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Perhaps the most well-known amphetamine on the market, Adderall has risen to prominence as the go-to medication in treating ADHD symptoms. It has a high risk of addiction — especially among college students misusing it — but dependency is treatable.

  • Drug Name Adderall
  • Addiction Liability High
  • Scientific Name Dextroamphetamine, Levoamphetamine
  • Street Names Addys, Beans, Pep Pills, Dexies, Black Beauties
  • How It's Used Swallowed, Snorted
  • Side Effects Rapid Heartbeat, Slurred Speech, Drowsiness, Vomiting, Diarrhea, Headache
  • Psychological Dependence Very High
  • Physical Dependence Very High

One small pill of Adderall packs a major punch. The medication — a combination amphetamine and dextroamphetamine — originally hit the market in 2002 as a focus-increasing supplement for people with ADD and ADHD. It didn’t take long for people searching for a pick-me-up to discover Adderall’s stimulating power.

Graph of alcohol and adderall use in college students

89.5 percent of college students taking Adderall without a prescription also binge drink.

Source: 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Report

Students, office workers and long-haul drivers embrace the drug in a big way. They say it helps them endure long hours and increases their productivity. Colleges especially like it. Its effects are ideal for a long night of cramming or a marathon essay writing session.

This increased focus — even if only perceived in some cases — can be addictive if you seek to maintain it for long periods of time.

Martha Farah, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Neuroscience and Society, told the New Yorker, “More and more of our young people are using these drugs to help them work. They’ve got their laptop, their iPhone, and their Adderall.”

For its intended purposes, Adderall carries a positive reputation among many parents of children diagnosed with attention disorders, and some adults with the same problems. As a recent hip drug, though — resold illegally to thousands of young adults — the pill is now borderline illicit for the ease at which people obtain it and the harm it causes.

Select users of Adderall are drawn to it as a diet tool, as the medication is known to decrease appetite and boost metabolism. Some dependencies can form this way as a shortcut to weight loss.

How Adderall Causes Tolerance and Dependency

While doctors consider small doses of Adderall as effective and harmless, abuse experts say it’s rare that someone who takes the medication — even if it is prescribed — can remain satiated by a small dose because they become tolerant to the drug’s effects.

They desire more and lose an ability to function without it because the brain becomes dependent on the drug. The problem escalates in short order. Regular Adderall takers fall victim to withdrawal symptoms the moment they stop. Even moderate users find themselves prone to withdrawal symptoms: fatigue, sluggishness and insomnia chief among them.

Heavy abusers risk major withdrawal, including a crash, when they stop. Symptoms of Adderall abuse include:

Tolerance and dependency are warning signs of addiction. When Adderall users become dependent and take the drug to prevent withdrawal symptoms, they increase their risk for addiction.

Adderall Risks and Fatalities

A number of Adderall users will go on to sell their prescriptions for a profit, quickly selling out and refilling them. People dependent on Adderall will sometimes lie to a doctor about needing it for ADHD, and in some tragic cases doctors will oblige and prescribe them the potentially lethal drug.

In 2011, a man named Richard Fee hanged himself after a two-year battle with Adderall addiction. He received prescriptions from various doctors though he was never officially diagnosed with ADD or ADHD Times.

“It got to the point where he’d say he couldn’t get anything done if he didn’t have the Adderall,” Ryan Sykes, a friend of Fee, told The New York Times.

Richard eventually suffered a mental breakdown and was hospitalized, after which his prescriptions were cut off. He ended his life shortly thereafter.

“People have to know that kids are out there getting these drugs and getting addicted to them,” Rick Fee, Richard’s father, told The New York Times. “And doctors are helping them do it.”

Doctors detail a number of serious side effects among Adderall users. They associate most with heavy doses. Unlike the minor side effects, these require medical attention and should be handled immediately.

Some of these include:

As a central nervous system stimulant, Adderall impacts the body’s mainframe and opens the doorway for multiple side effects even when it’s used as prescribed.

Side effects of Adderall use can include:

Although the drug is typically swallowed in pill form, grinding Adderall down and snorting it is a popular method of use in some circles, as it is known to intensify the high and activate the effects sooner. Snorting the drug puts the taker at risk for increased side effects, such as damage to the nasal cavity and respiratory problems. People who snort Adderall put themselves in line for severe risks over time: irregular heartbeats, problems with circulation and developmental brain problems.

Psychosis is a major risk for regular abusers of Adderall, and premature birth is possible in pregnant women using the drug. Death has been reported in several cases of Adderall use.

Children who experience a sudden death are 7.4 times more likely than not to have been taking a stimulant medication such as Adderall at the time.

Accidentally Creating Addicts

The FDA has drawn some criticism for its approach in handling the spread of Adderall addiction and its role in several deaths. Rather than pull the drug or attempt to alter its formula, the drug remains as legal and popular as ever. “Prescription speed,” as some call it, creates addicts every day, many of whom are misdiagnosed by doctors and get a prescription handed to them.

Dr, Charles Parker, a Virginia Beach psychiatrist told The New York Times, “We have a significant travesty being done in this country with how the [ADHD] diagnosis is being made and the meds are being administered. I think it’s an abnegation of trust. The public needs to say this is totally unacceptable and walk out.”

No medications are approved for treating Adderall addiction. Therapy for amphetamine use disorders is based on research on cocaine and methamphetamine addiction. Those illicit drugs cause changes in the brain similar to the changes caused by Adderall.

A 2001 review of studies on amphetamine dependence and abuse concluded that researchers had not discovered effective treatments for addiction to drugs such as Adderall. A separate review published in 2009 concluded that no effective medication has been found to treat amphetamine withdrawal. Both reviews were published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

Rehab clinics and addiction treatment centers use clinical approaches and therapies that have been proven effective for addiction to other stimulants, such as crystal meth or cocaine. Common therapies include contingency management and cognitive behavioral therapy.

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