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Is Adderall Addictive?

Unfortunately, Adderall, a drug used to treat children early on, has the potential to become addictive. Adderall is also a drug frequently taken without a prescription with the hopes to focus and perform well in work and everyday life. With that said, understanding how addiction to Adderall can begin is necessary this day in age, as the drug has become notoriously abused. Not to be said that Adderall is not helpful for some individuals, but without the right facilitation and need, the drug has the potential to lead to addiction and other substance abuse disorders.

First off, what is Adderall? Adderall is a cocktail of the substances, amphetamine, and dextroamphetamine, combined to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In a 2018 study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry and the medical nonprofit PLOS, more than 6% of adults in the US have used a stimulant prescription like Adderall. With a significant amount of adults in the US having used Adderall before, it is important to know the risk of addiction and why the substance is a risk for abuse.

Many college students seek the drug to achieve a greater ability to focus and accomplish things in their daily life but do not necessarily need it to function normally. In fact, data reveals that “full-time college students are twice as likely to abuse Adderall than their peers who aren’t in college.” The medical community has been facing a challenge as some patients fake symptoms of ADHD in order to get a prescription for Adderall. This is a slippery slope, as prescriptions for Adderall have skyrocketed in the past few years. Statistics show that close to “16 million prescriptions for stimulants like Adderall were written in 2012 – approximately triple the amount written in 2008.” In the same year of the Adderall prescription surge, more than 116,000 people were in rehab for an addiction to amphetamines like Adderall.

How is Adderall Abused?

Physicians prescribe Adderall to individuals diagnosed with narcolepsy and ADHD. Interestingly enough, Adderall is prescribed to narcoleptic patients with the goal of decreasing fatigue, while it has the opposite effect in those with ADHD. When Adderall is prescribed it is taken as an oral tablet with a dose anywhere from 5-30 mg. This dosage, no matter how small, has the potential for addiction and abuse. One reason for this is because individuals taking Adderall may want the onset of effects to happen faster and will crush their tablets and snort the drug. This way of bringing Adderall into the body is considered abusing the drug. Adderall abuse can take many forms, including “taking more than the recommended dose, mixing the drug with other substances, like alcohol, and injecting the drug.” Usually, when Adderall is abused it is referred to by its street names; speed, uppers, black beauties, Addys, and pep pills.

Why is Adderall So Addictive?

When Adderall is misused to take advantage of its stimulant properties, it can easily become addictive. Whether taken to improve academic or athletic performance, or to boost mood and inhibit appetite, the drug is dangerous when it is not intended (prescribed) for you and your body. All of these reasons for abuse make sense, as the mechanism of the medication floods the body with dopamine. When Adderall enters the human body, there is more dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter) and norepinephrine (also known as noradrenaline, a neurotransmitter that mobilizes the body into action) in the user’s central nervous system, elevating mood and motivation. While dopamine naturally occurs in the human body, medications like Adderall bring levels of dopamine to unnaturally high levels. As the body adjusts to such high levels of the feel-good neurotransmitters in the body, the user can become dependent on the newly developed tolerance and even become addicted to the drug.

Young adults meeting the pressure of society are not the only ones who abuse Adderall, as older adults are just as common to misuse the drug. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it was noted that most people who have received treatment for an Adderall addiction started taking it when they were approximately 23 years old. It is not only students misusing the drug to study, but athletes also abuse the drug to improve their performance. In fact, in 2012, “Adderall abuse contributed to a record-breaking year of drug-related suspensions in the National Football League.”

Side Effects of Adderall Abuse

Lauren Madden, a licensed clinical professional counselor and clinical supervisor of the Gateway Foundation, describes why Adderall is a drug increasing in abuse; “With increasing pressures to perform and availability of stimulant medications, Adderall provides an opportunity for substance abuse due to its popularity and perceived minimal risk among those with – or without – a formal diagnosis.” Madden lists headaches, disrupted sleep, anxiety, depression, seizures, and stimulant-induced psychosis as side effects that can surface from Adderall abuse. When an Adderall user has taken too much of the drug, overdose is likely. Symptoms of an Adderall overdose include:

  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Intensified breathing
  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Fever
  • Fainting

The risk of an overdose increases when other drugs are taken with Adderall. Some individuals may combine drugs to enhance the effects of Adderall, while others may take depressants in order to relax if Adderall is keeping them up. Regardless of why an Adderall user decides to mix drugs, taking other substances with Adderall increases the chances of an overdose and heart attack. The most commonly combined drugs with Adderall are cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol. Statistics from 2009 detailed that 67% of patients admitted to the ER were there for “complications with prescription stimulants like Adderall and had other drugs in their system.”

In regards to alcohol and Adderall use, the chances of alcohol poisoning increase substantially when taken with Adderall. Alcohol is a depressant so when a stimulant like Adderall is taken with it, the severity of a drinker’s intoxication level is masked and a drinker may end up with alcohol poisoning as a result.

Adderall Dependence vs Addiction

There is a difference between Adderall dependence and Adderall addiction. Adderall dependence is expected to happen when given a prescription drug, as the body soon becomes dependent on the influx of extra neurotransmitters. Dependence is the “expected physiological response to the drug.” This is why it is necessary for physicians who prescribed the medication to assist the patient in coming off of the medication, as the brain gets used to having the new elevated levels of chemicals in the brain. The reason this is not addiction is that the patient does not mentally or physically crave the drug.

Adderall addiction, on the other hand, is when the user becomes physically and mentally reliant on the drug. It becomes impossible for individuals addicted to Adderall to come off the drug and be able to cope in their daily lives. Individuals addicted to Adderall will go to any length in order to get more drugs and avoid being without them and without a high. With such a strong addiction to Adderall, it is common for users to seek another drug in order to achieve a similar high. In regards to Adderall, users may start to use methamphetamine, because of its addictive stimulant characteristics.

Adderall is addictive, and because of its addictive properties, the drug is a schedule II controlled substance. Adderall is usually seen as “safe” because physicians prescribe it and they prescribe it to children. However, Adderall can be dangerous if not facilitated properly. Understanding how addictive Adderall can be empowers individuals to make the right decision about their medications and what they can handle.

If you or a loved one are addicted to Adderall, please reach out to Boardwalk Recovery Center to get the guidance you need to function normally without Adderall.

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