Prescription stimulants such as Adderall are used mainly to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In people with ADHD, stimulants help the brain use dopamine and norepinephrine more effectively. Adderall is a combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. In neurotypical people—meaning those who don’t have ADHD—the drug has stimulant-like effects such as increased alertness and energy. Doctors prescribe Adderall and other ADHD medications that can be highly addictive. Due to their stimulant effects, they have a strong potential for abuse. These drugs have become popular with college students and others who want to improve their school or work performance. However, the dangers of Adderall far outweigh these potential benefits. Evidence also suggests that these benefits may be nothing more than a myth.
Adderall and the Brain
Adderall’s effects begin in the brain. In people with ADHD, amphetamines like Adderall have a calming effect. Taking Adderall and similar drugs helps normalize the brain chemistry of a person with ADHD. In a neurotypical person, Adderall works very differently. Taking Adderall causes the release of large amounts of dopamine into the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, involved in the brain’s “reward” pathway. When dopamine is released into the brain, it creates a feeling of pleasure. Large amounts of dopamine trigger a rush of euphoria that gives way to a state of heightened well-being that is highly addictive.
What are the Short-Term Effects of Adderall?
Taking Adderall can lead to a wide range of short-term side effects. These Adderall effects can occur at any time while taking the drug—even the first time. The drug affects people differently depending on many factors.
Physical Side Effects
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Gastrointestinal problems such as constipation or diarrhea
- Restlessness or hyperactivity
- Dyskinesia, or involuntary movement
- Skin rash
- Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
- Heart palpitations
- Heart attack
- Weight loss
Psychological and Behavioral Effects
Initially, Adderall triggers feelings of ecstasy and elation. However, it can also cause mood swings, so those pleasurable feelings don’t always last long. Adderall can also trigger anxiety, paranoia or hostility. Additional psychological effects include:
- Increased alertness
- Hostility and irritability
- Feelings of dissatisfaction or unease (dysphoria)
- Changes in sex drive
- Psychosis, which may include hallucinations, paranoia and feelings of aggression or hostility
Long-Term Adderall Effects
Since Adderall is an amphetamine, the long-term effects of Adderall abuse are similar to those of amphetamine substance abuse.
Long-term use of stimulants such as Adderall can put great strain on the cardiovascular system. Even a single dose of Adderall can trigger cardiac problems in someone who is vulnerable, but long-term use increases the risk that this might occur. Long-term Adderall effects can include:
- Weight loss
- Loss of muscle tissue
- Cardiomyopathy, or damage to heart tissue
- Abnormal blood pressure levels
Psychological and Behavioral Effects
Chronic Adderall use is just as destructive to the mind as it is to the body. Long-term Adderall abuse changes brain chemistry, particularly in how the brain makes and uses dopamine. However, there’s evidence that brain structure and function are also affected. People who abuse Adderall develop chronic insomnia and hyperactivity. They undergo what are often extreme personality changes. In very severe cases, an Adderall drug abuser may develop a kind of psychosis that strongly resembles schizophrenia. In the long term, Adderall can cause:
- Mood swings
- Lethargy or fatigue
- Increasing anxiety, paranoia or hostility
- Panic attacks
- Memory and/or cognitive problems
People who abuse Adderall often develop a tolerance quickly. They then need ever-increasing doses of Adderall to get the same effects they once got with a small dose. This increases the risk of overdosing on Adderall, as users may take large doses of the drug as they become increasingly tolerant. Warning signs and symptoms of an Adderall overdose include:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Abdominal cramps
- High body temperature
- Rapid pulse and breathing
- High blood pressure
- Heart arrhythmia
- Mental confusion
- Rhabdomyolysis, a breakdown of muscle tissue that can lead to kidney damage
If someone who has been abusing Adderall for a long time suddenly stops taking the drug, they can experience severe depression and mental fatigue, insomnia and mood swings. In this case, the person’s brain has gotten used to the flood of dopamine triggered by Adderall use. In withdrawal, dopamine levels go back to the normal pre-drug level, and the brain needs time to adjust.
Other Risks of Taking Adderall
Adderall is more dangerous for people with certain medical or psychiatric conditions. Since Adderall is a stimulant, there are serious risks for people with heart problems. If someone has high blood pressure, structural heart abnormalities, heart or artery disease or a heart rhythm abnormality, even a low dose of Adderall can lead to a stroke or heart attack. Anyone with suspected or diagnosed cardiovascular problems should avoid taking Adderall and other stimulants. Those with bipolar disorder also have a higher risk of serious side effects if they take Adderall. In this case, there’s a risk that taking Adderall could trigger a mixed or manic episode. Taking Adderall may trigger a seizure in those who have experienced them in the past.
Struggling with Adderall Addiction? Don’t Wait to Get Help.
Adderall can help some people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms, but it’s still a potentially dangerous drug and can lead to substance abuse. If you are abusing Adderall or are addicted to Adderall, call The Ranch PA today to find out how you can break free and begin recovery. Photo: hipsxxhearts