The Effects of Adderall Abuse

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Adderall is a popular brand of medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). When taken as prescribed by a doctor, it is a safe and effective method for managing symptoms. However, there has been an alarming trend of Adderall abuse among teens, college students, and even adults.

What Is Adderall?

Adderall is made up of four amphetamine salts – dextroamphetamine saccharate, dextroamphetamine sulfate, amphetamine aspartate, and amphetamine sulfate. It is a central nervous system stimulant, which means that it has a variety of effects that users find desirable, including:

  • Increased energy 
  • Improved attention and alertness
  • Higher confidence
  • Improved concentration

These effects are useful for treating ADHD and narcolepsy. Doctors regularly prescribe Adderall for these conditions. However, it is considered a schedule II controlled substance, which means it has a high potential for abuse.

How Is Adderall Abused?

People may take Adderall without a prescription, or they may take more than the dose prescribed by their doctor. Some even crush the pills and snort them to get a quicker effect. These are all forms of abuse.

Unlike illicit drugs, Adderall is fairly easy to obtain. Most people abusing the substance either steal or buy pills from someone with a legitimate prescription. In one study, 79% of college students abusing the drug obtained it from a friend. 

Use Among Students

There is a dangerous perception among students that Adderall is a “study drug.” They use it to improve their attention and concentration while doing homework, or to stay up later and study. They believe that it is safe to take because it is a legal prescription drug.

Adderall abuse is prevalent on many college campuses. In one survey of University of Maryland students, about 62% said they had been offered Adderall at some point. A larger, national survey from Ohio State University found that one in six students had used stimulants without a prescription.

Although students primarily use Adderall to improve academic performance, there is no evidence that taking this drug without a medical need improves academic performance. A 2016 study looked at GPAs for students who used Adderall and students who did not use the substance. The study found that the students using Adderall did not see a significant change in GPA, while students who refrained from drug use increased their GPA from one year to the next.

Use in the Workplace

Adults may use stimulants to help enhance their performance at work. Many of the individuals using Adderall at work started using in college to help their academic performance. 

Employees using stimulants may feel that it helps their job performance, but there are many risks involved with drug abuse in the workplace. Side effects can hurt productivity and cause individuals to take extra sick time to recover. Adderall and other stimulants will show up in drug test results, which could be grounds to fire the employee. Even without a drug test, an employer might notice the signs of Adderall abuse in an employee, including erratic moods, anxiety, disordered speech, and problems with personal hygiene.

Signs of Adderall Misuse

Maybe you suspect someone you know is abusing Adderall, but how can you tell for sure? Here are the some common signs of Adderall abuse:

  • Excitability
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced appetite 
  • Unusual talkativeness
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Relationship problems
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Secretive behavior
  • Incomplete thoughts
  • Memory loss
  • Disorientation
  • Mania
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Lack of personal hygiene

Additionally, if someone in your household has a prescription for Adderall and runs out of their prescription early, this is a telltale sign of drug abuse. The individual with the prescription may be taking more than the normal dose, or someone may be stealing the pills to use recreationally.

Adderall Side Effects

Adderall has a variety of side effects, even when taken as prescribed. These can include:

  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Reduced appetite
  • Nervousness
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Hair loss
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Muscle twitching, stiffness, or tightness

Additionally, Adderall interacts with many other drugs like antidepressants, blood thinners, proton pump inhibitors, and medications that treat heart disease. Taking Adderall with alcohol is especially dangerous because stimulants can mask the effects of alcohol. This makes it easier to drink too much and experience alcohol poisoning.

Is Adderall Addictive?

With any type of controlled substance, users can become physically and psychologically dependent on the drug. This means that they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking the substance. Someone might develop a dependence on Adderall, even while using it as prescribed. This is not the same thing as an addiction.

Addiction is a pattern of behaviors that center on obtaining and using a substance. Someone may become addicted to Adderall, but there are many complex factors that go into it. Some people use the substance without ever developing an addiction, but any time you abuse substances, you are putting yourself at risk. 

Is Adderall Dangerous?

Adderall is safe when prescribed by a doctor and taken at the recommended dose. However, those who take the substance recreationally are at increased risk of overdosing. Signs of an Adderall overdose include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Stomach pain
  • Hallucinations
  • Tremors
  • Panic
  • Aggressiveness
  • Breakdown of muscles (rhabdomyolysis)
  • Rapid breathing
  • Heart attack

Adderall overdose can cause death – even at doses as low as 1.5 mg/kg of weight. If you or someone you know experiences any of these symptoms, get medical help immediately.

Undiagnosed ADHD Leading to Abuse

Stimulant abuse may be linked to undiagnosed ADHD. Dr. Timothy Wilens from Mass General Hospital for Children researched cases of stimulant abuse and found that those using the substances were twice as likely to have diagnosed or undiagnosed ADHD.

Dr. Wilens’ study evaluated symptoms of ADHD in the participants and found that stimulant users scored high on trouble with working memory, planning and organizing, initiation, and inhibition. Dr. Wilens concluded that these students might be self-medicating the undiagnosed condition. 

If a teen is misusing stimulants, parents should ask a doctor to evaluate for ADHD, as well as a potential substance use disorder.

Help for Adderall Abuse

Rehab After Work is a Pennsylvania-based treatment program for drug and alcohol use. If you are concerned about Adderall abuse in yourself or someone else, our trained addiction counselors can help. Find a location near you to start working with a counselor and gain control over your stimulant use. You can also access treatment online through our teletherapy program.

Related: The Risk of Addiction with Prescription Drugs