Adderall is a prescription stimulant used primarily to treat attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People with these conditions have serious difficulties focusing, and may find themselves unable to complete even simple tasks because they become distracted so easily. This can make paying attention in school and doing homework or studying nearly impossible.
For these individuals, taking Adderall at a doctor-approved dose allows them the focus they need to get things done and function as they need to in society. It’s helped millions of people get their lives on track and go on to be successful, happy adults.
However, Adderall can be both addictive and dangerous. Adderall is actually similar to cocaine and methamphetamine in its effects, especially when used in excess amounts. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the risks of taking this substance without a prescription and assume it’s perfectly safe because it’s given out by doctors.
The increasing pressures of school, including extracurricular activities deemed necessary to get into a good college, have led many young people to turn to Adderall to help them get their work done. Exhausted high school and college students find that the drug gives them seemingly endless energy and focus, making it so they can easily finish their homework and studies, participate in their activities, and still have time to party with friends. In fact, with enough Adderall, people can stay up for days at a time. This practice is so pervasive that, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, twice as many college students used Adderall for nonmedical purposes when compared to young people in the same age range who were not fulltime college students.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of powerful stimulants like Adderall, the productive high is followed by a hard “crash” that can include overwhelming exhaustion, wiping the user out for days at a time. It can feel like the only thing that will give the individual energy again is more Adderall. Tolerance also develops quickly, so more of the drug is needed to achieve the same effect. Before you know it, the person needs Adderall just to make it through the day.
Just like with cocaine or meth addiction, this can soon lead to severe health problems, both physical and psychological. Addicted individuals can eventually die of a heart attack or other cardiac event, especially if they begin mixing it with other intoxicants in order to compound the effects. Adderall addiction is therefore a very serious problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible once it’s identified.
Signs of Abuse and Addiction
Abuse of a prescription drug is any use of the drug without a prescription, taking a higher dose than prescribed, or mixing it with other intoxicants. Most people who use Adderall as directed will not form any kind of dependence, but the longer one takes it and the higher the dose is, the higher the risk. Taking more than has been prescribed by a physician increases that risk further.
As a central nervous system stimulant, there are several noticeable signs of Adderall abuse. An individual abusing Adderall will likely behave quite a bit differently than normal.
- Dry mouth
- Significant increase in energy
- Increased/pounding heart rate
- Digestive problems
- Reduced appetite
- Shortness of breath
- Excessive fatigue (after coming down)
After long periods of Adderall abuse, the user may experience increasingly severe and troubling symptoms such as chest pain and weakness or numbness in arms and legs. As the constant stimulant effect begins to wear on the brain, users may have trouble speaking, experience paranoid thoughts, go through periods of mania, or even become aggressive. The Food and Drug Administration found nearly 1,000 cases of psychosis or mania linked to drugs like Adderall between 2000 and 2005.
Over time, the receptors in the brain stop functioning normally due to the constant influx of the artificial substance. When this happens, ceasing any intake of Adderall produces incredibly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Once at this point, individuals are considered to be physically addicted to the drug. They are also likely to have psychological addiction symptoms, including severe cravings and anxiety when the drug is not available.
- Changes in personal hygiene and grooming habits
- Avoiding situations in which the drug is unlikely to be available
- Changes in social circles
- Secretive behavior or hiding the drug
- Lying about or exaggerating symptoms to get the drug or to get a higher dose
- Unwillingness or failure to quit
- Refusal to quit even after experiencing social, financial, health, or even legal consequences
If treatment is not sought once physical and/or psychological addiction has occurred, it can be very difficult to quit using the drug. Considering the damage that stimulants can do to the body and brain, including the potential of overdose, it’s important to get help as soon as possible.
It’s Never Too Late to Get Help
There are no medicated treatments for stimulant addiction. Luckily, detoxing from stimulants is not as difficult as it is from certain other intoxicants, and withdrawal symptoms are generally not dangerous.
The first step to treatment is getting off the substance. With Adderall, there’s always the option of weaning off the drug over a period of time by taking smaller and smaller doses under the supervision of a physician. This can be done over weeks or months, depending on the current dose and how severe the addiction is. This should always be done under the supervision of a medical professional after working out a plan that complements one’s unique circumstances.
If weaning is not an option, which can be the case if the addicted individual has failed to complete the process in the past or has relapsed multiple times, it’s a good idea to detox in a hospital setting or addiction treatment center. Withdrawal symptoms from stimulants are very uncomfortable, but they can all be treated with simple medications.
- Anxiety/panic attacks
- Erratic sleep patterns
- Intense hunger
- Inability to feel pleasure (anhedonia)
- Suicidal ideation
Suicidal thoughts combined with depression can be dangerous, especially since suicide is the third leading cause of death in the 15-24 age group, but these symptoms can be treated with antidepressants. Doctors may also prescribe non-habit-forming sleep medications and outline a diet plan to get the person’s weight back to normal if loss of appetite occurred during abuse. The goal of medically supervised detox is to make the process as comfortable as possible.
Once the initial detox process is over, which can take several days, addiction treatment specialists will often recommend either inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation. Inpatient rehab is preferable for more severe addiction cases as clients have no access to intoxicants, but it requires being away from home, family, and work for several weeks. It also tends to be more expensive. Outpatient rehab involves going to the treatment center daily or a couple days per week for therapy, medical checkups, urine checks, and/or support group meetings. This is often the better choice for those with family responsibilities.
After the rehabilitation program, cravings for the drug are still likely to pop up over the course of months, years, or even for the rest of the individual’s life. Addiction is a mental illness that can re-emerge during stressful periods or simply due to certain triggers, such as being offered the drug or revisiting a friend with whom the individual took the substance. It’s highly recommended that those with addiction disorders continue to attend support group meetings regularly for an extended period of time. Treatment services are also always open to those who find themselves tempted once again, even after many years of sobriety.