Prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a serious sleep disorder called narcolepsy, it is a blend of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine formulated to reduce symptoms of ADHD and narcolepsy. A central nervous system stimulant targeting certain neurotransmitter receptors in the brain, Adderall may help children and adolescents with ADHD focus on completing tasks, decrease fidgeting and control impulsive behaviors. For people with narcolepsy, Adderall reduces episodes of extreme daytime sleepiness.
As previously noted, almost everyone who abuses Adderall originally got introduced to the drug legally when a doctor prescribed it to them. Such prescriptions are common because Adderall is the most common drug on the market prescribed for dealing with ADHD and narcolepsy. While narcolepsy is not that common an ailment, ADHD has been increasingly diagnosed in individuals, especially young children, over the past few decades.
The primary reason that Adderall is prescribed to individuals with ADHD is that the drug, when taken at prescribed doses, increases cognitive control in individuals. This directly counters the symptoms of ADHD, allowing patients to concentrate better.
A Schedule II drug and powerful psycho-stimulant that increases dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain, Adderall is as addictive as most other stimulants, with the exception of cocaine or crack cocaine. Tolerance builds quickly in people who abuse Adderall. Once addicted, Adderall abusers will suffer severe withdrawal symptoms requiring professional addiction intervention and medical support.
Adderall abuse is a relatively common form of drug abuse, in great part because Adderall is a prescription drug that is commonly prescribed for individuals of all ages. Unlike cocaine or even marijuana, abusers often don’t even realize that using, selling, or buying it beyond the limits of a prescription is both illegal and dangerous.
- A study of young adults ranging in age from 18 to 28 shows that roughly 40% were unaware that purchasing, selling, or using prescription drugs without a prescription had legal consequences.
Like every drug, addiction to Adderall is primarily a factor of dosage, frequency of use, and body metabolism. That said, in dosages that are prescribed by doctors, addiction is rare to the point of being non-existent. Most Adderall users who follow their prescriptions to the letter will not become addicted even after decades of use.
However, when taken at higher doses and more frequently, the average time to addiction is approximately 2 weeks. This time frame generally affects people who abuse the drug for wakefulness. Abuse for studying often results in even faster addiction, potentially just a few days, because of the frequent high doses necessary to remain awake for days on end.
When taken therapeutically for ADHD or narcolepsy, Adderall induces a slight euphoria, wakefulness and improved cognition. When taken in higher doses (Adderall is typically snorted or ingested in pill form) than clinically prescribed, Adderall significantly increases energy, wakefulness, concentration and memory. College students have dubbed Adderall the “study drug” because of its ability to help them study, finish work on time and cram for exams. Adderall is also abused by competitive athletes and weight trainers wanting to combat fatigue and increase their strength and stamina.
Signs & Symptoms
When abused, Adderall causes numerous side effects, including:
- Aggressive behavior
- Chest pain
- Severe anxiety
- Pounding heartbeat
- Dry mouth
- Involuntary twitching/tics
- Psychotic symptoms/hallucinations
- Illogical speech/thought processes
- Suicidal thoughts
- Nausea and vomiting
Long-term abuse of Adderall is known to promote liver damage, stroke, seizures and possible permanent changes in brain mass. Snorting Adderall may cause sudden nose bleeds, destroy nasal passageways and precipitate serious bacterial infections in the sinuses.
Adderall abuse is usually a consequence of the reason Adderall is prescribed for narcolepsy. In addition to offering increased cognitive control, Adderall also grants increased wakefulness in those that take it. For individuals with narcolepsy, this simply means they enjoy a more normal sleeping pattern.
However, for individuals that already have a normal sleeping pattern, Adderall allows them to stay awake more hours of the day. Thus, it is common for people who work at multiple jobs or work at a single job with very long hours to abuse Adderall in order to sleep less.
The other major reason that Adderall is abused is for studying, especially among college students. Both effects of Adderall are a benefit for students that abuse it as a study aid. Increased cognitive control helps students better retain what they are studying and increased wakefulness lets those students pull all-night study sessions. Furthermore, because Adderall is so often prescribed to children and teenagers, students have relatively easy access to the drug, either from their own doctor or from other students who are willing to sell the drug.
Unfortunately, students who use Adderall for studying also tend to massively overuse it. Instead of simply using it for a single all-night study session, many use it for marathon study sessions that may last as long as a week (with basically no sleep during that time). Due to this behavior, 23000 students ended up in emergency rooms due to Adderall use in 2011, which was four times as many as just six years earlier.
Mixing Adderall and Alcohol
Mixing Adderall, a stimulant, and alcohol, a depressant, does not mean the two drugs cancel each other out in the body. Instead, they compete in the brain where wild fluctuations of neurotransmitters cause serious mental and physical disturbances such as tachycardia, blood pressure spikes, hyperthermia and irregular heartbeat. In addition, Adderall abusers who drink are vulnerable to suffering alcohol poisoning since the stimulatory properties of Adderall prevent them from “feeling” drunk. Consequently, Adderall addicts may keep drinking until they suddenly pass out, suffer alcohol poisoning shock and need emergency treatment.
Adderall abusers who stop taking Adderall will experience withdrawal symptoms similar to those associated with methamphetamine withdrawal. These symptoms include:
- Extreme mood swings/irritability
- Severe depression
- Panic attacks
- Joint/muscle pain
- Swelling of the feet, hands and fingers
Adderall abusers wanting to defeat their addiction are strongly urged to enter a rehab facility offering 24/7 medical detoxification treatment. Depending on the severity of their addiction, Adderall abusers who attempt to go “cold turkey” may suffer unexpected and dangerous health problems requiring professional, immediate medical attention.
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