Adderall® has gone down similar paths as other medications within the United States—and world—most notably the path of fact versus fiction. Just like many other prescription medications, Adderall entered the market in order to address one or two specific biological needs and ended up being diverted and misused in order to achieve its side effects or to utilize certain biochemical responses it creates within the brain and body for alternate results.
So, what does that mean, exactly? Firstly it means Adderall does in fact have benefits to be found for those struggling with diagnosable disorders. It is a medication that, when used safely and correctly as prescribed by a licensed physician, can positively impact a person’s life. Next, however, it means that Adderall has become a medication regularly misused by large cross-sections of the public and plays a role in endangering each person who misuses it due to its short- and long-term side effects.
It’s important to know the facts, to understand the fictions, and to draw a clear line between the two. Also, by understanding what Adderall is capable of, both when correctly prescribed and when diverted/misused, the addiction treatment professionals can better prepare for helping those in need. Let’s look at some facts about Adderall, its proper uses, ways it is diverted and misused, and the side effects of both scenarios.
What Is Adderall?
Adderall is a brand name of the combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. Although these two substances are part of the same class of drugs as methamphetamine—and are all a form of stimulant—they affect the body in different ways. Whereas “meth” is typically referring to crystal meth, the word “amphetamine” is generally (with exceptions) not referring to illegally created forms, such as meth.
Amphetamine itself has been known and utilized for over 100 years now. Early versions of the drug were marketed as Benzedrine®—which is where the slang word “benzos” originated—and later Dexedrine®, first introduced in 1935 and 1937, respectively. Of the two, Dexedrine was much more potent in how it affected a person’s brain and body. Both were utilized in the treatment of narcolepsy along with other disorders.
Someone could purchase Benzedrine or Dexedrine—that is, amphetamine and dextroamphetamine—without a prescription or any regulation up until 1929. Now, many decades later, they are strictly regulated and available via prescription alone, although as we know, the medication is regularly diverted.
Appropriate Uses For Adderall
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Adderall is mainly “[prescribed to treat] “attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD; more difficulty focusing, controlling actions, and remaining still or quiet than other people who are the same age).” They specify it is only available as a prescription for children who are three years old and above, as well as adults who qualify.
Along with the treatment of ADHD, Adderall is also utilized to treat narcolepsy, which Texas A&M Health describes as “[a lack of] adequate levels of certain neurotransmitters responsible for stabilizing wakefulness.” These neurotransmitters are directly affected by Adderall which is how it produces the results seen in those struggling with ADHD or narcolepsy, as well as the reasons it’s diverted and misused by those seeking its standard effects or its side effects.
How Adderall Affects The Brain
Adderall is classified as a “central nervous system stimulant” according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. This means it affects naturally occurring substances we all possess, chemicals that are also referred to as neurotransmitters. It works by changing the amounts of certain natural substances in the brain.
Specifically, Adderall affects the production of dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Texas A&M Health describes dopamine as the “reward neurochemical.” Dopamine interacts with our brains in various ways, but one of the main ones is to regulate certain sensations and emotions.
Ordinary experiences can release small amounts of dopamine into our system—things like eating a food we really like—and one of the ways Adderall works is by preventing dopamine from being reabsorbed into our brains/systems. This means a couple of things. First, it means the dopamine is present and affecting us longer than our brains are used to, which is one key aspect that may lead to addiction.
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Next, that extra amount of dopamine in someone who is not taking Adderall as a prescription for ADHD means they may find it easier to ignore things happening around them in order to focus on one thing. This is one of the reasons Adderall is effective for treating ADHD, in fact.
How A Stimulant Helps Someone With ADHD
It sounds counterintuitive—and all but impossible—that a central nervous system stimulant like Adderall could help someone with ADHD. As a reminder, the acronym breaks down into attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. As reported by a study at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the continuing study of the disorder has led to further developments.
“Historically, the core feature of ADHD has been characterized as one of attention deficit, but increasing evidence suggests that a reward and motivation deficit may be of equal importance,” the study reports. One way this can easily be understood is that a person diagnosed with ADHD is constantly looking for stimulation.
What Adderall does is give them that stimulation. Their brains and central nervous system are not reacting to outside stimuli in a way that is satisfying to them, but rather trying to find the next thing, and the next, and the next that will make their brain release its appropriate chemicals. Once Adderall is prescribed, this changes by telling their brain, essentially, “You are correctly stimulated,” allowing them to focus.
Why Some People Take Adderall Without A Prescription
Perhaps not surprisingly, considering one of the nicknames for Adderall is “the study drug,” misuse is most prevalent among college students. In the study referenced above via the U.S. National Library of Medicine it is stated that misuse of Adderall—obtaining and taking it without a prescription—has continued to increase among college students, and is in fact second only to marijuana as that demographic’s drug of choice.
The most common reason given for misusing Adderall is to increase attention and to remain awake. These two factors are often cited as ways to aid in studying, test-taking, and doing general work related to school. Also cited were the pressures to succeed academically, including pressure related to the amount of debt they would eventually inherit upon graduating.
The Dangers of Adderall And Its Side Effects
Not everyone who takes Adderall will experience these side effects. As with other drugs, the individual and their personal health history play a role, as will length and severity of non-prescription Adderall use.
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Some of the side effects listed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine are: anxiety/nervous behaviors, nausea, weight loss, sexual side effects, dry mouth, constipation, diarrhea, severe menstrual cramps, and recurring headaches. These are typically seen as short-term and less severe, though it’s always recommended anyone reach out to a medical professional if they are experiencing side effects that are not going away.
There are also severe side effects:
- slurred, difficult, or slow speech patterns
- recurring dizziness
- speech and/or motor function tics
- grinding teeth
- numbness/weakness of an appendage
- altered thought patterns, including conspiratorial thinking/believing things which are false
- heightened suspicion of others and the things around you
- visual and auditory hallucinations
- severe and recurring agitation/anxiety
- fever (along with shivering, sweating, and body/muscle pain)
- general confusion, also known as “mental fog”
- heightened heartbeat
- loss of coordination
- nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- moments of mania or recurring restlessness/excitability
- vision changes, including blurred vision
- blue color to the fingers and/or toes
- pain, numbness, burning, or tingling in the hands or feet
- unexplained wounds appearing on fingers or toes
- blistering or peeling skin
- rash, hives, and/or itching
- swelling of the eyes, face, tongue, or throat
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
As you can see, many of these are in fact quite severe and could lead to drastic and worrisome experiences for anyone taking Adderall, whether it be with or without a prescription. Also, despite the length of the list, it does not include all possible side effects.
There are studies that show sudden death is possible in children and teens taking Adderall, and particularly when they possess heart defects or severe heart problems. Also, Adderall can cause heart attack, stroke, and/or sudden death in adults as well, again when there is a pre-existing heart condition.
All of these side effects are serious and should be reported immediately to a doctor. Part of the challenge for helping those who are taking Adderall without a prescription is related to their fear of admitting they have either bought the drug illegally, were given it by a friend, or obtained it in some other way that could be seen as or is illegal. It’s important to stress that their life is more important than any trouble they could potentially be in.
Seeking A Side Effect
There are some Adderall side effects being sought purposely and weight loss is one of the most common. As Americans have become more and more obsessed with dieting, weight loss, and body image, they have sought ways to help them achieve the effects they’re looking for, whether they be healthy practices or otherwise.
Despite Adderall not being prescribed for weight loss, those who are misusing it are hoping to achieve just that because it can act as an appetite suppressant. It goes without saying, of course, but weight loss due to simply not eating or eating less is not healthy or recommended by licensed medical professionals.
Adderall Addiction Signs
Because of how Adderall affects brain chemistry and interacts with the central nervous system—specifically by increasing the chemicals mentioned previously: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin—Adderall addiction can sneak up on someone who is taking it without a prescription.
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Dependence is also a possibility, which is separate from addiction and is usually characterized by taking a substance in order to achieve a very specific goal and/or effect. Addiction, on the other hand, is usually characterized by the physical need or craving for a substance and the willingness to do nearly anything in order to obtain it.
How Vertava Can Help With Addiction Treatment and Recovery
Vertava Health is here to offer you and your loved ones comprehensive, individualized treatment to tackle the problems of Adderall dependence and other co-occurring disorders. With a full continuum of care ranging from detoxification to outpatient programming, our clinically-proven programs can support you as you take the first steps toward recovery. With several treatment locations across the country, we have a spot for you. Get your concerns heard by our clinically-trained staff and find the information and answers you need today. Call (615) 208-2941 to get started with a treatment plan built specially for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Counteract Adderall Side Effects?
Depending on the side effects, counteracting them may require anything from detoxing from Adderall in a medically-supervised environment to simply ceasing to take it. One thing you should never do is take Adderall without a doctor’s prescription because there are some side effects that can be life-threatening, including heart attack, stroke, and seizure.
How Long Do Adderall Side Effects Last?
This really depends on how long someone has been taking Adderall and if they’ve been taking it without a prescription. Some Adderall side effects will go away as soon as the medication is no longer being ingested, but some of the more serious side effects, such as higher blood pressure and higher heart rate can potentially have long-lasting or permanent effects. This is another reason why it’s important to not take Adderall without a prescription and to not simply cease taking it without medical supervision.
What Are The Long-Term Side Effects Of Adderall?
Some studies have shown long-term use leading to growth suppression in children under 10 years of age, as well as potential behavioral issues related to a change in brain chemistry. These have mostly been found in studies involving animals, but are generally taken into account when a doctor is prescribing Adderall for a child or adolescent.