An Adderall pill may not look dangerous. It’s small, it’s made to be swallowed, and it’s typically delivered in a pill bottle that comes from a pharmacy. But each little pill packs a great deal of power.
Understanding what Adderall is, what it’s for, how it’s abused, and how that abuse can be treated is vital. Armed with that information, families dealing with an addiction issue can take charge and get help for someone in need.
Adderall is a prescription medication, and according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, each tablet contains two types of amphetamine salts. These salts are made to help people who have Attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD), although how Adderall can offer relief isn’t completely clear. In the FDA’s form, researchers state clearly that the therapeutic action is unknown, although doctors have theories.
The scope of ADHD in the United States is similarly unclear. The A.D.D. Resource Center says that 6.4 million children between the ages of 4 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, but the rates of diagnosis can vary widely by demographic region. Children living two times below the poverty level have the highest risk of an ADHD diagnosis.
There is no blood test or brain scan that can help doctors to diagnose ADHD. Instead, doctors ask their patients a series of questions about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The way patients answer these questions helps doctors to determine if ADHD could be at play.
While children are often diagnosed with ADHD, adults can also have ADHD. Some had the disorder as children while others developed the disorder as adults.
People who have ADHD may struggle with situations that require focus. They may find it difficult to:
Their need to move and stay active, and their need for brain stimulation, may make them interrupt others. They may seem as though they’re not listening while others are talking. They may take over conversations abruptly.
These issues can have a deep impact on their ability to succeed in school, at work, and in relationships. Untreated ADHD can lead to even bigger problems.
In an article published in the journal Brain and Behavior, researchers report that people with ADHD are at higher risk of dangerous driving, delinquent behavior, and impulsive sexual encounters. They may develop depression, substance abuse, and anxiety. Their lives may be lonely and difficult.
Adderall is meant to help people just like this. The stimulant quality of Adderall helps to keep brain cells focused on the task at hand, which means people with ADHD may feel as though they can tackle tasks they once found impossible. For them, Adderall could be the therapy that keeps them from a life of destruction.
Since Adderall is effective in treating ADHD, it’s often prescribed by doctors when their patients need help. The rate of prescriptions might be rising faster, however, than the rate of people who need help.
Sales of prescription stimulants like Adderall reached $9 billion within the United States in 2016, according to the Huffington Post. While many of those sales could have been triggered by people who need help and have a prescription, there are others that could be triggered by substance use and abuse.
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When researchers want to determine how many people abuse a specific substance, they tap into data about addiction treatment. The more people who enroll in treatment for a specific drug, the thinking goes, the more likely it is that the drug is a problem for a wide variety of people. The number of treatment episodes should reflect the number of people who have addictions.
In the Treatment Episode Data Set published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, researchers found that just nine percent of people enrolling in addiction treatment programs in 2015 were there due to stimulant abuse, and 94 percent of these people were abusing methamphetamine.
At first glance, this seems to suggest that Adderall abuse is a minor problem for the majority of Americans, but the reality is a little more complicated.
In a Johns Hopkins University study, researchers found that abuse of Adderall rose 67 percent between 2006 and 2011, and emergency room visits attributed to the drug rose 156 percent in that same time period. Researchers found that the abuse was most common in people ages 18 to 25.
Young people may abuse Adderall to help them cope with:
The same ingredients that help someone with ADHD to stay focused and on task can make these young people feel like they have the power to do everything they need to do. They may feel amazingly powerful and intelligent while on the drug.
Adderall has another side effect recreational users may enjoy. It has the power to boost feelings of euphoria, and according to research cited by Psych Central, that sensation doesn’t come when people with ADHD take Adderall. People who don’t have ADHD may feel euphoric and joyful with each hit, and in time, they may experience an inability to feel pleasure and joy unless they have Adderall available.
Adderall is made to be swallowed, and in the beginning, users may simply take the drug as directed. But the pills can react with any moist surface, which means they can be crushed up and snorted or rubbed onto the gums. Taking Adderall in this manner puts all of the active ingredient in each pill in contact with the body at once. It’s considered an escalation of the addiction, as it’s a step people typically take when their oral ingestion of the drug doesn’t bring about big enough changes.
Some people who abuse Adderall move to other stimulants in time. Brain cells become accustomed to the changes Adderall can bring, and the cells begin to demand larger and larger amounts of drugs in order to bring about the same effect. Users may find that Adderall is no longer powerful enough, and they may transition to methamphetamine in time. Some may move on to cocaine.
People who abuse stimulants move through a recognizable series of steps that keep them locked in a cycle of abuse. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration describes the stages.
Since people who abuse Adderall may feel the need to take bigger and bigger doses, they may run the very real risk of an overdose. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, stimulant overdoses can produce a variety of life-threatening symptoms, including heart attacks, seizures, and intense fever. Without medical care, people who overdose on Adderall can lose their lives.
Ongoing abuse of the drug can also lead to addiction. Contrary to popular belief, an addiction is not a failure of willpower or a personality flaw. It is a disease, and it is caused by cell changes in the brain that are caused by drugs.
Mayo Clinic says families can look for these symptoms of stimulant intoxication:
People who are intoxicated with Adderall should be monitored, to ensure that they don’t make dangerous decisions, such as choosing to drive. Since Adderall can cause distortions in reality, people who abuse the drug are at very real risk of causing accidents and harming others or themselves.
Addiction treatment programs often begin with medical detox. Here, doctors offer therapies that can help people stay calm and healthy as their bodies process all remaining drugs. The World Health Organization says that some people moving through stimulant withdrawal can become distressed and agitated, and some develop hallucinations. Medical monitoring and antipsychotic medications can help to ease these symptoms and keep everyone safe. That’s why enrolling in a medical detox program is wise, as families may not be able to provide this level of care at home.
There are no medications that have been approved in the treatment of stimulant addiction, according to Harvard Medical School, but doctors may choose to use medications like modafinil and topiramate to help people deal with cravings that can lead to drug use.
The mainstay of stimulant rehab programs, however, is counseling. Counseling is focused, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, on helping people to stop their abuse by developing a recovery program and sticking to that plan.
A recovery plan might include components such as finding employment, taking parenting classes, and obtaining housing assistance. It might also include assessing relapse risks and developing skills so the person can deal with those risks without relapse. Counseling might also include family members, so poor decisions made while under the influence can be explained to the group and rifts can be healed.
A program like this can take months to complete. During the first few weeks, cravings for Adderall can be intense and almost overwhelming. But sticking with therapy can give people the opportunity to build skills, so they won’t relapse even when they have returned home.
People who complete treatment programs can build on that success by joining support groups in the Alcoholics Anonymous model. Meetings have a social component, so people have a chance to interact with others who understand addiction. They also offer education, so people can keep learning about how addiction works. For many people, meetings work like a safe haven in the middle of a hectic week. In a meeting, they can be with peers who understand them and they can get the support they need to face the next challenge. Some people go to meetings for the rest of their lives.
(Oct. 2017) ADHD Numbers: Facts, Statistics, and You. The A.D.D. Resource Center. Retrieved from https://www.addrc.org/adhd-numbers-facts-statistics-and-you/
(December 2017) The Alarming Rise of Adderall in Two Charts. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/17/adderall-charts_n_4459341.html
(February 2017) Treatment Episode Data Set: 2005-2015. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://wwwdasis.samhsa.gov/dasis2/teds_pubs/2015_teds_rpt_natl.pdf
(February 2016) Adderall Abuse on the Rise Among Young Adults, Johns Hopkins Study Suggests. Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved from https://hub.jhu.edu/2016/02/16/adderall-abuse-rising-young-adults/
(October 2015) Those with Adderall Euphoria Less Likely to Develop ADHD, Schizophrenia. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/news/2014/04/27/those-with-adderall-euphoria-less-likely-to-develop-adhd-schizophrenia/69022.html
(June 2018) What Are Prescription Stimulants? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-stimulants
(October 2017) Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/symptoms-causes/syc-20365112