Any drug can be dangerous when misused and abused. This is true of illicit drugs and prescription drugs alike. Adderall is a stimulant prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). When an individual has ADHD, key areas of his or her brain are under-stimulated. This results in hyperactive behavior, lack of attention span, decreased impulse control and decreased executive functioning. The drug features a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, creating a central nervous system stimulant. This increases the attention span in those with ADHD and decreases impulsivity and hyperactivity.
Unfortunately, teenagers without ADHD are abusing Adderall for use as a “study drug” or “academic steroid.” Adderall helps teens stay up late studying, stay focused during the day, increase test scores and reduce appetite. These effects are very tempting to high school and college students looking to cut corners to reduce stress during a time when academic pressure and anxiety among teenagers is at an all-time high. Effects include increased attention span, faster memory encoding and faster memory recall. However, as with any prescription drug, using Adderall recreationally can have dangerous health repercussions.
While high school and college students who take Adderall do so for its effects as a neuroenhancer, Adderall also doubles the amount of dopamine released in the reward center of the brain. Dopamine is considered a “feel-good neurotransmitter,” as it is linked with sexual satisfaction and libido.
Every drug has side effects; abusing that drug makes these side effects more likely to present themselves. The side effects for Adderall include nervousness, restlessness, uncontrollable shaking, headache, insomnia, changes in sex drive, nausea, diarrhea, constipation and weight loss. The more severe side effects include shortness of breath, increased heart rate, stroke, seizures, numbness of extremities, dizziness, paranoia, hallucinations and mania. In addition to these adverse effects of Adderall abuse, recreational use of the drug can lead to addiction.
The Drug Enforcement Association (DEA) has classified Adderall as a Schedule II controlled substance, which is defined as having “high potential for abuse” and can result in “severe psychological or physical dependence.” As a Schedule II controlled substance, minors in possession of Adderall without a prescription can be forced into court-mandated drug counseling, probation and/or detention.
Adderall has become a part of teenage culture and its potential health risks are minimized by its presence on social media. According to a sample taken by the Coalition Against Drug Abuse, there were 10,000 tweets mentioning Adderall on the internet within one five-day sample. Out of these 10,000 tweets, 909 included the word “finals,” 562 included the word “need” and 389 included the term “Red Bull.” This reinforces the fact that teenagers are associating finals and studying with the need for Adderall. The cavalier nature with which minors boast of Adderall abuse is unusual, as other Schedule II controlled substances include cocaine and methamphetamine, which are less likely to be referenced without code names on social media. Out of those who tweeted about Adderall in the sample above, 57 percent were female and 43 percent were male.
The availability of Adderall has also contributed to its trivialization and increased usage among teenagers. Teenage patients often exaggerate their ADHD symptoms to doctors to get prescribed higher doses, which they then share with friends or sell. Doctors are aware this is an issue, but there is little that can be done. It is a similar effect as adults who abuse painkillers and might overstate their levels of pain in order to procure more prescription drugs.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Monitoring the Future study in 2014, 7 percent of high schoolers in the U.S. had used Adderall without a prescription. Less than 2 percent had used Ritalin, another drug prescribed to individuals with ADHD. Unfortunately, the rate of Adderall abuse increases from high school to college. According to the 2012 Journal of American College Health, two-thirds of college students had been offered Adderall by their senior year and 31 percent of the students had abused the drug.
Since the potential dangers associated with Adderall abuse are not recognized among teenagers, various health organizations are trying to spread the word and educate the public on Adderall abuse and addiction. For instance, The Medicine Abuse Project is a national mobilization program with aiming to educate parents and teenagers on the serious physical and mental health risks associated with prescription drug abuse.
If your teenager is struggling with Adderall addiction or has turned to the drug to cope with a mental health issue, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a treatment facility that specializes in helping teenagers who struggle with substance abuse, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis. Call us at anytime to get help for your teenager today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer