Farrinstitute is reader-supported. We may receive commissions on purchases made through links on our site.

Adderall Abuse


Drug Abuse and Adderall: Are Prescription Stimulants Really Harmful?

Adderall is a highly abused drug. Especially across college campuses in the U.S, a remarkable number of students take it to improve academic performance, due to its effects of increased energy and focus. Those who want to stay up, shed pounds, or focus harder; Adderall may seem like the perfect pill — if you don’t know the risks.

Heavy Adderall use is associated with severe and potentially fatal side effects, especially when mixed with other substances. Read on to get informed about the effects of Adderall abuse and look at some alternatives to Adderall.

Key Takeaways: Adderall Abuse

What Is Adderall Abuse?

Adderall abuse constitutes taking the drug when you do not have a prescription, or if you take the drug at higher doses than prescribed.

Usually this would mean people taking high doses of the drug for recreational purposes. That can include for weight loss; to concentrate better when studying; to stay awake for long hours, or anything else that is outside of its prescribed purpose – to treat narcolepsy and symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Those who take the drug for prolonged periods of time, including when they have a prescription for it, are susceptible to addiction and may start abusing the drug when they are no longer prescribed it. 

Abuse of Adderall often occurs alongside other forms of substance abuse, which heightens the risk of severe adverse health or side effects.

Adderall Statistics in the US

Adderall prescriptions have skyrocketed in the U.S. since attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) became more frequently diagnosed and Adderall was FDA approved in 2002. 

According to a study, an estimated 6.1 million U.S. children aged 2–17 years were diagnosed with ADHD by 2016, which was 8.4% of all U.S. children at that time. Of them, almost two-thirds were taking ADHD medication that includes Adderall [1].

In 2012, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that 9.8% of young people aged 18-25 years had abused psychiatric medication including Adderall at some point in their lifetimes [2].

By 2020, 4.4% of all 12th Grade students in the U.S. were misusing Adderall. In the same year, 61.5% of young people in the 12th grade had participated in binge drinking and 43.7% used marijuana. There is said to be a connection between those who take Adderall and those who abuse other drugs, which is one of the dangers associated with Adderall abuse [3].

Did Adderall abuse among 12th graders worsen in 2020?

Did Adderall abuse among 12th graders worsen in 2020?
Click on your answer to reveal what surveys found
Show hint
Adderall abuse
Yes. Adderall abuse among 12th graders rose from 3.9% in 2019 to 4.4% in 2020

adderall abuse The prevalence of Adderall abuse among 12th graders, 2017-2020

Signs of Adderall Abuse

Here’s what to look out for with Adderall abuse:

  • Irritability, aggression, agitation.
  • A very elevated or very low mood; mood swings.
  • Risk taking behavior.
  • Paranoia.
  • Fatigue.
  • Nightmares.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia.
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss.
  • A decline in personal hygiene.
  • Missed days at work or school due to a depressed mood.
  • Pacing, twitching and rapid talking.
  • Hiding to go and take pills.

Eventually, Adderall misuse leads to changes in the lifestyle, behavior and personality of those abusing it. Adderall addiction is serious and those affected may require professional treatment and counseling.

Many people who abuse drugs can hide their addiction from family members and friends for many years. However, if you know the signs, it may help them get them one step closer to seeking treatment.

Side Effects of Adderall Abuse

Adderall abuse side effects differ based on whether the abuse is chronic (over long periods of time) or an acute intoxication (used once or twice to get high). However, if you have any underlying health or mental health problems, there is a greater chance of experiencing severe side effects and needing treatment.

Short-Term

adderall abuse
  • Insomnia.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Rapid pulse.
  • Irritability and mood swings.
  • Blurred vision.
  • High or low blood pressure.
  • Tremors.
  • Tingling in the hands and feet caused by reduced circulation [4].

Other more serious short term symptoms could occur if you have an allergic reaction to the drug. Taking Adderall may also cause serious problems when mixed with other medications, like some antibiotics and anti-epileptic medicines. Watch out for the following conditions:

  • Stevens Johnson syndrome: a reaction that shows itself as skin rashes and fever; or:
  • Serotonin syndrome; caused by mixing with certain other meds, is potentially life-threatening and characterized by: hallucinations; muscle spasms; sickness and diarrhea; nausea and coma [5].

Too much Adderall may also make you feel overwhelmed and cause panic attacks.

Long-Term

In the long term, abusers of Adderall are more likely to develop more severe side effects such as damage to the cardiovascular system and brain. These can include:

  • Heart attack.
  • Physical dependence or addiction.
  • Severe hypertension.
  • Stroke.
  • Adverse psychiatric events, such as manic symptoms and psychosis.
  • Cardiovascular problems.
  • Seizures.
  • Sudden death.

Cardiovascular complications are more likely to occur if you have underlying health problems such as high blood pressure or heart defects. Health risks also increase if Adderall is combined with other drugs. A life threatening overdose could occur from alcohol poisoning and Adderall together.

Adderall’s Effects on the Brain

As a psychiatric medication, Adderall has a powerful effect on your neurological function. The drug is composed of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, which are central nervous system stimulants. It stimulates the nervous system and neurotransmitters as well as the adrenal gland.

Receptors in the brain are made more sensitive to the hormone dopamine and other hormones that make you feel happy and satisfied. The person taking the drug may feel more alert, better able to concentrate and focus, and might experience feelings of euphoria.

Prolonged Adderall abuse can have a destructive effect on the brain. Chronic amphetamine use causes tissue damage in the brain because of oxidative stress, which occurs when toxins damage cells in the body. 

Ultimately, Adderall abuse damages the brain’s neurological receptors. One of the reasons Adderall is so addictive is because over time, users need more of the substance to reach the same high as when their dopamine receptors were intact [4].

Adderall and Depression

A likely side effect of chronic Adderall use is depression. Depression is caused by a depletion of “feel good” hormones produced in the brain’s reward center. The hormones are dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. A lack of these chemicals leaves depressed people unable to find pleasure in everyday activities; feeling demotivated; empty and sad.

Adderall directly affects all of the brain’s reward chemicals and reduces the ability to naturally produce them. Chronic Adderall blunts your ability to feel good without the drug.

Also, in the short term, withdrawal symptoms of Adderall include a depressed mood when the effects of the drug wear off. This is also known as a “crash” or “come down”. The feeling occurs for much the same reason as above, however if you go “cold turkey” and then stop taking Adderall for a while, it allows time for your brain to recover. 

The longer and more frequently you abuse Adderall in your life, the more your brain chemistry is affected. You are more likely to feel severely depressed moods from heavy Adderall use over a prolonged period of time.

Adderall and Personality

Adderall affects brain chemistry, that alters mood and consequently, can cause personality changes. Particularly when under the influence or experiencing withdrawal symptoms, Adderall causes highs and lows shown by nervous, high energy behavior, usually followed by a dip in mood and depressed state.

It has been known to aggravate certain psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder and psychosis. The American Psychiatric Association notes that chronic Adderall abuse at high dosages can lead to schizophrenia-like symptoms with paranoid delusions and hallucinations [6].

Aggressive behavior is also anecdotally linked to ADHD medication. However, there is little clear evidence on the link between stimulants and aggressive behavior, although those suffering from withdrawal often experience paranoia and intense cravings that could contribute to a hostile attitude [7].

Adderall’s Effects on the Body

As a central nervous system stimulant, Adderall speeds up the connections between the body and brain. The effect is a quickening of the heart rate, dilated pupils, and an energy boost. Adderall also dilates blood vessels in the body, which is responsible for increased blood pressure.

When the drug is severely misused it can increase your risk of ischemic attack or stroke, hypertension, and acute coronary syndrome [8]

People suffering from Adderall addiction may seek ways to consume it at higher doses, such as by crushing a pill and snorting it or taking it intravenously. These practices enhance the potency and may overwhelm the body causing cardiac arrest, especially if mixed with other drugs. Snorting Adderall dramatically increases the likelihood of a life threatening overdose [8].

Recognizing an Adderall Addiction

adderall abuse

You can recognize an Adderall addiction because when someone is under the influence of the drug they have dilated pupils, high levels of energy, confidence, and may seem euphoric. 

On the other hand, withdrawal would usually involve depression and irritability [9].

They may have a reduced appetite and lose weight, require frequent prescription refills and regularly take pills.

People addicted to Adderall may need it to feel normal. If someone relies on Adderall to get through the day, they will be under its influence regularly and when it is no longer available, they will suffer Adderall withdrawal. 

Intervention and What To Do Next

If you suspect that a person has a problem with Adderall and then address it with them, you may face hostility, even though you are trying to help.

Remember that the addiction may have formed over a long period of time for many different reasons. The person could be deeply psychologically dependent on the drug: many addicts need new coping skills for stress or unresolved traumas that caused the addiction problem, before it can be cured. The person you are concerned about likely requires professional treatment.

If you are concerned that you, a friend or family member are battling addiction, it would be wise to seek help. Have a look into addiction treatment options or centers near you.

Adderall Alternatives: Nootropics

Nootropics are natural supplements that support brain health, which can enhance cognitive performance. 

Adderall vs Nootropics 

As with Adderall, nootropics are known for enhancing the ability to focus and concentrate. However, given that they only contain blends of natural herbs and vitamins, nootropics for motivation are much less risky to health and have very few side effects. 

Furthermore, the compounds contained in nootropics promote long term brain health. They have antioxidant properties, which reduce tissue damage and slow the ageing process in the brain. That’s in complete contrast to Adderal’s damaging impact on brain cells.

As an example, Mind Lab Pro supplements are high in B vitamins, which are proven to enhance choline production in the brain. Our Mind Lab Pro review has more on this, but as a snapshot Choline supports cerebral blood flow, literally feeding brain cells with more blood and oxygen and promoting healthy cell stimulation [10].

Adderall synthetically enhances the central nervous system and dopamine activity in the brain. The ingredients in nootropics, such as Performance Lab supplements, regulate hormones and boost dopamine naturally, giving a more rounded feeling of balance and well being. For more information see the Performance Lab Nootropics review.

FAQ 

Here is a summary of the facts on Adderall, from your most frequently asked questions:

What Percentage of Students Abuse Adderall?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 4.4% of all 12th grade college students abused Adderall in 2020.

What Does Adderall Do?

At a neurological level, Adderall stimulates the brain’s reward center, raising levels of “feel good” hormones in the brain. It also stimulates the central nervous system, increasing heart rate and it dilates blood vessels, causing a rise in blood pressure.

It has a powerful effect on the brain and body, especially when taken in high doses. The most severe side effects of this are an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, cardiac arrest, hypertension and acute mental disorders.

How Bad Is Adderall for You?

The desired effects of Adderall for treating ADHD may not always be bad for you. During their assessment, doctors will weigh the risks with the benefits and decide whether your behavioral health warrants taking a controlled amount of Adderall. In the short term and with regular follow up, you could benefit.

Using more Adderall than needed or becoming slowly dependent on it, is how problems with abuse can start.

Conclusion 

You might assume that prescription drugs are less harmful than street drugs, hence Adderal’s reputation as a useful “study drug”. 

It’s important to understand the dangers of Adderall abuse, which are much the same as the risks of illicit drug addiction and, may require professional addiction treatment or rehabilitation. If you have trouble focusing, there are safe alternatives to Adderall that can boost your dopamine and enhance concentration without the dangers.

References

  1. Danielson ML;Bitsko RH;Ghandour RM;Holbrook JR;Kogan MD;Blumberg SJ; “Prevalence of Parent-Reported ADHD Diagnosis and Associated Treatment Among U.S. Children and ADOLESCENTS, 2016.” Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology : the Official Journal for the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, American Psychological Association, Division 53, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29363986/. 
  2. “Trend Tables (Prevalence Estimates) – 7.1 To 7.45: Cbhsq Data.” SAMHSA.gov, www.samhsa.gov/data/report/trend-tables-prevalence-estimates-71-745. 
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 26 May 2021, www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/monitoring-future/monitoring-future-study-trends-in-prevalence-various-drugs. 
  4. “Adderall® CII (DEXTROAMPHETAMINE Saccharate, AMPHETAMINE Aspartate, Dextroamphetamine Sulfate and Amphetamine SULFATE Tablets (Mixed Salts of a Single Entity Amphetamine Product)).” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/medguide.cfm?setid=f22635fe-821d-4cde-aa12-419f8b53db81. 
  5. “Stevens-Johnson Syndrome/Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis.” Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/7700/stevens-johnson-syndrometoxic-epidermal-necrolysis. 
  6. www.psychiatry.org/home/search-results?k=adderall. 
  7. ADDERALL XR Label – Accessdata.fda.gov https://www.accessdata.fda.gov drugsatfda_docs PDF HIGHLIGHTS OF PRESCRIBING INFORMATION. 
  8. Vasan, Sarayu. “Amphetamine Toxicity.” StatPearls [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 10 July 2021, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470276/. 
  9. Treatment for Amphetamine Withdrawal, www.cochrane.org/CD003021/ADDICTN_treatment-for-amphetamine-withdrawal. 
  10. Kennedy D. O. (2016). B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy–A Review. Nutrients, 8(2), 68. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8020068

 

Share this article

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Get our weekly newsletter about the most recent publications and reviews in the world of medical research