Substance Use

The Risk of Adderall Dependence: How Serious Is It?

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How Serious Is the Risk of Adderall Dependence?

Adderall — known as amphetamine-dextroamphetamine in pharmaceutical terms — has long been used to help individuals suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy. Recently, however, the prescription drug has developed another reputation: a way for students and workers to attempt to increase their ability to focus. Unfortunately, the number of people who have misused Adderall continues to rise, leading to serious risks and side effects that accompany the development of dependence and substance use disorders.

Adderall’s increased usage and prevalence have led to many misconceptions about the drug. Its normalization has promoted its misuse and minimized the immediate and long-term risks associated with the development of a dependence on the substance. For this reason, it’s important to understand the ways Adderall can be misused, the reasons why so many college students are developing addictions to it, and what the risks of Adderall addiction and dependence are. It is also crucial to be aware of the solutions available to those suffering from addiction or dependence, and the value of seeking help when needed. 

Adderall and the Development of Dependence and Substance Use Disorders

Because Adderall has a high risk of becoming addictive, it’s reasonable to question why doctors prescribe it in the first place. As will become clear, there is a clear distinction between how Adderall can be used to help people under the care of a doctor, and how it can be abused.

Why Is Adderall Prescribed?

Adderall is typically prescribed in one of two forms: Adderall IR, which is an immediate-release version, and Adderall XR, which is an extended-release version. These two drugs differ in dosages and impact. Adderall IR’s effects last between 4-6 hours and it is often taken multiple times a day. Adderall XR is taken just once daily and typically lasts between 10-12 hours.

Adderall is useful in helping patients manage their ADHD because it’s a short-acting amphetamine that helps maintain dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. These two chemicals are integral to our ability to focus. Dopamine assists with executive function, motor skills, and reinforcement and reward tendencies — all skills that inform behavior and our ability to do tasks. Norepinephrine aids the adrenaline in the brain to raise one’s heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar. This increases energy, alertness, and memory function.

Although Adderall is primarily used for treating ADHD, its ability to impact alertness and energy is also what makes it useful in addressing narcolepsy. 

How Is Adderall Misused?

Regardless of the dosage or release type of the drug, all versions of Adderall are considered controlled substances by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It is listed as a Schedule II controlled substance, which is the highest classification a physician-prescribed medication can receive in the United States. This lends insight into the high levels of concern surrounding Adderall misuse, dependence, and addiction.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 11.3 million people above the age of 12 were using amphetamine products like Adderall in 2015. Of those 11.3 million, approximately 4.8 million were misusing these products. Studies in subsequent years showed that those numbers were trending upwards. These estimates are indicative of a very serious problem with Adderall misuse in the United States.

Because Adderall improves the body’s natural ability to focus and stay awake, it appeals to people without a medical need for it. However, if a person takes Adderall without an ADHD or a narcolepsy diagnosis, they run the risk of developing a substance use disorder incredibly quickly. They could also develop a tolerance to the drug, forcing them to take more of it to feel its impacts and interfering with their body’s natural ability to focus. In the long term, the effects of misusing Adderall are far more harmful than helpful.

Signs of a Substance Use Disorder

Unfortunately, many of those struggling with addiction do so in silence, or even without a full grasp of how bad things have gotten. If you fear you or someone you know or love has developed a substance use disorder, there are some key signs and symptoms you can look for.

The primary indicator, and necessary first step to a substance use disorder, is the regular use of Adderall without a prescription or medical need for it. This can often be paired with taking an abnormal dosage or very frequently returning for more. Over time, the user will show signs of distress or anguish if they go without the drug.

A developed tolerance or dependency on Adderall can begin to impact other areas of one’s life. If a person continues to use Adderall despite its negative impacts on aspects of their personal or professional life, then a substance use disorder is very possibly the cause. Look for changes in work or school performance, relationships, or physical and/or mental health.

The Prevalence of Adderall Addiction in College Students

Because of amphetamine-dextroamphetamine’s reputation for helping individuals with ADHD or narcolepsy stay focused, alert, and awake, Adderall has become one of many stimulants being abused by a significant number of college students in America.  Research indicates that as many as one in four college students have misused the ADHD medication without a proper diagnosis in an attempt to use the drugs as study aids.

When Adderall is misused, tolerance builds up much more quickly than when used by individuals taking the drug for medicinal purposes. As such, college students soon find themselves taking far more Adderall than any doctor would prescribe. Not only does this help foster an addiction, but it also leads to significant withdrawal symptoms if and when the students decide to stop.

Adderall addiction in college students is especially prevalent in members of fraternities and sororities, as well as in students who are enrolled in extremely competitive educational programs or fields. Despite its “study drug” reputation, students with Adderall addictions typically earn much lower grades than their sober counterparts. This indicates that Adderall misuse is being motivated by promises that ultimately prove to be false. 

Misconceptions About Adderall

One of the core misconceptions about Adderall is that it makes the user smarter. However, while Adderall increases focus, it doesn’t increase learning. The brain works like a muscle, and muscles need exercising. The same goes for the mind: to truly learn and become smarter, you must do more than just focus. Techniques like repetition, practice, and cognition are essential for actually absorbing and retaining information.

Those who misuse Adderall often justify it by reframing the drug as a supplement or vitamin for the brain. In reality, Adderall chemically alters the brain in ways that a natural supplement or vitamin does not. While this chemical change helps individuals with ADHD or narcolepsy who need it, it can result in serious damage for those who don’t.

These two misconceptions are the driving force for Adderall misuse on college campuses across the country, and it’s important to set the record straight. They are many study aids and strategies for increasing focus that do not involve drug use. 

Increasing Focus Without the Use of Adderall

You can drastically improve your ability to focus simply by establishing mindful habits. Exercising, meditating, reducing distractions, and utilizing tools like flashcards or review games can transform the effectiveness of your studying. Daily routines, like allowing oneself to get enough sleep and eating nutritious meals at the appropriate times of the day, can also aid in your body’s ability to stay awake and alert. 

Risks Associated With Adderall Addiction

The risk of Adderall dependence is extremely serious and should not be taken lightly. The immediate risks associated with Adderall addiction can vary from:

Short-term issues

  • Appetite loss
  • Problems with digestion including nausea and constipation
  • Extreme restlessness and lack of sleep
  • Heart palpitations or rapid heartbeat
  • Chronic dry mouth
  • Extreme mood changes including anxiety, anger, irritability, and apathy
  • Severe headaches or migraines

Long-term issues

  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Depression or suicidal thoughts 
  • The development of seizures, psychosis, or emotional control issues 
  • Addiction and withdrawal symptoms
Because widespread Adderall addiction is a fairly recent problem, there may be even more long-term impacts that aren’t fully known yet. 

Warning Signs of Adderall Dependence

If you worry that you or someone you know is suffering from Adderall dependence, there are some helpful warning signs you can look for. These include:
  • Being more talkative or energetic than usual
  • Sudden or uncharacteristic loss of appetite
  • Unusual excitability or irritability
  • Unexplained withdrawal from social situations
  • Sudden financial struggles or debt
  • Aggressive behavior or actions
  • Unreasonably long periods of sleep
  • Unexplainable secretive or sneaky behavior
  • Extreme exhaustion or fatigue
  • Excessive and unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of short- or long-term memories
  • Inability to finish a thought
  • Problems in personal, professional, or familial relationships
  • Notable decline in personal hygiene
  • Massive consumption of pills or running out of prescriptions early
  • Working or studying for far longer than normal
  • Disorientation or mania
  • Impulsive or irrational behavior

The Bottom Line: Seeking Treatment for Adderall Dependence

Finding the courage to seek treatment can be daunting. Thankfully, there are people and places that exist solely to help individuals with substance use disorders find treatment.

How Zinnia Healing Can Help

While Adderall dependence is very serious, there are attainable solutions for those who wish to seek treatment. If you feel that you or a loved one might benefit from treatment, Zinnia Healing is here to help.

Zinnia Healing’s medical professionals help to connect you with comprehensive and customizable addiction recovery treatment plans. Each patient is ensured respect, acceptance, and privacy. Additionally, pursuing professional assistance guarantees that underlying medical issues or risk factors are taken into account when your unique treatment plan is developed.

For more information about seeking treatment for Adderall dependence and addiction, contact Zinnia Healing at (855) 430-9439.