Adderall is a prescription amphetamine, which is most often prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. ADHD is characterized by behavioral problems like being impulsive or hyperactive, and many children who struggle with them respond well to Adderall. It helps them to focus, calm down, and control their impulses.
For some people Adderall may cause more problems than the benefits it provides. There are serious potential side effects, but perhaps most importantly, Adderall has a high potential for abuse. Anyone who abuses this drug is at risk for becoming addicted. Overcoming addiction to amphetamines is extremely difficult and abusing these kinds of drugs can lead to other types of complications.
Adderall was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1996 to treat both ADHD and narcolepsy. It is a prescription drug that includes a mix of two generic drugs. These are amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Amphetamines belong to the class of drugs called stimulants, which means that they stimulate biological functions in the body like heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.
In the brain, Adderall works to increase the amount of certain neurotransmitters, or signaling chemicals. Adderall acts on dopamine and norepinephrine, also known as adrenaline. This has the effect of increasing attention, alertness, and energy. It can also make the user feel a pleasant effect, known as euphoria. The stimulant effects of Adderall are used to help kids with ADHD focus and control their behaviors and people with narcolepsy stay awake. In rare cases, a doctor may also prescribe Adderall to treat obesity. This is a solution of last resort, however, due to the risks of abuse and addiction.
Amphetamine and Adderall
The main ingredient in Adderall is amphetamine. This is a compound that has been around for over 100 years. It was first synthesized in 1887 and before the FDA existed to approve drugs for certain uses, people used amphetamine to stay awake and alert, to fight fatigue, for endurance in athletics, to dilate nasal passages for easier breathing, and generally to provide a stimulating feeling.
The FDA first approved amphetamine in the 1960s. The first use for it was to treat obesity. The stimulation that amphetamine provides includes revving up metabolism, which can lead to weight loss. Now amphetamines like Adderall can still be prescribed for obesity, but it is considered risky. Only people with dangerous potential complications from obesity who can’t seem to lose weight any other way are prescribed an amphetamine.
The use of amphetamine in children with ADHD began in the 1990s when the FDA approved Adderall, the brand name drug developed by Shire Richwood Pharmaceuticals. After it came on the market, the use of Adderall for ADHD exploded and paralleled the rise in numbers of diagnoses of the behavioral condition.
Potential for Abuse and Addiction
Amphetamine is classified as a schedule II controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Drugs are placed on the controlled substances schedule due to the potential for abuse. The most addictive substances known are on schedule I, which includes drugs like heroin. The next most addictive group is schedule II. Along with amphetamine, cocaine, morphine, and several other opioid painkillers are included in schedule II.
Amphetamine has been abused since it was first discovered more than 100 years ago. It increases the amount of dopamine in the brain. Although this can have positive effects for children struggling with ADHD, dopamine is also the neurotransmitter most associated with addiction. A flood of dopamine in the brain causes a euphoric sensation, or a high. It is this that gives amphetamine a high potential for abuse. Another reason that some people abuse amphetamines like Adderall is to stay awake. Truck drivers may do this, and increasingly students who need to stay up late to study.
Any drug that is abused has the potential to cause addiction. When a person chases that high, the flood of dopamine, they go back for more and more until they develop a tolerance. With tolerance, the person then tries to take more and more of the drug just to get the high. Eventually, not using the drug leads to withdrawal symptoms and the person feels the need to use it just to feel normal again. Stopping use at this point is extremely challenging.
Complications and Side Effects of Addiction
Adderall addiction, in itself is problematic. However, abusing a drug can also cause other complications. People abusing Adderall probably take much more than a recommended dose, which puts them at risk for more severe side effects. With Adderall these include psychosis, overheating, an irregular or rapid heartbeat, seizures, high blood pressure, heart attack, and ultimately death.
Any abused drug can also be dangerous because of the potential for an overdose. Anyone taking Adderall as a medication and taking it as prescribed is not likely to overdose, but someone abusing it may take such a large dose that they accidentally go into cardiac arrest and die.
Treating Adderall Addiction
Addiction is considered both a behavioral and a physical health condition and no matter what the drug is, it is very difficult to treat. Adderall addiction can be especially tricky to treat because there are no medical interventions. Researchers have developed medications that can help treat addictions to other substances, but for Adderall and other amphetamines, behavioral and psychological treatments are the only possibility.
Trying to suddenly stop abuse of Adderall is not recommended. Doing so can trigger dangerous withdrawal symptoms like panic attacks, severe anxiety, insomnia, phobias, fatigue, depression, and even suicidal thinking. Even someone who has not been abusing Adderall may experience some of these effects. A doctor’s guidance is needed to stop using and addictive drug like amphetamine.
Treating Adderall addiction requires professional support. A rehabilitation facility, an outpatient treatment center, and an addiction counseling specialist are all options for treating drug addiction. Professionals use a variety of therapeutic techniques from group counseling to twelve step programs, to individual cognitive behavioral therapy to treat addiction to Adderall and other drugs.