What Is Adderall?
To understand the seriousness of Adderall abuse and addiction, it helps to understand what Adderall is.
Adderall is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine that is used primarily to treat the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It has benefits with sleep disorders and in managing some forms of severe depression as well.
This drug is classified as a central nervous system stimulant, which means it speeds up and heightens certain bodily processes. Adderall is an oral medication prescribed by a physician who will normally start a patient on a low dose to avoid unwanted side effects, gradually increasing it as necessary.
Adderall abuse occurs in several ways including:
- Taking a higher dose of the substance than prescribed.
- Taking the medicine through a non-approved method like snorting.
- Taking the drug for reasons other than medical need, such as to stay awake for long periods of time.
- Taking the medication more frequently than prescribed.
- Taking someone else’s medication.
- Purchasing the drug from an illicit source for recreational use.
Adderall Abuse Can Start with Prescriptions
Almost everyone who abuses Adderall was introduced to the drug legally when a doctor prescribed it to them. Such prescriptions are common because Adderall is the most common drug on the market prescribed for dealing with ADHD and narcolepsy. While narcolepsy is not very common, ADHD has been increasingly diagnosed in individuals, especially young children, over the past few decades.
The primary reason that Adderall is prescribed to individuals with ADHD is that the drug, when taken at prescribed doses, increases cognitive control in individuals. This directly counters the symptoms of ADHD, allowing patients to concentrate better.
The proportion of Americans using Adderall, and other “study drugs” like Ritalin and Vyvanse, is increasing rapidly. Between 2008 and 2012, the use of ADHD medications increased by 36 percent, according to an analysis of pharmacy prescriptions.
This is partially because ADHD diagnosis rates have increased by 16 percent among adolescents from 2007 to 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But many people also use Adderall and similar drugs non-medically, that is, without a prescription or in ways not recommended by a doctor (for example, by snorting or in very high doses).
Who is Abusing Adderall?
So who is willing to take the risk of non-medical use? If you believe the media coverage, Adderall abuse is prevalent among college students: CNN has discussed the “rise of study drugs in college,” and last year the Clinton Foundation described misuse of ADHD drugs as an “epidemic.”
But it isn’t only college students who use study drugs non-medically — it’s young adults more broadly, regardless of whether they’re in college. And among college students who use study drugs, there are interesting and almost paradoxical patterns: Study drugs are used more by students at competitive schools, but also more by students with low GPAs. Study drugs may not be used by high-achievers to push themselves even harder; they may be used by those who are falling behind.
Adderall Abuse Among Young Adults
The emphasis on nonmedical study drug use in college students stems in part from a government report using data from 2006 and 2007, which said that college students ages 18 to 22 were twice as likely as people of the same age who weren’t in college to suffer from Adderall abuse. But more recent data from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an annual government survey that includes more than 55,000 Americans, shows the difference is closer to 1.3 times.
This is far smaller than the difference between white 18- to 22-year-olds and black 18- to 22-year-olds, whether they were in college or not (six times, or 18 percent vs. 3 percent), or the difference between 18- to 22-year-olds whose families do not receive food stamps and those whose do (1.6 times, or 14 percent vs. 9 percent). When focusing on Ritalin (another common study drug), non-college-students in that age range were slightly more likely than college students to engage in nonprescription use. Research shows that when it comes to nonprescription study drug and Adderall abuse, being a young adult matters more than being a college student.
Studies showed that students at high-achieving schools and students with low GPAs are more likely to take Adderall. This could be because students are more likely to take Adderall when they are more stressed about their academic performance. Many studies make it clear that students use study drugs in part because of academic stress. A recent analysis of NSDUH data found that students were more likely to use stimulants for the first time during exam months. Other less conventional data sources support this latter finding: Google searches for “Adderall” in college towns spike during exam months and drop during summer months, and a 2013 study of 200,000 tweets mentioning Adderall found that Tweets mentioning Adderall peaked during exam periods.
Adults older than 25 who use Adderall non-medically may also struggle. We initially thought that adults working long hours at high-income jobs would be most likely to use Adderall non-medically. We were wrong. The NSDUH data shows that adults whose family incomes were below $10,000 had the highest rates of Adderall abuse, and those whose family incomes were greater than $75,000 had the lowest. Adults who used Adderall non-medically also reported higher levels of depression and were more likely to consider suicide.
Signs and Symptoms
Even medically approved use of Adderall can cause side effects; abusing the drug, however, can cause side effects to occur with higher frequency and intensity. Common symptoms of abuse include:
- Dry mouth.
- Chest pain.
- Stomach upset.
- Digestive issues.
- Reduced appetite.
- Diarrhea or constipation.
- Pounding or fast heartbeat.
- Shortness of breath.
- Difficulty sleeping and staying to sleep.
- Excessive fatigue.
- Changes in sex drive.
Long-term abuse of Adderall is known to promote liver damage, stroke, seizures and possible permanent changes in brain mass. Snorting Adderall may cause sudden nose bleeds, destroy nasal passageways and precipitate serious bacterial infections in the sinuses.
Withdrawal Symptoms from Adderall Abuse
Adderall abusers who stop taking Adderall will experience withdrawal symptoms similar to those associated with methamphetamine withdrawal. These symptoms include:
- Extreme mood swings/irritability
- Severe depression
- Panic attacks
- Joint/muscle pain
- Swelling of the feet, hands and fingers
Adderall abusers wanting to defeat their addiction are strongly urged to enter a rehab facility offering 24/7 medical detoxification treatment. Depending on the severity of their addiction, Adderall abusers who attempt to go “cold turkey” may suffer unexpected and dangerous health problems requiring professional, immediate medical attention.
Adderall Abuse & Addiction
Like any drug, addiction to Adderall is primarily influenced by dosage, frequency of use, and body metabolism. In dosages that are prescribed by doctors, addiction is rare to the point of being almost non-existent. Most Adderall users who follow their prescriptions to the letter will not become addicted even after decades of use.
However, when taken at higher doses and more frequently, the average time to addiction is approximately two weeks. This time frame generally affects people who abuse the drug for wakefulness. Adderall abuse for studying often results in even faster addiction, potentially just a few days, because of the frequent high doses necessary to remain awake for days on end.
Adderall Is VERY Addictive
A Schedule II drug and powerful psycho-stimulant that increases dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain, Adderall is as addictive as most other stimulants, with the exception of cocaine or crack cocaine. Tolerance builds quickly in people who abuse Adderall. Once addicted, Adderall abusers will suffer severe withdrawal symptoms requiring professional addiction intervention and medical support.
Adderall abuse and addiction is extremely dangerous. Numerous studies prove that this drug is highly addictive and difficult to conquer.
If you or someone you know suffers from Adderall abuse and addiction, contact us immediately for help.