Time was running out for Elizabeth. There was no tomorrow for her PowerPoint presentation, which would require at least another four hours of work that would take her well past midnight.
Instead of addressing her dilemma with the investors in her healthcare start-up who were expecting her report in the morning, Elizabeth wearily texted her dealer. When he arrived 30 minutes later, Elizabeth gulped down two of the pills he gave her and returned to her computer, still exhausted but hoping for the best. A few minutes later, thanks to the amphetamine-based stimulant called Adderall, her brain snapped to attention. Americans like Elizabeth have dangerously grown accustomed to relying on stimulants like Adderall to meet unrealistic performance standards at work.
Originally prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Adderall is also extremely popular among college students like Angela, who needed nothing short of a miracle to keep her focused while she crammed all night for a test the next day. Angela credits a 30-milligram tablet of Adderall for helping her sail through the exam with flying colors.
Many others like Angela, who feel pressured to strive for perfection, turn to Adderall or other prescription stimulants to improve concentration and remain awake for longer periods than the body can usually accommodate. The problem is that the drawbacks of these highly addictive and potentially lethal medications often far outweigh any of the performance-enhancing benefits.
Some doctors exacerbate these dangers, offering steady doses of Adderall to teenagers and young adults who neither have A.D.H.D. or display anything close to the symptoms. The issue is compounded when the same doctors fail to monitor the serious side effects of Adderall. No wonder there is little evidence of the long-term effects of Adderall, leaving a population who began taking the drug as teenagers — many who did not even need the medication in the first place – looking for ways to end their addiction.
Adderall is the brand name for a mixture of amphetamine salts prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Disorder, a neurobehavioral condition detected in children that are marked by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
The emergence of A.D.H.D. began in the 1990s and escalated to include, by 2013, diagnoses in 3.5 million children, many of whom were prescribed Adderall. The medication grew to become particularly popular on college campuses, where black markets have sprung up to accommodate the many students who consider Adderall to be a “study drug.” While Adderall can improve concentration, the drug doesn’t make anyone any smarter. What it can deliver is an immediate boost that another cup of coffee may not provide.
Adderall sedates the central nervous system to counteract hyperactivity in the brain and decrease impulsive behavior, which is fine for children or young adults with A.D.H.D. But Adderall can derail functions of the body as well. When Adderall is taken orally as a tablet or in an extended-release capsule, the side effects may include:
Adderall is easy to abuse. Because the medication is prescribed in the form of a pill or capsule, Adderall can be easily crushed or opened and combined with other illicit drugs and alcohol. Abuse is known to provoke psychological effects, including depression and aggressive or hostile behaviors.
Too much Adderall, usually via means of injection or snorting in combination with other drugs, may lead to overdose. Signs of overdose include:
Adderall can be habit-forming and more common than one might realize, especially when the medication isn’t taken as directed. That’s when Adderall leaves its most devastating effects on the brain.
Adderall works by attaching to receptors in the brain to release two neurotransmitters called dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters send messages throughout the central nervous system that control moods, focus, attentiveness, and other cognitive functions. As use continues, especially abuse across extended periods, the brain gets accustomed to the increased dopamine and norepinephrine activity. When Adderall use is either stopped abruptly or reduced, the brain responds to the void in medication in the form of harsh side effects. This is called withdrawal. Evidence has linked decreased levels of dopamine and norepinephrine to severe depression and a loss of pleasure. Some wonder if those levels are ever restored.
When an individual is physically dependent on Adderall to study, get high or stay awake, stopping becomes more difficult. Anyone who has been using a stimulant like Adderall for an extended period – even as directed – will experience withdrawal when the medication is either reduced or eliminated. These symptoms associated with withdrawal tend to be conditions that Adderall is intended to treat. Withdrawal symptoms may include:
Unlike withdrawal from other drugs, Adderall is not life-threatening, but it is unpredictable. The bigger problem becomes when depressive feelings escalate to suicidal thoughts.
Adderall withdrawal, usually in the form of physical and mental exhaustion and depression, typically begins a few hours after the last dose; that is if the usage has been extreme or “binge-like.” Withdrawal symptoms following regular use may not start for a few days. Once physical symptoms emerge, they may linger for up to a week. However, psychological side effects, including cravings, may last for weeks or months.
Adderall takes time to leave the body completely. How long depends on the physiological makeup — height, weight, age, percentage of body fat, fitness habits and overall health — of the individual taking the medication, frequency of use and stress levels.
A doctor may prescribe a long-acting anti-anxiety medication, such as clonazepam, to counteract Adderall withdrawal and relieve the uncomfortable side effects. These drugs are usually not recommended for long-term use. Other forms of comfort may be found through over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin, and anti-depressants as a sleep aid.
Eliminating Adderall from the body can trigger unpredictable consequences, especially when abuse has been complicated with other chemical substances or alcohol. In other words, it is hard to pinpoint how intense the expected depression or irritation from withdrawal might be.
Don’t take a chance. Detoxification from Adderall abuse, typically at a residential treatment facility, provides a peaceful and safe setting where doctors can prescribe medications to alleviate any unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, and medical staff can monitor progress to prevent against complications. For patients who are addicted to a combination of Adderall, alcohol, and other illicit drugs, detox is highly recommended.
Adderall dependence is as much physical as it is mental. That’s why treatment that includes cognitive-behavioral therapy and contingency management can offer solutions to those who are addicted to Adderall or dependent on the drug. This type of help is often found at a residential treatment center. During your stay with us, we will provide you with personalized resources that include different types of therapy, educational lectures, and customized therapy plans, to match your unique needs and circumstances. Residential treatment is highly recommended to prevent relapse.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/index.html
National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-stimulants
U.S. States Drug Enforcement Administration. from https://www.dea.gov/factsheets