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The Effects of Adderall Use

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Is Adderall Harmful?

Adderall is a form of amphetamine prescribed for the treatment of:1

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Narcolepsy.

It is available in 2 forms: immediate release and extended release.1 Both forms are suitable for the treatment for ADHD, but only the instant release form is approved for use in the treatment of narcolepsy.2

Adderall can be addictive and dangerous to those who abuse it.3

Adderall Short-Term Effects

When used for short periods as prescribed by a physician, it has the positive effect of counteracting symptoms of ADHD. This happens by increasing the availability of certain neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. These brain chemicals are responsible for boosting alertness, attention, and energy levels.3

Adderall also increases heart rate, decreases blood flow, and opens up breathing passages.3

As a result of this, the use of the drug can cause feelings of energy and invigoration, similar to the high experienced by cocaine users.4

Even when taken as prescribed, it can have several negative effects in the short-term including:4

  • Appetite suppression and unhealthy weight loss.
  • Irritability/hostility.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Feelings of restlessness.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Potentially dangerous cardiac issues.

Adderall Effects of Abuse

When misused, it can cause feelings of boosted energy and intense invigoration–similar to the high experienced of illicit stimulants.Adderall can also create rewarding feelings of euphoria, which has led to it becoming popular as a recreational drug. However, once the initial, positive effects have worn off, Adderall abuse can produce many unwanted symptoms including:4

  • Fatigue.
  • Feelings of depression and lethargy.
  • Increased anxiety.
  • Cravings.

If you or someone you care about is feeling these side effects, it may be time to get help.

Concerns Over Use

Even in countries where Adderall is legally available by prescription, it is recognized as a drug with a high potential for abuse, and supplies of it are often limited. Additionally there are concerns regarding the prescription of Adderall to children. For example, in the UK, physicians are advised to refrain from prescribing to children under 5 years old in any circumstances.5

In some countries, such as Japan, concerns over Adderall are so strong that it is banned completely, even for prescription use.6

Credit: CBS

Adderall Side Effects

Adderall’s side effects vary widely, depending on the individual. The effects on the body’s heart rate can lead to cardiovascular problems, such as:3,4

  • Disrupted heart rhythm.
  • Increased blood pressure.

Users may also experience loss of appetite, which can lead to malnutrition, excessive weight loss and related issues.3,4

Other potential side effects  include:4

  • Headaches.
  • Dryness of the mouth.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Tremors/twitching.
  • Decreased inhibitions.
  • Paranoia.

Mixing Adderall with Alcohol

In addition to the above, people who use Adderall as a recreational drug are at severe risk of further complications if they mix it with alcohol. Due to the fact that Adderall disguises some of the subjective effects of intoxication, it is very easy to drink far past the point where you would normally stop.7 This means those individuals using these drugs in combination may experience alcohol poisoning without noticing the warning signs leading up to it.

Long-Term Effects Of Adderall

Chronic abuse of Adderall may result in effects such as:3,4

  • Erratic behavior.
  • Paranoia.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Vitamin deficiencies.
  • Physiological disorders.
  • Irregular heartbeat and increased heart attack risk.
  • Abnormal blood pressure levels.

Adderall Dependence

Dependence on Adderall can be:

  • Psychological.
  • Physical.

Psychological dependence (addiction) occurs when a person takes Adderall compulsively. Those with an Adderall addiction will undertake extreme measures to attain and use the drug even if it means putting their well-being at risk.8 Addiction may be addressed by using therapeutic techniques to enable the user to change his or her patterns of behavior. This may include individual therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and/or other techniques.

Physical dependence occurs when a user becomes accustomed to the presence of the drug in the brain, such that stopping the use of Adderall causes withdrawal symptoms.3

Withdrawal Treatment

At the current time, although there are no approved medications available to specifically assist users with the stimulant withdrawal process, there is some evidence that antidepressants may help to manage some of the psychological effects of Adderall withdrawal. Some physiologic effects of Adderall withdrawal include:3,9

  • Depression.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Anxiety.
  • Fatigue.
  • Either sleeping for extended periods or being unable to sleep at all.

Additionally, many in withdrawal report intense cravings which, if unchecked, can lead to relapse and continued drug use.

While in most cases, stimulant withdrawal is not a medical emergency, it can be quite a difficult and uncomfortable time period to navigate.9 Many treatment centers provide supportive medical supervision throughout the duration of Adderall detox and withdrawal to minimize discomfort and ensure safety through the process.

Once withdrawal is completed, effective behavioral interventions are available for Adderall abuse that follow a similar path as treatments for cocaine and methamphetamine addictions. Treatments may include:

  • Contingency management. This therapy provides tangible rewards for clients who make healthy choices and avoid Adderall use.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This treatment can explore the factors leading to drug abuse, methods to reduce risk, and better coping skills.
  • Recovery groups. These community-based programs allow people in recovery to meet with each other to discuss their successes and challenges.

Treatment can save your life, and in some cases, some or all of it will be paid for by your insurance. If you’re ready to reach out, have your insurance information with you. This will help any treatment programs determine how much of your life-saving care will be covered.

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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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