Adderall is a prescription drug that doctors prescribe to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is also an effective treatment for narcolepsy, a sleep disorder.
A type of stimulant medication that increases activity in the brain, Adderall facilitates the communication between different areas of nerve cells. When you use it safely, Adderall can help you focus, improve attentiveness, and control behavioral problems.
Classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as a Schedule II controlled substance, Adderall can be a useful medication. However, it has a high potential for abuse due to being a highly addictive substance.
While not everyone who takes Adderall develops an addiction, taking Adderall in high doses or in a different way than your doctor prescribes increases the risk of developing an addiction.
Read more: Adderall Addiction Treatment
What Is Adderall Abuse?
Adderall abuse is when you take Adderall for non-medicinal purposes or without following a prescription. Mixing Adderall with other drugs like alcohol is also a type of drug abuse.
Abuse of prescription stimulants like Adderall is on the rise in the United States. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 5.8% of people over the age of 12 misused prescription drugs in the past year. Around 1.8% used stimulant medications like Adderall.
Adderall abuse is particularly common among college students and young adults. There are several reasons people may misuse Adderall, including:
- To experience a euphoric 'high'
- To increase performance in school or college
- To stay up late to revise
In reality, however, research suggests students who misuse prescription medications perform worse than those who do not. A 2008 study found that among students who took Adderall for non-medical purposes, 21% skipped classes compared to 9% among those who didn't.
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How Does Adderall Affect Your Brain?
Our brains are made up of many areas of cells involved in different functions. Brain cells communicate by sending neurotransmitters from one brain cell to another or to another cell in the body. Two of our most important neurotransmitters are norepinephrine and dopamine.
People living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may have different levels of dopamine and norepinephrine than the average person. This can affect communication between brain cells and inhibit functions like focus and attention.
Adderall affects the amount of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, increasing central nervous system activity and facilitating communication between cells. When used safely, this can improve concentration and attentiveness, helping people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to thrive in everyday life.
What Is Addiction?
Addiction is when you compulsively seek or use a substance despite its negative consequences. It is characterized by physical changes in the brain that produce strong urges to use a substance, especially in response to specific environmental cues or other triggers.
While these changes can persist even after long periods of abstinence, addiction treatment can go some way to reversing them.
Why Is Adderall Addictive?
Repeatedly taking prescription stimulants like Adderall causes changes in the brain's reward center, an area of the brain responsible for reinforcing life-preserving behaviors like eating or sex.
When you engage in these activities, the brain releases a small amount of dopamine. In turn, you perceive the activity as pleasurable, which makes you want to repeat it. The reward pathway is a vital part of how our brain works, encouraging us to perform activities that are essential for our survival.
When you take a drug like Adderall, your brain becomes flooded with a level of dopamine that is far higher than your brain naturally produces. This hijacks your reward system, producing feelings of intense pleasure and causing urges to use Adderall that are much stronger than usual. These urges can be very difficult to resist, leading to Adderall addiction.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Addiction?
If you are worried that you or someone you know is addicted to Adderall, take a look at the signs and symptoms below. If you recognize any of these symptoms, contact a professional healthcare provider or substance abuse treatment center, like our own, for expert advice.
Signs and symptoms of Adderall addiction may include:
- Seeking and using Adderall at all costs
- Lying or stealing to obtain Adderall
- Loss of interest in everyday activities
- Financial difficulties
- Continually seeking Adderall despite negative consequences
Addiction and Physical Dependence
When you repeatedly take Adderall, especially in large doses, your body becomes dependent on the presence of the substance to function normally. Your brain begins to adjust its production of chemicals in response so it can continue its vital functions. If you suddenly stop taking Adderall, you may experience a range of withdrawal symptoms as your body readjusts.
While Adderall addiction and physical dependence often come hand in hand, they are distinct concepts. It is possible to develop a physical dependence without being addicted to Adderall and vice-versa.
What Are the Dangers of Adderall Addiction?
Adderall addiction can be a destructive condition, causing severe damage to your mental and physical health.
Addiction can lead to long-term abuse of Adderall. Health risks of abusing Adderall include:
- Sleeping difficulties
- Difficulty concentrating
- Depression, irritability, and lethargy
- Mood swings
- Paranoia, hallucinations, and anxiety
- Stimulant-induced psychosis
- Panic attacks
- Suicidal thoughts
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Weight loss
Adderall Withdrawal Symptoms
Addiction may reinforce a physical dependence on Adderall. If you stop taking Adderall, you may experience a series of withdrawal symptoms as your body readjusts. While not life-threatening, these symptoms can be severe and could include:
- Depression, irritability, and extreme mood swings
- Adderall cravings
- Sleep disturbances
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Body aches
Adderall addiction puts you at a higher risk of a potentially lethal overdose. An overdose happens when you take more of a substance than your body can process. Signs of overdose include:
- Chest pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fast breathing
- Uncontrollable shaking
Mixing Adderall with other drugs increases the chance of overdose. Some people abuse alcohol by taking it with Adderall at parties or using it to dull down the side effects of Adderall. This behavior can increase the risk of Adderall overdose and alcohol poisoning.
If you experience any of the symptoms of overdose, you must contact a medical professional or call 911 immediately.
What Are the Risk Factors for Addiction?
While anyone can develop an addiction to Adderall, some people are at a higher risk than others. Factors that may increase your risk of developing an addiction include:
- Genetics, which may account for up to 50% of the risk of addiction
- Early childhood adversity, including neglect and abuse
- Parents abusing drugs or alcohol
- Peer pressure
Addiction Treatment and Recovery
Adderall addiction can be detrimental to your physical and mental health. It can also affect your performance at school, work, or college. However, while addiction can be scary, there is help available. With the right support, anyone can recover from addiction and achieve their full potential.
At Cornerstone, we offer a premier substance abuse treatment program for recovery from Adderall abuse and addiction. Our expert-led program combines evidence-based therapies with complementary mind-body approaches in a holistic and transformative treatment experience. We offer everything from detox to inpatient treatment to outpatient rehab and stay by your side every step of the way.
If you are struggling with Adderall addiction, contact us today. We're here to help you turn your life around.