Adderall is a prescription medication that is widely prescribed to patients who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy, a sleep disorder. This medication is a mixture of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, two powerful stimulants that have a strong potential for abuse and misuse. Adderall abuse can cause serious side effects, tolerance, and physical dependence which leads to an array of consequences for the user. Mistakenly believing that Adderall is safe for occasional consumption without a prescription, or safe for repeat use in a manner other than prescribed can produce deadly outcomes.
How is Adderall Abused?
Often times, Adderall abuse begins with college students taking the medication as a way of being able to increase their energy levels and alertness to study for upcoming exams or to focus in class. High school students are also at risk as those who are legitimately prescribed Adderall for ADHD often share the medication with their friends in order to “fit in” or be “cool.” According to Radford University, the drug can be abused via:
- Oral consumption
- Crushing and snorting the pills
- Emptying the capsules and snorting the powder
- Mixing with water and injecting using a hypodermic needle
- Sprinkling the substance on other substances such as nicotine or marijuana and smoking it
The primary method of Adderall consumption is via mouth. Unfortunately, chewing the pills and then swallowing or crushing them before consuming will produce a more rapid, increased high that can lead to serious side effects including overdose or death.
Dangers of Adderall Abuse
Students, adults and teens who take Adderall are at increased risk of serious side effects when the drug is taken in excessively large doses or when it is taken more often than prescribed. According to a University of Southern California report, “despite students’ attempts to justify use of Adderall, medical professionals have recognized and are alarmed by the dangerous effects of this drug even with patients with a correct ADHD diagnosis and legally acquired prescription.” This medication can cause mania, psychosis and even hallucinations in some, whether it is taken for a legitimate purpose or taken for a recreational purpose.
Additional dangers of Adderall abuse include:
- Changes in neural function
- Depletion of dopamine levels
- Heart attack
- Severe depression
- Sleep disturbances
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Weight loss
Who is At Risk?
While, according to the University of Notre Dame, “college students are of the largest demographic group who abuses or illegally uses Adderall and Ritalin,” they are not the only people who are at risk of becoming addicted to Adderall and suffering serious side effects; Teens in high school and even as young as middle school have reported taking Adderall after being given the medication by friends. Those who take the drug for legitimately prescribed purposes can become addicted if they misuse the medication or find a way to use it other than how it has been prescribed.
Adderall abuse affects the lives of teens, college students and adults alike. Often times, people who are addicted to cocaine or methamphetamine will turn to Adderall and similar stimulants in an effort to produce euphoria and similar effects when they are unable to get their drug of choice. Any such misuse of Adderall, or repeat use of the drug that is for the purpose of getting high can lead to physical dependence and a number of psychological dependence issues.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 15% of college students report having used psychotherapeutic drugs such as Adderall for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months. Most of the students who report abusing Adderall are male, Caucasian and members of fraternities or sororities with lower than average GPAs but not all. This just represents a small sample of those who are at risk of becoming addicted to this powerful stimulant medication.
Signs of Adderall Abuse
If you suspect that someone you know may be abusing Adderall or other stimulants, don’t be afraid to seek help! Early detection is key to finding and securing help for the future. Signs of Adderall abuse may not be evident at first, but chances are, as the individual dives deeper into the drug use and begins to become more dependent on the medication, any of the following signs will soon become more prominent:
- Increased energy and alertness
- Being “hyper” or overly anxious
- Abrupt changes in weight, losing weight rapidly
- Staying up late or changes in sleep habits
- Acting out of turn or irrationally
- Dilated pupils
- Increased blood pressure
- Improved concentration followed by periods of poor concentration
- Inexplicable loss of money
- Inexplicable time away from family
- Changes in peer groups or friendships
- Paraphernalia such as straws or pipes
- Lack of responsibilities or failure to maintain responsibilities
- Tolerance or increased need for larger doses in order to produce the same effects
- Withdrawal when Adderall is not used
Often times, people who become addicted to Adderall refuse to stop using the drug simply because they do not want to feel the symptoms of withdrawal. Unfortunately, when physical and psychological dependence on the drug set in, the risk for an array of withdrawal side effects and symptoms is increased. Abrupt cessation of the drug use or abruptly reducing the dose can lead to the following symptoms:
- Extreme anxiety and paranoia
- Major depression
- Increased sleeping
- Shaking and tremors
- Strong cravings
- Spike in appetite
- Reduced or slowed reflexes
- Extreme agitation and irritability
- Reduced concentration
For each person, the amount of time that Adderall withdrawal persists will vary. For some, symptoms of withdrawal from Adderall will last only a few days—but for others, these symptoms can persist for weeks on end making it seem near impossible to remain abstinent from the drug. Withdrawal duration depends on various factors including:
- The frequency of dosing that was previously established
- The amount of the dose previously established
- The length of time that Adderall was abused
- The presence of any other substance use disorders
- Whether there are other health conditions
- Whether the individual has quit and relapsed before
Treatment for Adderall Abuse, Addiction & Withdrawal
Many different methods of treatment exist to help those who become physically dependent on Adderall. While taking this drug can lead to serious side effects and complications, quitting is equally dangerous if it is not done under the supervision of a doctor or healthcare professional. According to the University of Notre Dame, severe depression is likely when a user attempts to quit taking Adderall after prolonged use or misuse. The risk here is greatest during the early stages of withdrawal but depression and other serious after effects of Adderall addiction can persist for weeks or even months in some cases.
Detox is the first step in the arsenal of treatment that is available to help you overcome Adderall addiction. During detox, the drug will gradually be eliminated from your regular use through a method called tapering. This involves taking a smaller dose every day or every other day until the reduction reaching a point of zero dosing. By gradually reducing the dose in this manner, the user will have reduced side effects associated with withdrawal and the risk for serious complications will be greatly reduced.
Following detox, counseling and therapy must commence to get to the bottom of the drug use. For college students, academic counseling may also play a role in helping in the recovery efforts. The idea here is to determine what caused the use of the drug and how to prevent such use from occurring in the future.