People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) struggle to stay focused throughout the day, especially when they’re asked to complete tedious or repetitive tasks. This lack of focus can be incredibly frustrating, and in some cases, ADHD can cause people to lose their jobs, fail out of school, or both.
Stimulant medications are designed to alter brain chemistry, allowing for detailed focus throughout the day. Unfortunately, many medications used to treat ADHD also increase pleasure chemicals within the brain, and that can lead to drug dependence and/or addiction.
Two common ADHD medications, Vyvanse and Adderall, have been associated with drug abuse. Understanding how these drugs are similar and what makes them different from each other can help families to spot drug abuse happening, and the knowledge can equip them to intervene when something goes wrong.
Vyvanse and Adderall are both considered stimulant medications. Both are designed to boost the level of awareness within the brain, but the way in which they stimulate the brain is a little different.
According to Medicine Net, Adderall contains amphetamine salts that work directly on the cells within the brain. When someone takes Adderall, the drug is ready to work on the brain with no intermediary step required. Vyvanse, on the other hand, contains the substance lisdexamfetamine, which the body must convert to an amphetamine before it can be used by brain cells.
This intermediary step means that Vyvanse takes a little longer to work on brain cells. That can mean that people who take Vyvanse may feel little to no immediate difference when they take the drug, and they may not feel a spike of pleasure within the brain. But when Vyvanse has been converted, it works on the brain’s cells in much the same way as Adderall.
People who take Adderall to control ADHD symptoms must take the drug multiple times per day, as the body tends to metabolize the drug quickly. As the American Council on Science and Health points out, this can lead to a seesaw effect on brain chemicals. When the drug is taken, numbers spike. When the drug wears off, numbers dip. That can lead to a pronounced high and a profound low.
Vyvanse, on the other hand, is designed to stay active within the body for a long period, leading to a better level of control with fewer highs and lows. People who take Vyvanse may need to take it only once per day, and they may feel the impact of the drug all day without major episodes of peak euphoria and deep depression.
Vyvanse has been proven effective in the treatment of ADHD. In a study cited in paperwork submitted by the manufacturer to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, children with ADHD were given the drug or a placebo once daily in the morning for four weeks. Those who got the medication had significant improvements in ADHD symptoms, and the effects held throughout the day.
Studies like this demonstrate that Vyvanse can alter brain chemistry in such a way that people with ADHD can perform better in tasks that eluded them before therapy. Studies like this demonstrate that just one dose of medication is powerful enough to do the trick for even young people.
This once-per-day dosing can be ideal for someone with ADHD, as someone with this condition may struggle to remember to take medications on a strict schedule. Once-per-day dosing eliminates the need for a sophisticated medication calendar. And this kind of dosing can also be useful from an addiction standpoint, as the mechanism of action of Vyvanse may make it less rewarding to abuse.
To determine how addictive a substance might be, researchers rely on studies of how “likable” a drug really is. In studies like this, they supply the drug to people who have never taken it before, and they ask them about how the drug makes them feel. According to research cited by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Vyvanse has lower drug-liking effects than amphetamines when both drugs are given at the same dosage level.
It’s possible that the body’s need to convert Vyvanse makes the substance less interesting or rewarding to abuse, or perhaps there is another chemical reaction involved that lowers the likability score. Regardless, studies like this seem to suggest that Vyvanse could be a substance with lower addiction potential than Adderall.
That is important, as Adderall abuse rates are on the rise. Research from Johns Hopkins University found that nonprescription abuse of Adderall by adults ages 18 to 25 rose 67 percent between 2006 and 2011. Alarmingly, emergency room visits associated with this abuse rose 156 percent within this period. This is a serious issue, and it is vital that researchers and officials find a way to curb the tide of abuse. Vyvanse could be one way to make that happen.
In a study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders, researchers assessed the level of abuse among different types of ADHD medications. They found that the abuse rate of Adderall was 0.62, while the rate of Vyvanse was only 0.12. It is clear that Vyvanse is just less abused than Adderall, and that could mean that we could see some recovery in the terrible consequences of stimulant abuse.
Even though Vyvanse is associated with lower levels of abuse, some people still choose to abuse this medication. Some have a prescription for the drug and convert from use to abuse, while others take the drug without a prescription for recreational purposes that convert into abuse.
Symptoms of abuse of Vyvanse and Adderall are similar, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. These symptoms include:
People who abuse these drugs may do so by swallowing the drugs whole, or they may crush or snort the powder within the pills to get a faster high. People in the grips of addiction may work hard to hide it, but families may see these signs and be prompted to ask questions. Doing so could help an abuse issue to come to light, and that could mean the person starts getting the help that’s required to bring about real healing.
If you think someone you love is abusing Adderall or Vyvanse, starting a conversation about that abuse might seem difficult. It’s important to remember that people living with substance abuse often want help, but they’re not sure where to turn. You can offer the solution they’ve been looking for. Help to connect them with life-saving treatment.
Vyvanse vs. Adderall. Medicine Net. from https://www.medicinenet.com/vyvanse_vs_adderall/article.htm#vyvanse_vs_adderall_comparison_facts
(September 2016). ADHD Sufferers—Pay Attention. Here's How Vyvanse Works. American Council on Science and Health. from https://www.acsh.org/news/2016/09/23/adhd-sufferers%E2%80%94pay-attention-heres-how-vyvanse-works-10206
(February 2017). Vyvanse (Lisdexamfetamine Dimesylate). New River Pharmaceuticals. from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2007/021977lbl.pdf
(February 2007). FDA Approves First and Only Stimulant Prodrug Vyvanse as a Novel ADHD Treatment. American Association for the Advancement of Science. from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-02/pn-faf022307.php
(February 2016). Adderall Abuse on the Rise Among Adults, Johns Hopkins Study Suggests. Johns Hopkins University. from https://hub.jhu.edu/2016/02/16/adderall-abuse-rising-young-adults/
(July 2013). Nonmedical Use of Prescription ADHD Stimulant Medications Among Adults in a Substance Abuse Treatment Program. Journal of Attention Disorders. from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1087054713493321
(January 2018). Label: Vyvanse. U.S. National Library of Medicine. from https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?setid=704e4378-ca83-445c-8b45-3cfa51c1ecad