent doses of the medication than originally prescribed
  • Using someone else’s prescription whenever convenient
  • Ingesting the medication through non-authorized means such as snorting
  • Abusing the medication for non-medical purposes such as staying awake for all-night study sessions, or on cross country road trips
  • Acquiring the drug illicitly (on the street) for purposes of recreational abuse

Abusing Adderall typically advances in three distinct stages, during which time users experience increasing reliance on the drug and adverse side-effects. The stages are:

  • Tolerance—users require more and more of the drug to obtain the same initial high. Ironically, the intensity of the initial high is difficult—if not impossible—to replicate.
  • Dependency—in this stage, the body begins to crave the drug and users require regular dosage in order to achieve homeostasis. Missed doses frequently lead to sub-optimal functioning and a heightened sense of anxiety.
  • Addiction—despite full awareness of the risks and adverse side-effects associated with the drug, user’s experience a compulsive desire to “get high” that overrides all sensibility and logic.

SHORT-TERM SIDE EFFECTS OF ADDERALL ABUSE

Adderall ‘s potent combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine stimulates the central nervous system (CNS)—affecting not only the nerves related to hyperactivity and impulse control but also brain chemicals. The positive effects of increased alertness, clarity, mood level, concentration, and decreased hyperactivity are extremely beneficial to those who naturally suffer a lack in these areas; however, there are a plethora of negative side effects that accompany abuse. Adderall is particularly dangerous for anyone with heart disease, glaucoma, high blood pressure or overactive thyroid disease, and abusing Adderall can cause these side effects to occur with greater frequency and intensity. Common side effects of Adderall abuse include:

  • Hoarseness
  • Digestive distress
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping

LONG-TERM SIDE EFFECTS OF ADDERALL ABUSE

Symptoms associated with high doses of Adderall or long-term abuse can lead to unnecessary complications—some of which are dangerous. These include:

  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Peeling or blistering skin
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Weakness and numbness in the extremities
  • Slowed or difficult speech
  • Hives and rashes
  • Changes in vision
  • Paranoia
  • Malnutrition
  • Shortness of breath
  • Mania
  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Weight loss
  • Incomplete thoughts
  • Aggressive or erratic behavior
  • Professional or academic absence
  • A decline in personal hygiene
  • Relationship issues

ADERRALL’S EFFECT ON THE BRAIN

Adderall has a negative effect on cognitive function when chronically abused. This occurs as the result of artificially elevated neurotransmitter levels in the brain, particularly dopamine. Elevated dopamine levels in the brain are a major cause of hyperarousal and overstimulation amongst Adderall abusers, however, this does not apply to those who have legitimately prescribed the drug for ADHD—a condition characterized by already decreased levels of these same neurotransmitters. Adderall abuse in those with relatively normal neurochemical levels is a proven cause of psychological disturbance which can include:

  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Mania
  • Anxiety
  • Euphoria
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations

ADDERALL’S EFFECT ON THE PERSONALITY

Adderall’s assault on the personality is multifactorial. For example, mood swings and a hostile disposition are common byproducts of Adderall abuse that can manifest through a litany of personality disorders such as bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive personality disorder (OCD), and other related disorders. Recent research also suggests a causal link between Adderall and schizophrenia, although more empirical data needs to be gathered.   

Undoubtedly, one of Adderall’s most disturbing features involves its over-prescription and misuse. Adderall is often wrongly prescribed to treat depression when appropriate medications such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) should be the primary interventions. An emerging school of thought also suggests that depression is an unintended consequence of long-term Adderall abuse, and the increasingly common disorder is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5TH Edition (DSM-5), as an “amphetamine-induced depressive disorder.”

Adderall abuse—mirroring a pattern frequently observed in other legal and illicit drugs—causes a series of deleterious personality changes, even in casual recreational users. When heavily abused, criminal and delinquent behavior, dangerous impulsivity, unnecessary risk-taking, manic episodes, and fiscal irresponsibility may occur with greater regularity, and the consequences can lead to lasting personal and professional problems.     

THE NECESSITY OF ADDERALL ADDICTION TREATMENT

Adderall addiction is extremely difficult to treat on one’s own. Professional treatment is available through a variety of rehab centers which not only provide excellent detoxification services but treat clients for underlying psychological addictions.  This comprehensive treatment can take the form of inpatient (residential) or outpatient programs, depending upon financial as well as personal and professional considerations. Quitting Adderall abruptly—a process called “cold turkey”—causes intense cravings for more dopamine which Adderall provides, and is universally considered a dangerous practice. Safe, effective Adderall detox and subsequent treatment require the assistance of licensed physicians and experienced clinical staff trained in facilitating the process. 

Adderall withdrawal symptoms such as depression, lowered energy levels, and sleeplessness are common when weaning off Adderall. Treatment programs are individually tailored to each client depending upon the level of abuse and other variables. Because treatment centers vary widely according to the services they provide, it is important to select a reputable facility that offers a full range of treatment services and ancillary benefits.

TAKING THE FIRST STEP

Adderall is a highly addictive medication that produces major physical and psychological changes when chronically abused. Anyone, at any time, can find themselves addicted to Adderall and in need of professional help. Like other mind-altering drugs, Adderall addiction requires early intervention and quality clinical care in order to ensure optimal treatment outcomes. If you or someone you love is addicted to Adderall and in need of help, call a substance abuse professional today.

And remember, in the event of an Adderall overdose, immediately dial 911 or visit your nearest hospital emergency room (ER).  

For more about Adderall addiction and recovery, check out these related articles:

Sources:

Johns Hopkins University— Hub Staff Report. Adderall abuse on the rise among young adults. Feb, 2016.

Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.  Adderall and the FDA. Vol 40, 2001.

ASPET Pharmacological Reviews. Psychostimulants and Cognition: A Continuum of Behavioral and Cognitive Action. Jan, 2014.

Pharmacy. Neurocognitive, Autonomic, and Mood Effects of Adderall: A Pilot Study of Healthy College Students. September, 2018.

Brain and Behavior. Prescription stimulants in individuals with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: misuse, cognitive impact, and adverse effects. September 2012.

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