Everything You Need to Know About the Popular Study Drug
What is Adderall?
Adderall is a central nervous stimulant that is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Stimulant drugs affect chemicals in the brain and nervous system that impact hyperactivity and impulse control. They increase the activity of brain chemicals, promoting alertness and attentiveness.
Although it is known in pop culture as being a study drug used among students, it is a legal prescription medication that is most typically prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Adderall can be addictive and may require treatment in a rehab facility for recovery.
What is Adderall Used For?
Adderall has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of ADHD. ADHD is a condition that usually appears during childhood and is characterized by symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and a hard time paying attention. It is used for the treatment of ADHD because it helps to increase focus and control behavior.
Adderall has also been approved by the FDA to treat narcolepsy, which is a sleeping disorder where people experience sudden and uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the day. Other symptoms include hallucinations, sleep paralysis and problems sleeping through the night. Adderall helps people with narcolepsy to stay alert and awake throughout the day.
Studying, Energy, Weight Loss, and Athletic Enhancement
Apart from its medical uses, people abuse Adderall in an effort to increase work productivity, for weight loss, better athletic performance, and to increase energy and focus. It should be noted, each of these uses increase the risk of dependence and addiction.
An interesting fact about Adderall is that it has the opposite effect on people who use it for ADHD and people who use it for non-medical reasons. For people with ADHD, it helps to calm down the brains and allows focus, whereas, for other people, it acts as a stimulant and an energizer.
Brief History of Adderall
Adderall is a combination drug that includes amphetamines. Amphetamines were first synthesized by a Romanian chemist named Lazar Edeleanu in 1887. At the time, there didn’t appear to be any use for amphetamines, so they were largely forgotten.
Approximately 40 years later, in 1929, American chemist Gordon Alles used amphetamines to try to create an asthma medication. He tested the medication himself and quickly realized that while it did not help with asthma, he did experience feelings of euphoria and increased energy. This made it popular amongst people with depression, people trying to lose weight, and for soldiers fighting in WWII.
Adderall, the brand name of the medication, was introduced in 1996 by Shire Pharmaceuticals to compete with other ADHD medications. Due to its success, an extended-release formulation was introduced shortly after, supplying patients with a low and steady dose of Adderall all day.
Slang Names for Adderall
What Should You Know Before Taking Amphetamines?
Before taking Adderall, you should tell your doctor:
Your full medical history and family history
What medications you are currently taking
If you recently used a monoamine oxidase inhibitor
If you might be allergic to Adderall or to other sympathomimetic drugs
If you have blood circulation problems
If you have glaucoma
If you have an overactive thyroid
If you have seizures
If you have severe anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder
If you have heart disease or a heart defect
If you have high blood pressure
If you have a vascular disease
If you have a history of drug or alcohol addiction
Stimulant medications can cause sudden death in patients with heart problems. Adults over the age of 65 and children under the age of 3 are advised not to use Adderall as it has not been deemed safe for these age groups.1
You should always discuss with your doctor whether a new medication is right for you and warn them of any medications you are taking as they might have negative interactions with stimulants.
How Long Does Adderall Stay in Your System?
The length of time that Adderall stays in your system depends on several factors:
How often you take it
The dosage of it you took
When you last took it
Kidney or liver impairment
In general, Adderall can be detected in the urine for 72-96 hours after last use. It can be detected in the blood for up to 46 hours after, in the saliva for 20-50 hours, and in the hair for up to 3 months.
How is Adderall Taken?
You should always take it exactly as prescribed, and should follow all instructions given by your doctor and pharmacist. It is important to take the exact dosage and no more or less than what has been prescribed.
Adderall is available as a tablet and as an extended-release capsule with dosages varying from 5 mg to 30 mg. The recommended maximum daily dose for adults with ADHD is 40 mg, and usually, the starting dosage is 5 mg per day. The medication is taken orally with or without food, typically 1 to 3 times a day and 4 to 6 hours apart. You should always swallow the tablet as instructed and do not try to take the medication other than as prescribed.
Although Adderall is safe to take in its prescribed dosage, using it can have many side effects, including:
Loss of appetite
Changes in sex drive
Delayed growth in children
Difficulty falling & staying asleep
Increase in blood pressure
More serious side effects for which you should seek medical attention include:
Allergic reaction (rash, itching, swelling, dizziness, trouble breathing)
Chest, jaw, left arm pain
Shortness of breath
Weakness on one side of the body
Circulation problem (numbness, pain, cold feelings, skin color change in fingers/toes)
Pounding or irregular heartbeat
Psychosis (hallucinations, aggression, hostility, paranoia)
Using it at higher doses than prescribed or without a prescription and medical need will increase the risks associated with use.
Can Adderall be Abused?
Since Adderall can result in feelings of energy, strength and self-confidence, it can be appealing as a substance of abuse. Particularly because it is a prescription medicine that ‘feels’ safer than other illicit drugs. However, as with many other drugs, it is only safe when used exactly as prescribed and for medical reasons. When used recreationally and in higher doses, it can provide very different effects and can lead to addiction.
People may feel that they can get more work done more effectively, managing to stay focused for a much longer time than normally. This makes it particularly popular amongst college students and professionals.
One of the ways that people abuse Adderall is by crushing the pills, snorting the powder, or dissolving the powder in liquid and injecting it to experience an immediate high. Some of the effects that you might experience if you have taken high doses of Adderall are:
- A desire to work/be productive
- Feeling ‘high’
- Feeling social
- Feelings of impatience, worry, nervousness
- Gaining insights about the meaning of life
Who Abuses Adderall?
Students and Professionals:
It helps people to focus and stay awake for long periods, making it popular for students and working professionals. College students, in particular, make up a large portion of the people who abuse it.
Although it does not improve athletic performance, many athletes believe that it does and therefore use it to enhance performance and fight fatigue. In 2012, Adderall abuse contributed to a record-breaking year of drug suspensions in the National Football League.
People with Eating Disorders:
Because it suppresses appetite, people who are struggling with eating disorders will often use it to help control their food intake.
Can You Become Addicted to Adderall?
Yes! Just because it is a prescription medication does not mean that it is not addictive. Adderall is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning that it poses a high risk for addiction.
When it comes to Adderall, the addiction starts as an emotional dependence, feeling like you need the drug to succeed and be liked. The pressure to succeed and the desire to get more done motivates people to continue to take it. Once the body adapts, you begin to feel exhausted once it has worn off. As a result, more is needed to combat exhaustion. This is how the cycle of addiction and dependence begins.
Here are some of the ways in which you can identify if you or someone you know is struggling with an Adderall addiction:
You continue to use it despite negative consequences
You ignore work, family, school, and life responsibilities in order to use it
You need to take a higher dose than before to get the same high feeling
You have to consume more of it more frequently than before
You experience withdrawal symptoms
You crave and spend large amounts of time trying to obtain Adderall
You use it in dangerous situations
Can You Overdose On Adderall?
If you take too much Adderall at once, you can experience an overdose. Symptoms of overdose include:
High/low blood pressure
It is important to seek emergency medical help immediately if you or someone you know is experiencing an overdose.
People who abuse Adderall have adapted to functioning with the drug in their system. When it wears off, they feel exhausted and have to take more to feel awake again. Once the body is used to functioning with it, negative symptoms will occur is use is suddenly stopped. If you do stop taking it after using it for a long time, you are likely to experience the following withdrawal symptoms:
Slow heart rate
Withdrawal symptoms develop a few hours or days after stopping Adderall use typically lasts between 2-3 weeks. People who are struggling with a severe dependence on Adderall would be advised to stop using it in a supervised medical detox clinic. This means patients are monitored, withdrawal symptoms are controlled, and any other medical or mental issues can be addressed. Although relapse is quite common among Adderall use disorder, a medically supervised detox can help avoid relapse.
Adderall Use and Abuse Rates
Between 2008 and 2012, prescriptions for stimulants tripled, reaching almost 16 million prescriptions. In 2016, Adderall was the 45th most prescribed drug in the US at 17 million prescriptions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2017, over 10% (6 million) of children between the ages of 4 and 17 had been diagnosed with ADHD.2
In addition to all of the people that have been prescribed ADHD in 2017, 5.3 million people over the age of 12 have misused Adderall or used it without a prescription.3 Between 2006 and 2011, Adderall use increased by 67% while emergency room visits relating to Adderall went up 155%.4
Young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 make up 60% of people who use Adderall for nonmedical reasons. Studies show that college students are twice as likely to abuse it than their counterparts that did not attend college.5 A study conducted at the University of Kentucky showed that 30% of students reported having abused a stimulant drug such as Adderall as a ‘study enhancer.’
Treatment for Adderall Addiction
If you are struggling with an addiction to Adderall, it is important to seek professional help. Remember, there is no shame in asking for help. Once you do reach out, your doctor will help to create a personalized treatment plan for you. The typical steps to Adderall addiction treatment are the following:
The safest way to stop using Adderall and to manage withdrawal symptoms is to enroll in a supervised detox at a facility or hospital program. Once in this program, doctors will conduct an assessment, help you to stop using it safely, and create a treatment plan for after the detox is over.
Medication-Assisted Treatment and Psychotherapy
Medication-assisted treatment and psychotherapy are offered at both inpatient and outpatient programs. Typically, inpatient programs mean that you stay overnight at a facility or hospital for a period of time, whereas outpatient programs involve coming in for treatment and then going back home.
Medication-assisted treatment involves taking other medications that will help with withdrawal symptoms and prevent further illicit drug abuse.
This treatment can be used together with psychotherapy, which involves speaking with a psychotherapist or a counselor in either a one-on-one setting or in a group counseling session.
These sessions focus on getting to the core issues underlying addiction, coming up with strategies to combat negative patterns of thinking, and developing life skills.
An example of a type of psychotherapy that might be used is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which challenges negative patterns of thinking and rewires the way that the brain responds to its surroundings.
The last step in the treatment process is developing a relapse prevention plan. This might involve entering a sober living home, continuing treatment as an outpatient, participating in self-help groups such as 12-step groups, and continuing individual or group psychotherapy. It is also very important for any recovering addict to have a healthy support system and friends and family to lean on. Remember, overcoming an addiction doesn’t happen overnight, and it is usually a lifelong commitment. Everyone moves through treatment at their own pace.
Myth #1: Adderall Makes You Smarter
Although it improves your focus and concentration, it doesn’t help you learn any better, and it definitely does not improve cognitive functioning.
To learn better, you have to exercise your brain through repetition. Using it is a shortcut that does not exercise your brain and won’t help you to learn new information or skills. In fact, research has shown that students who use drugs like Adderall have lower GPAs in high school and college than those who don’t.
Myth #2: Adderall Makes You Perform Better
Many people believe that it can improve physical or athletic performance. This is because it speeds up the central nervous system and can provide an increase in energy; however, it does not actually improve physical performance. Although it might provide more energy, that energy does not suddenly mean that you can run faster or perform better. Unfortunately, due to this belief, many athletes have turned to Adderall to try and improve their performance.
Myth #3: Adderall is Good for Weight Loss
Many people believe that because Adderall speeds up your metabolism, it is a good way to lose weight. While you might lose weight when using it, the weight loss will not be permanent and is not healthy. Rather than losing a healthy amount of weight, people who use it for weight loss typically end up underweight and addicted to the drug.
Myth #3: Adderall is Not Harmful
Because Adderall is a prescription medication, many people believe that it is safe and not harmful. However, it is a Schedule II drug, meaning that it has been deemed as a high risk for abuse. While it is effective when taken in the correct dosages and for medical purposes, it can be harmful for people who take it without a medical reason.