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Adderall Abuse

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What Is Adderall?

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 reported, off-label utility 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.

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:

  • Headache.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Nausea.
  • Stomach upset.
  • Digestive issues.
  • Reduced appetite.
  • Diarrhea or constipation.
  • Anxiety.
  • Restlessness.
  • Pounding or fast heartbeat.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Difficulty sleeping and staying to sleep.
  • Excessive fatigue.
  • Changes in sex drive.

Continued use can lead to more severe effects. With long-term abuse or abuse that involves high doses of Adderall, the symptoms can compound and lead to even more dangerous effects. These effects include:

  • Weakness or numbness in the arms or legs.
  • Dizziness.
  • Slowed or difficult speech.
  • Chest pain.
  • Hives or rash.
  • Blistering or peeling skin
  • Changes in vision.
  • Aggressive behavior.
  • Paranoia.
  • Mania.
  • Seizures.

If you notice any of the above in yourself or another, seek help or consult a doctor immediately.

Symptoms of Adderall Overdose

Overdosing on a stimulant medication like Adderall can lead to grave health consequences. If you suspect an Adderall overdose, call 911 or your local emergency services. Some symptoms of overdose include:

  • Panic attack.
  • Hyperventilation.
  • Cardiac rhythm abnormalities.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Uncontrollable tremor.
  • Profound confusion or delirium.
  • Vertigo.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Coma.

Effects of Adderall Abuse

Long-term Adderall abuse can lead to the hallmark signs of a substance use disorder. These problems are most likely to occur when the drug is taken above and beyond prescribed parameters. Some of the most concerning issues that may arise are:


Some of the most concerning issues that may arise are:

  • Tolerance, which means needing more of the drug to obtain the same result. Often, as use increases, it becomes impossible to ever recreate the initial high.
  • Dependency, which means that after some time your body will function sub-optimally without the drug present in your system.
  • Addiction, which means that compulsive drug seeking behavior and persistent drug use continue despite full knowledge of the risks and negative life consequences that have developed.

Patients are more likely to overdose and to cause harm to their bodies when the drug is misused. A major concern for many people that abuse Adderall over an extended period is the risk of cardiovascular issues. Since Adderall is a stimulant, it plays a major role in:

  • Increasing your blood pressure.
  • Increasing your heart rate.
  • Increasing your body temperature to dangerous levels.

These factors combined are linked to serious medical issues like stroke and/or cardiac arrest.

The Dangers of Mixing Adderall with Alcohol

Another risk of overdose associated with Adderall is when the substance is mixed with other substances like alcohol. Adderall has the ability to mask certain indicators of intoxication that people would otherwise use to slow or stop their consumption. If these signs go unnoticed, the user is at risk of continued drinking—potentially leading to alcohol poisoning, coma, or death.

Adderall Abuse Treatment

Knowing the facts about Adderall can help prevent needing treatment by preventing addiction.

Preventative treatment for Adderall abuse includes:

  • Educating yourself and those around you about the risks of the substance.
  • Tracking and monitoring use of the substance in your home.
  • Keeping medication in a safe place so that it cannot be abused by others.

However, if you or someone you know needs treatment for Adderall addiction, rehab centers can help.

Rehabilitation centers can help by providing detoxification services and will aid in treating patients for psychological addictions as well as physical.

Professional services like inpatient or outpatient treatment are often necessary for those struggling with Adderall abuse. Excessive stimulant exposure over time – and the resultant increase in dopamine activity – can cause subtle brain changes that reinforce drug behavior to the point of being quite difficult to reverse on one’s own.

Once the patient stops abusing Adderall, the brain will experience a strong desire for more dopamine leading to cravings for Adderall. Other common withdrawal symptoms of Adderall include:

  • Low energy.
  • Depression.
  • Disrupted sleep.

Treatment options will vary according to the level of abuse present. Inpatient, outpatient, long-term residential programs offering a combination of individual and group therapy to treat the addiction and underlying mental health issues.

It’s important to note that treatment centers and their services can vary widely, so it’s essential to interview the facility to find out:

  • How long the stay will be (e.g., 28 days, 90 days, etc.), if inpatient.
  • The treatment center’s philosophy about treatment.
  • Which types of treatment are provided (e.g., contingency management, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc.) and what these treatment modalities will entail.
  • Any additional desired amenities or facility location preferences.
  • Levels of certification for the addiction treatment team.

Teen Adderall Abuse

Adderall abuse by teens and young adults is common because stress and time management issues at college make the perceived effects of the drug more appealing.According to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, also called (NSDUH), in 2015, 425,000 teens and adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 reported misuse of prescription amphetamine products like Adderall. This number jumps to approximately 2.5 million among young adults age 18 to 25, which is almost 5 times higher.

Per SAMHSA’s 2009 NSHUH Report, young adults using Adderall for recreational purposes have also been recognized as being:

  • 3 times as likely to have used marijuana.
  • 5 times more likely to have misused prescription pain relievers.
  • 8 times as likely to have used cocaine or prescription tranquilizers like Xanax and Klonopin recreationally.

According to the Monitoring the Future Study, Adderall use rates among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders are not significantly different from 2014. The trend among 8th graders seems to show steady reduction in use rates since 2012, while use among 10th graders seems to be slowly increasing. 12th grade use rates are the highest among these groups and have fluctuated around 7% since 2012.

The Problem of Prescription Diversion

A lot of young adults obtain ADHD medications even though they don’t have a prescription. This is a far-reaching problem that can lead to rampant misuse. But where do these people in their 20s get ahold of the medications?

According to a survey conducted by Recovery Brands in 2016, a shocking 63% of young individuals 18 to 28 years old get their hands on their prescription stimulants by means of their friends. More than 20% acquire them through a member of their family, while almost 20% get them via other students, and less than 15% retrieve them from an actual drug dealer.

People with doctor approval for these medications are advised to track their doctor-prescribed stimulant medications in order to protect vulnerable people from falling prey to addiction.

Preventing Teen Adderall Abuse

If you help your child learn about the dangers of Adderall abuse and better ways to manage time, activities, homework and other school-related items, he or she will be less likely to need the drug to stave off sleep.

A crucial part of prevention is to inform young adults that there is no association documented between Adderall abuse and increased study abilities or intelligence. In actuality, reports show that students that abuse Adderall are more likely to have lower grades than students that do not abuse the substance.

Remember, the more you speak with your child about the dangers of drug use, the less likely he will be to abuse drugs. It’s especially important to emphasize the dangers of prescription drugs. Many teens feel that these drugs are not as dangerous as illicit drugs and take them without as much concern.

Credit: CBS

Adderall Statistics

  • According to the 2015 NSDUH, more than 42% of people 12 and older who used prescription amphetamine products like Adderall in 2015 were using them without a prescription.
  • In 2006 and 2007, the NSDUH reported that students going to school full-time between the ages of 18 and 22 were 2 times as likely to have used Adderall recreationally than those in the same age who do not go to school full time.
  • 7% of college students reported non-medical use of Adderall in 2015, the highest prevalence rate in recent years.
  • Among 19 to 30-year-olds in 2015, 9.3% of males and 5.3% of females reported Adderall misuse, with the highest rate of nonmedical use among 21 to 22-year-olds at nearly 11%.

To learn more, visit our article, History and Statistics of “Study Drugs”.

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Eric Patterson, MSCP, NCC, LPC, is a professional counselor who has been working for over a decade to help children, adolescents, and adults in western Pennsylvania reach their goals and improve their well-being.

Along the way, Eric worked as a collaborating investigator for the field trials of the DSM-5 and completed an agreement to provide mental health treatment to underserved communities with the National Health Service Corp.

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