Touted as a medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy, Adderall is a medication in the stimulant family and a form of amphetamine.
It was first developed in 1887 in Germany, first used medically in 1927, and became a popular medication for helping American soldiers stay focused and awake.
Even as recent as 2010, the United States Department of Defense paid for more than 32,000 prescriptions of Adderall and similar medications for active duty military personnel – at a price tag of $39 million. Civilian prescription rates are also high; in that same year, over 18 million prescriptions were written.
Adults aren’t the only ones taking Adderall either. In a 2014 University of Michigan study, 6.8 percent of 12th graders interviewed had tried Adderall in the past year.
Abuse of Adderall
Adderall is widely abused due to its stimulant effects. College students use it to pull all-night studying sessions before exams, and others may use it to get themselves going for the day. College students aged 18-22 are twice as likely to abuse Adderall than their peers the same age who are not in college.
The drug can easily be bought on the streets by those who do not have access to a prescription or do not have health insurance. Individuals who do have health insurance can often get prescriptions for the drug even if they are not legitimately needed by “faking” symptoms. Some do this in an effort to get pills to later sell to others. Even though Adderall can increase alertness, there is not much evidence to support the claim that it can help with cognitive functioning in individuals without a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Adderall is mostly taken orally, but it can also be snorted or injected. The route of administration plays a large role in when the effects of the medication appear. If administered via IV, the effects can be almost instantaneous, while if snorted, the effects will usually appear within 5 minutes.
When abused, Adderall can produce effects such as enhanced cognitive function, euphoria, and increased sex drive. Euphoria is often achieved by injecting the medication. Larger doses do not mean these effects are enhanced. In fact, larger doses can cause more severe effects, such as paranoia, psychosis, hallucinations, and impaired coordination.
Since Adderall stimulates the brain’s reward center by acting on the same neurotransmitters that cocaine acts on, it is extremely addictive. Many individuals end up taking cocaine and Adderall together in an effort to maximize the effects of each drug. As with all poly-drug abuse, this compounds the risks of each drug as well as the overall risk of overdose.
Benzodiazepines are also often taken with Adderall to decrease the adverse effects of the stimulant drug. When people are too amped up from Adderall or unable to sleep, they may take benzos in an effort to calm down and induce sleep. This combination can be deadly, as it can cause a heart attack.
Signs of Dependence
When individuals become dependent on Adderall, there are many signs and symptoms that their loved ones may notice. These can include both physical and behavioral symptoms.
Some of the physical signs and symptoms of Adderall abuse and dependence may include:
- Mood swings
- Decreased appetite
- Dilated pupils
- Tolerance – needing more Adderall to achieve the desired effect
- Chest pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Hypertension – high blood pressure
- Cardiovascular complications
- Nausea and vomiting
- Vitamin deficiency
Individuals can also exhibit psychological symptoms and behaviors related to Adderall dependence. Loved ones should look for changes in psychological status; individuals may experience paranoia, hallucinations, psychosis, and delusions. Other effects of Adderall dependence on an individual’s life include:
- Changes in behavior
- Disintegration of personal or occupational relationships
- Problems with finances due to spending money on more Adderall or missing work due to Adderall use
- Loss of job due to taking time off due to Adderall use or experiencing withdrawal symptoms
If individuals attempt to stop taking Adderall abruptly or go too long between doses, they may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. These can include extreme cravings for Adderall, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, and depression.
The severity and duration of these symptoms will depend largely on the individual’s dependence. The longer the dependence is and the higher the doses taken, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms will be. The withdrawal period can last up to a few weeks. A 2009 report found that there are no medications that have been proven effective to treat Adderall withdrawal.
While withdrawal from Adderall is generally not dangerous, it can be very uncomfortable. For this reason, both inpatient and outpatient treatment options may be appropriate, depending on the individual’s needs and dependence level. In the inpatient setting, individuals will be monitored by medical staff around the clock, so they may be kept safe and comfortable. In some situations, individuals may be prescribed medications to help with withdrawal symptoms. No medication can cause the withdrawal period to end sooner, but some medications may ease the symptoms.
The biggest component of treatment for any dependence is behavioral therapy. This helps individuals isolate and change learned drug-related behaviors, so they may focus on living a sober life instead of obtaining and using Adderall.