The amphetamine-based prescription medication Adderall, most commonly used for the treatment of ADHD, is a Schedule 2 Controlled Substance owing to its potential for abuse, dependency and addiction. However, despite being a controlled substance, the drug is seen as a safer alternative to illegal stimulants, such as speed and cocaine, by many young people. They abuse Adderall to try to get ahead academically by boosting their concentration, even though the mental benefits of ADHD stimulants for anyone without the condition are questionable. Adderall abuse is also common in high school and college students who want to take advantage of amphetamine side-effects like higher energy levels and weight loss. What starts off as occasional use though can easily spiral out of control due to the effects Adderall has on the brain.
A report by the Government on teen abuse of prescription drugs highlights just how significant a problem Adderall misuse is among this age group. Research reveals that around 12% of teens have abused Adderall at some point, with 6% reporting use within the last month. The study also revealed that a quarter of teens believed prescription medications are a useful aid for study. More worrying still is that close to 30% of parents also feel that ADHD drugs can improve academic achievement even in the absence of ADHD and 20% reported giving their teen a prescription medication not issued to them. These misconceptions among both parents and kids are helping to fuel Adderall abuse and potentially addiction.
Adderall misuse by college students is even more alarming, particularly as a study by the SAMHSA showed that almost 90% of students using Adderall non-medically reported binge drinking and more than 50% had an alcohol intake that would class them as heavy drinkers. This is a concern, as the stimulant effects of ADHD medication encourages students to carry on drinking, risking alcohol poisoning as it masks the signs that someone has already consumed too much alcohol. Students abusing Adderall are also more likely to misuse other drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, tranquilizers and prescription painkillers. Mixing cocaine and Adderall is a particular worry, as both are stimulants, so the risk of a heart attack or stroke is much higher when taken in combination. A history of substance misuse also makes young people more susceptible to develop an addiction to Adderall.
To understand how Adderall is addicting, it is important to understand the effects this stimulant has on the brain. The stimulant can successfully manage ADHD symptoms by increasing levels of dopamine in the brain. While higher levels of dopamine benefits concentration and impulse control, it also triggers other changes, most notably intense positive feelings. This is why Adderall users may experience a high, particularly when they first start using the drug. As the NIDA explains, boosting dopamine levels is common to most addictive drugs, including other amphetamines, cocaine and morphine, which helps to explain why it is so easy to become hooked. Dopamine is involved in the brain’s reward pathway, designed to encourage us to repeat experiences beneficial to our survival, but a range of substances are able to take advantage of the same mechanism, so we want to take the drugs repeatedly.
With repeated use, like many drugs a tolerance to Adderall develops. This means that the same dose doesn’t exert the same effects, which encourages users to take more of the medication and more often. With more intense and frequent exposure, the likelihood of addiction increases, owing to the continued impact Adderall has on the brain. Once under the spell of Adderall, the risks of adverse effects from the stimulant are far higher, which not only affects physical and mental well-being, but also has far-reaching consequences.
Effects of Adderall Abuse
According to the FDA, some of the adverse effects of Adderall that chronic users may experience are poor appetite, weight loss, difficulty sleeping, dizziness, stomach pains, anxiety and mood swings. This ADHD medication may also trigger or worsen serious mental health problems, such as bipolar disorder and psychosis, and may also make users aggressive. However, besides these Adderall abuse symptoms that relate to health, the stimulant shares many of the signs of abuse of other prescription drugs:
- Financial issues. It may leave you short of money and you may even sell valuables that belong to yourself or others to generate the cash to buy illegal pills.
- Withdrawing from family and friends, choosing to spend more time alone. This can be a direct result of the drug on your mental wellness, but can also facilitate drug taking. You may alternatively change your social circle, spending time with others who share your habit.
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy, as you focus more on your Adderall habit.
- Becoming more irritable, particularly when you aren’t able to get hold of the medication.
- A decline in grades.
- Neglecting your appearance and health.
These are all signs of problem drug use and that you need to get help with Adderall abuse.
Adderall Withdrawal Symptoms
If you stop taking Adderall, especially if you have been taking the drug for a prolonged period, you will develop a range of symptoms if you stop suddenly. This is because your body develops a dependency on Adderall, so it needs a regular supply to function normally and your body makes you aware of this fact if you withhold the drug. Just as if you were addicted to a non-prescription amphetamine, you may experience the following symptoms when you withdraw from Adderall:
- Initially, anxiety, low mood, agitation and strong drug cravings are present
- This is followed by feelings of tiredness, reduced energy levels and apathy
- Periods of drug cravings may continue later during the withdrawal period, particularly if you associate the drug with particular occasions or people
Although none of these symptoms are dangerous in themselves, if you suffer from extreme depression, there is a risk of suicide following amphetamine withdrawal. While this is more likely if you have a history of mental illness, it is advisable to seek professional help to safely withdraw from stimulant drugs. This allows your symptoms to be monitored as the dose is reduced and stopped, so you can access any treatment you need for your mood or other withdrawal symptoms as required.
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