Adderall Addiction and Abuse

In the face of rising college tuition costs and heightened competition for scholarships, many teenagers turn to prescription stimulants like Adderall to improve academic performance and secure a spot at their dream college. Adderall and other amphetamines are known as “brain boosters” and “study drugs” because students think that the drugs help improve cognition. However, this belief is only a rumor. While Adderall doesn’t make a person smarter, it does cause symptoms like hallucinations, epilepsy, psychosis, and malnutrition. Prolonged use of the drug can lead to an Adderall addiction and its associated risks. Contrary to what many teens — and even some parents — believe about abusing Adderall, amphetamine is a highly addictive drug. Although prescription stimulants are usually safe for those they are prescribed to, people who use Adderall without medical assistance to get high or fuel all-night study sessions are at risk of developing addiction. Due to the likelihood of Adderall addiction, the U.S. government designated Adderall to the same drug classification as cocaine and methamphetamine.

Adderall is a brand name prescription amphetamine.This type of drug stimulates the brain to overproduce certain chemicals like dopamine, which can affect a person’s mood, motor activity, and alertness.

Adderall abuse in college and high school is common because many believe  that taking these study drugs lead to achieving higher grades. This myth persists because two of the most common Adderall side effects — insomnia and lack of appetite. Without a need to eat or sleep, students stay up all night cramming for exams or writing papers.

The story of  amphetamine misuse began in 1887 when Romanian chemist Lazar Edeleanu first synthesized the drug. In the 1930s, American biochemist Gordon Alles discovered the stimulant effects of the drug and created Benzedrine, a decongestant inhaler. In the years following Benzedrine’s creation, doctors also prescribed Benzedrine to treat depression, narcolepsy and nausea caused by pregnancy.

During World War II, both the Axis and the Allies used amphetamines to keep their troops awake and energized. It was remarketed once again in the 1950s, this time targeting housewives looking to slim down and boost their mood. Amphetamine misuse became common in the 1960s when overall drug usage rates  rose across the United States. Shire Pharmaceuticals released Adderall on the market in 1996 as a drug intended to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.

Adderall comes in two forms: tablet and extended-release capsule. The tablet form administers the amphetamine quickly. The extended-release capsule takes longer to break down, distributing amphetamine throughout the day. In both cases, the number of milligrams in the pill is written on it. Adderall abuse typically happens through oral consumption, but some individuals  chew the tablets, or crush and snort them, to quickly achieve an Adderall high.

Although Adderall is the brand name for amphetamine, colloquially, the drug is known by many other names. Drug dealers, teenagers, and other individuals who misuse the drug use slang for Adderall to avoid suspicion. Common street names for Adderall include:

  • Addy
  • Bennies
  • Copilots
  • Pep Pills
  • Uppers
  • Speed
  • Study Buddies
  • Smart Pills
  • Wake-Ups

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) considers Adderall to have such a high potential for addiction that it is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance. Other Schedule II drugs include Vicodin, cocaine, OxyContin, and Ritalin. According to the DEA, Schedule II drugs are considered dangerous because they have a high potential for abuse and severe drug dependence. Because Adderall has medical legitimacy, it is only legal for individuals with a prescription.

Dosage amounts vary based on the patient’s age, specific needs, and the condition for which the Adderall is prescribed. Examples of how the medication can be distributed can be:

  • Adults being treated for narcolepsy are usually prescribed 10 mg per day, with the possibility of increases in dosage happening later in treatment.
  • Children ages 6–12 being treated for narcolepsy usually take 5 mg per day, with the possibility of a dosage increase. Children older than 12 begin taking 10 mg per day. Adderall is not recommended to treat narcolepsy in children younger than six years old.
  • Adults being treated for ADHD usually take 20 mg of the medication per day.
  • Children ages 3–5 being treated for ADD are usually prescribed 2.5 mg in a tablet form once a day. Children age 6 and older begin taking 5 mg tablets once or twice per day. Adderall tablets are not recommended to treat ADHD in children younger than 3 years old.
  • Children ages 6–12 being treated for ADHD with extended-release capsules begin taking 5–10 mg per day, with the possibility of an increase in dosage. Children ages 13–17 begin taking 10 mg extended-release capsules per day, also with the possibility of an increase. Adderall extended-release capsules are not recommended to treat ADHD in children younger than 6 years old.
While safe for those who carefully follow a prescription, misusing Adderall can lead to addiction. Teens who experience an Adderall high typically feel alert, energized and productive. After continual Adderall abuse, they can develop a tolerance for it, meaning that they will require a higher dose to experience the same effects. If left unchecked, this pattern of Adderall abuse, tolerance, and increased dosage can lead to dependence and addiction.
Adderall Addicition

Doctors prescribe Adderall as a treatment for ADHD, which is a common disorder among children. It can also be used to treat narcolepsy, obesity, and some severe cases of depression in which other medications do not work.

Adderall abuse occurs when a person takes the drug without a prescription, or when a person with a prescription intentionally takes a much higher dose than their prescription. Adderall addiction occurs when a person develops a physiological or chemical dependence on the drug.

While Adderall is typically prescribed for individuals struggling with ADHD, the drug is mostly misused amongst college students. Students use the drug in order to stay awake and focus on finishing assignments. The drug is commonly passed around on college campuses. The National Center for Health Research have found that a majority of students who misuse the drug are white and are enrolled in college with a GPA under 3.0. Students refer to Adderall as a “study drug” and there’s a common misconception that the drug will allow students to gain knowledge and receive better grades
Adderall addiction can manifest in a number of ways. Each person can experience different symptoms depending on the severity of the addiction, but some common symptoms include:

  • Weight loss
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Accelerated talking
  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Chest pain

Adderall can be dangerous to a person’s health on its own, and when it is combined with other drugs, the side effects can be compounded and unpredictable. Some common combinations include Adderall with:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Xanax

Combining alcohol and Adderall can be dangerous because the stimulating effects of amphetamine will delay the symptoms of alcohol abuse, including drowsiness and a lack of coordination, even if the Adderall makes the symptoms of alcohol abuse stronger. Without recognizing these signs  a person risks alcohol poisoning or an accident related to their drinking.

Although there is limited scientific data on the combined effects of marijuana and Adderall, there are varying reports claiming that the combination causes negative symptoms similar to what is obtained by combining Adderall with alcohol. This combination can be dangerous because it increases a person’s tolerance for marijuana and masks the side effects that may signal to an individual they have had too much.

It’s also dangerous to take Adderall and Xanax together because both are controlled substances with a high potential for addiction. Combining their use increases the likelihood of developing an addiction. The combination is also dangerous because the effects of one could overpower the other, causing the abuser to take too much of Adderall or Xanax and risking the possibility of overdose.

Is Adderall addictive? Yes, and Adderall addiction and misuse is the subject of many scientific studies. Some of the most compelling statistics about Adderall addiction and misuse include:

  • Between 2006–2011, emergency room admissions involving Adderall increased 156 percent.
  • 54 percent  of children with a stimulant prescription said that a friend or peer has asked them to give away or sell their prescription pills
  • 73 percent  of 6,000 teens surveyed in 2007 said that stress was their top reason for abusing prescription stimulants (and only 7 percent of the surveyed teens’ parents said that they believe their teen might use drugs to cope with stress)

If you or someone you know struggles with Adderall addiction, help is available. The Recovery Village offers an abundance of treatment programs that are tailored to treat a number of addictions. Calls are free and confidential, so start on your journey to a drug-free life today.

overcoming Adderall addiction
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