Increasingly popular on college campuses, Adderall has come to be known as the “study drug,” or the “smart drug.”

Adderall is a stimulant drug originally manufactured for children and adults suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In people suffering from ADHD, Adderall acts on the dopamine centers of the brain and helps bring about increased focus and attention span. As such, Adderall can be very helpful for people who are unable to focus and concentrate at school or at work, helping them function more normally and meet the demands of life.

Unfortunately, college students and young upwardly mobile working professionals have begun to take notice of the effects of Adderall, and have started using the drug to get ahead in school and work. Increasingly popular on college campuses, Adderall has come to be known as the “study drug,” or the “smart drug.” Studies show that in recent years, the non-prescription use of Adderall has skyrocketed, at an increase of 67% over prior years. And it’s no surprise; after all, Adderall creates a sense of increased focus and clarity, and a decreased need to eat and sleep. What could be better for overworked, overscheduled, driven college students trying to keep up with the rigors of academia? But as with anything, if it seems to good to be true, it almost certainly is, and non-prescription Adderall use is no exception.

Adderall & the Brain

Since the illicit use of Adderall has only recently become prevalent, there are far more studies that need to be done on how the drug affects the body, and whether Adderall brain damage can occur. However, a small-scale study by the National Institutes of Health found that chronic users of methamphetamine (which is chemically similar to Adderall) have multiple abnormalities in brain chemistry, function, and structure, particularly… in the brain region with the highest dopamine concentrations. Other studies have produced preliminary findings indicating that misuse of Adderall leads to nerve damage. But as frightening as Adderall brain damage sounds, there’s another, more concerning trend arising from the increased misuse of Adderall and other, similar prescription stimulants, and that’s addiction.

The Brain on Adderall

When drugs like Adderall are abused, the brain is tricked into believing that it’s making enough serotonin, epinephrine and dopamine. According to the American Addiction Centers website, “The brain senses that there are enough neurotransmitters present, due to Adderall’s influence, and stops producing them, changing some of the brain’s natural reward circuitry. The more often Adderall is taken, the more ingrained these changes become.” As a result, your brain on Adderall thinks it’s cruising along pretty nicely. But take away the Adderall and everything begins to crash. This is why users experience withdrawal as the drug leaves their system, naturally prompting them to take more to alleviate the feelings of depression, irritability and fatigue, which are all common symptoms of Adderall withdrawal.


In their study, the National Institutes of Health states, “More research is needed to characterize the ‘dose-response’ relationship between exposure (to Adderall) and brain abnormalities.” However, it’s clear that evidence points to the fact that Adderall does, in fact, alter one’s brain chemistry. College students need only consider how far their prized diploma will take them if they’ve ruined or diminished their brain function by taking drugs to help them achieve better grades. It’s a classic case of short-term gain, long-term loss. And that’s to say nothing of the risk of addiction. In a similar vein, if college students are becoming addicts in their quest to succeed in life, are they truly applying the correct definition to the word success?

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.