Adderall is a prescription drug used most often to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Many children have been helped by the medication by allowing them to focus and pay attention. On the other hand, Adderall can cause a number of serious side effects, not least of which is addiction. It has a high potential for abuse, both by those to whom it has been prescribed and others.
The potential for abuse and addiction are high enough for drugs like Adderall that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has placed them on Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. Only Schedule I drugs are under tighter control, and the Schedule II classification for Adderall is shared with such drugs as cocaine, morphine, and other opioid drugs. If you or someone you love has struggled with addiction because of Adderall, you can get help.
What is Adderall?
Adderall is a brand name for a mixture of two generic drugs: amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. It is classified as a stimulant medication, which means that it elevates certain biological functions like blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate. In turn, this causes an increase in energy, alertness, and attention.
How the drug works in the brain is by stimulating and enhancing the effects of certain neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals. These include norepinephrine, also known as adrenaline, and dopamine. By increasing the effects of these natural brain chemicals, stimulants like Adderall give a user more energy and ability to focus. They can also make the user feel a sense of euphoria.
A History of Amphetamine
The stimulant amphetamine was first made in a laboratory all the way back in 1887. Long before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) existed to regulate medications, amphetamine was used for a number of reasons from general stimulation to enlarging the nasal passages to make breathing easier. In World War II, soldiers used amphetamine to stay alert, for better endurance, and to combat fatigue. It also seemed to boost mood, so doctors began giving it to patients with depression.
Amphetamine wasn’t officially approved by the FDA until the 1960s when it was used under the brand name of Obetrol to treat obesity. It wasn’t until 1996 that Adderall was created by Shire Richwood and approved by the FDA to treat ADHD. Initially it was used in an instant-release formula, but eventually an extended-release form was developed and released.
Uses for Adderall
The most common use for Adderall is to treat ADHD, mostly in children. ADHD is a disorder characterized by hyperactive behavior, impulsivity, and an inability to focus or pay attention. For children, having this disorder can be very disruptive. It makes it challenging to do well in school and it causes kids to behave in ways that are inappropriate and get them in trouble, both with adults and peers. Although it seems contradictory, stimulants help these kids calm down, focus, and pay attention to one task for longer than they would be able to do otherwise.
Adderall may also be prescribed to people with narcolepsy. This sleep disorder causes excessive sleepiness during the day and causes a person to fall asleep suddenly, without warning. Stimulants like Adderall combat the sleepiness. Some doctors may prescribe Adderall to treat obesity. It is considered a last-resort solution to weight loss, because of the potential for abuse and addiction.
There are many possible side effects of taking Adderall. For some people these may be mild and may eventually go away. For others, they may be more severe and persist over a longer period of time. Any side effects should be reported to the prescribing doctor. Common side effects include restlessness, nervousness, trouble sleeping, headaches, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and uncontrollable shaking.
More serious possible side effects require immediate medical attention. These include a racing heartbeat, chest pains, shortness of breath, dizziness, fatigue, seizures, numbness in limbs, fever, rash, itching, swelling in the face and mouth, and difficulty swallowing or breathing.
Adderall may also cause psychiatric side effects. These should be taken seriously and should be reported immediately for emergency treatment. They include aggression, hostile behaviors, mania or a frenzied mood, paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, or worsening symptoms of existing mental illnesses like bipolar disorder.
Adderall and Sudden Death
There have been many disturbing and tragic reports of children and adolescents who died suddenly, possibly because of taking Adderall or other ADHD stimulant medications. Between 1995 and 2005, eleven sudden deaths in children taking stimulants for ADHD were reported to the FDA. A study of several hundred children who died suddenly and unexpectedly, found that they were more than seven times more likely to be taking a stimulant as compared to the general population.
In 2006, the FDA decided to add the information about sudden death to stimulant medication labels, including Adderall, although they declined to use a black box warning. The conclusion was that the benefits of the medication outweigh the risk of sudden death. Currently the warning on the label states that stimulants cause increased blood pressure and heart rate and that they may cause sudden death in patients with heart problems or defects. It also states that it may lead to an increased risk of stroke or heart attack in adults.
Adderall Abuse and Addiction
One of the most serious of all side effects of Adderall is abuse and addiction. Because of the euphoria that this medication may cause at certain doses, it is easy to become addicted to it. For many people, taking Adderall under the direction of a doctor is safe and will not lead to abuse and addiction. However, some people may become dependent on it, especially if they start taking larger doses or more frequent doses than are recommended.
The history of abuse of amphetamines like Adderall goes back nearly as far as the invention of the drug in the late 1800s. Amphetamine has long been used by people to stay awake, to fight fatigue, to be better able to focus, and to perform better in athletics. Truck drivers, for instance, have long abused stimulants to stay awake for long, overnight drives.
Today, abuse of Adderall has become troublingly common among teens and young adults looking for a so-called study drug. Because Adderall improves focus and alertness, and increases wakefulness, high-achieving students may abuse it to stay up all night studying or writing papers. Although Adderall is mostly safe to use when prescribed by a doctor, there are many problems with taking it without a doctor’s guidance. A student using it as a study aid may take larger doses that cause more severe side effects or may become dependent on it.
Some people also abuse drugs like Adderall for recreational purposes, to stay up all night to party or to get a high. This can be very dangerous as some people take large doses, or may use it in a way that is not recommended, such as dissolving it in water and injecting it. Sudden death, severe side effects, and addiction are all risks of abusing Adderall in this way.
It isn’t difficult to get hooked on Adderall because of the way it works in the brain. This is why it is a Schedule II controlled substance. If you have abused Adderall and become addicted to it, you can get treatment that will help you get into recovery. Trying to stop using it on your own is not recommended. Stopping use of Adderall suddenly can cause serious withdrawal symptoms, known as an Adderall crash. You may experience intense cravings, anxiety, fatigue, panic, depression, or even suicidal thoughts.
Anyone who has become dependent on Adderall must seek the help of a professional to stop using it in a way that is safe. If you aren’t sure where to turn, start with your doctor for a recommendation for what to do next. Adderall is a medication that can help many people, but it has some terrible downsides too. If you have suffered from taking Adderall, you may have a case for a lawsuit that would get you the money to help you get your life back together.