Going to college is an American rite of passage. Every year, millions of young adults leave home and embark on a course of study that they hope will provide them with a better future. Many students in challenging fields such as engineering or pre-med have always had tough workloads. Recent economic developments have increased the pressure on all college attendees as they realize that they will face increased competition for jobs upon graduation as well as having to deal with mounting student loan debt. Thanks to these realities, many feel pressured to perform at their peak.
These types of pressures combine with social expectations. Often, students decide to forgo sleep in order to meet both their academic and social commitments. Many find themselves pulling all-nighters in order to make sure they get assignments done on time. These conditions have led to the abuse of prescription stimulants such as Adderall.
As a recent Johns Hopkins study shows, Adderall misuse is worse among young adults ages 18 to 25 than it is among adolescents. In fact, among those over 12 who used Adderall without a prescription for non-medical reasons, 60% were between 18 and 25 years old.
Why Is Adderall Prescribed?
Adderall is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. While this neurobehavioral condition is predominantly diagnosed in children, adults can also be diagnosed with it. It is characterized by difficulty concentrating, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior.
According to the CDC, millions of children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD. According to a national survey, in 2016, 9.4% of U.S. children had this condition. Boys are more likely to suffer than girls.
At one point, Ritalin was commonly prescribed for children with ADHD, but Adderall has proven to be more effective and longer-lasting. Categorized as a stimulant, this prescription medication contains amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. In addition to treating ADHD, it can also be used for patients suffering from narcolepsy.
When properly used, Adderall can be life-changing for those diagnosed with ADHD. Studies indicate that 75-80% of those with ADHD will see improvements when taking the drug. They will experience a better ability to focus and are less likely to exhibit destructive and impulsive behaviors.
Unfortunately, a growing number of college students are using Adderall without a prescription. Some may get the medication from family or friends. A New York Times article describes how simple the process of introducing someone to Adderall might be – the author, a sophomore at Brown, complains about an impossible deadline, and her friend offers her two blue pills. These helped her concentrate better and to stay up all night to get her work done.
Indeed, this is the most common reason for students to take Adderall – they need to pull an all-nighter or they need to improve their focus so that they can get an assignment done. Others use it to help them on exams as they believe that they can concentrate better while they are taking it. Most students set out to use the drug only as an occasional study aid, no different than occasionally consuming too much caffeine. Unfortunately, many students find themselves becoming addicted.
Why Is Adderall So Addictive?
Adderall’s addictive properties can be explained by neuroscience. The drug combines amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, two central nervous system stimulants. These have the same effects on the brain as dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, which are naturally occurring neurotransmitters.
Dopamine is released by the brain in association with pleasurable activities such as eating chocolate, playing with a pet, or having sex. It makes someone feel good. Epinephrine, also called adrenaline, ramps up the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers feelings of alertness, clarity, and focus. Norepinephrine helps to enhance the effects of epinephrine and increases focus even further.
Dopamine, in particular, is heavily implicated by addiction studies thanks to a vicious cycle that is set up by the brain’s attempt to achieve homeostasis. The brain attempts to regulate the balance of various neurotransmitters including dopamine. When too much dopamine floods the system, the brain responds by trying to cut the supply. At some point, the only option left is to cut down on dopamine receptors.
When a reduction in dopamine receptors occurs, the addict requires ever-larger doses of the drug in order to experience the desired euphoria. An unfortunate side effect is that the brain can no longer supply the same rewards it used to be able to. This leads to the addict experiencing painful withdrawal if they can’t get the drug since their brain is now unable to even provide the normal, natural levels of dopamine that it used to.
How Long Does Adderall Stay in Your System?
This depends on a number of factors, which include:
• How often you take Adderall
• What dose you take
• When you last took it
• Your weight
• Whether or not your kidney and/or liver functions have been impaired
Typically, Adderall will be detectable in urine up to 96 hours after the last use and in the blood up to 46 hours later. It can be present in saliva for up to 50 hours and in hair follicles for up to three months.
Side Effects of Adderall
Like all drugs, Adderall has side effects. Its two main components, amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, have side effects that are easily visible, which makes it easier to spot abuse. Because Adderall triggers the flight-or-fight response by stimulating the central nervous system, someone who is taking the drug might be more nervous, restless, or anxious. Their sleep cycle may be affected. Tremors are possible.
Other possible symptoms include headaches, dry mouth, and stomach issues such as diarrhea, nausea, and constipation.
More serious issues can include cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, and stroke. Mental health concerns include depression, bipolar disorder, and aggressive or hostile behavior.
Loss of appetite is another potentially dangerous symptom of Adderall abuse. Because Adderall is a stimulant of the central nervous system, it can dramatically reduce the appetite. This can lead to malnutrition and dehydration. These factors can be exacerbated if the user is drinking alcohol while taking Adderall as alcohol can also cause dehydration and can deplete nutrients. Kidney and liver function can also be damaged when Adderall is misused.
In some cases, Adderall has been reported to cause psychosis and schizophrenia-like symptoms, including paranoid delusions and hallucinations. Anxiety attacks, panic attacks, depression, suicide attempts, and lack of motivation are all potential side effects when a long-term user decides to quit. Symptoms and side effects are worse for those who have a family history of mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
When a patient who has been prescribed Adderall for genuine reasons experiences issues, there is medical supervision to help. Unfortunately, addicts who have been taking this stimulant without a prescription often find themselves suffering alone, with shame and guilt making it worse.
Yet when we understand the changes in neurochemistry that result from the use of stimulants such as Adderall, we realize that addiction is not a matter of willpower. There are actual physical changes that drive someone to continue to take the substance. And the number of cases of addiction is unfortunately growing.
Sometimes, a person can end up in the emergency room because they misused Adderall. One thing that has alarmed doctors is that, while the number of prescriptions for Adderall has fallen slightly, the number of emergency room visits has gone up by 156%.
How Do College Students Obtain Adderall?
They often get their fix from friends or family members who do have a legitimate prescription. However, there is also a black market in the drug, and there are students who deceive clinicians and get prescriptions despite not having ADHD.
The Dangers of Mixing Adderall and Alcohol
When you get a prescription, your pharmacist will often warn you not to take it with alcohol. There may be other warnings as well. Unfortunately, college students who are taking Adderall without a prescription often don’t receive these precautionary warnings. And given the nature of college society, often, college students do mix their drug of choice with beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverages.
This can lead to some dire consequences. While Adderall is a stimulant, alcohol is a depressant. However, when used together, they don’t really balance each other out. Instead, the effects of both may seem to be muted, which makes the user think that neither is working as it’s supposed to. This can lead to overdoses. Other complications that can occur include:
• Unpredictable side effects such as strokes or seizures
• The potential for co-occurring substance use disorders
• Irregular heartbeat and elevated blood pressure
• Dehydration and alcohol poisoning
• Nausea and vomiting
• Sleep problems
• Anxiety and depression
Because Adderall is considered a Schedule II controlled substance, it is highly likely to cause addiction. On the one hand, it is very useful and even life-changing when used to treat an actual medical condition under the supervision of a doctor. However, when used without medical supervision, it can lead to behavioral issues, depression, and even death.
It is therefore very important for young people not to succumb to the temptation of just taking a few pills once in a while, “only when really necessary” to pass a test or finish an assignment.
For those who find themselves facing addiction, the good news is that recovery is possible.
How to Stop Taking Adderall
If you have only taken a few doses of Adderall, chances are you can stop because your body has not yet become physically dependent on the drug. However, if you have been Adderall for prolonged periods of time, you may need help to overcome your addiction.
When you take a drug for a long period of time, your body builds a tolerance to it, which means that you may need to take larger doses or take it more often to feel the same effects. Those addicted to Adderall may feel as though the drug isn’t as helpful as it used to be. However, when they stop altogether, they find themselves in a mental fog. They are unable to think or function normally.
This can be incredibly frightening, yet it is a normal part of the early stages of withdrawal, which is a recalibration of the body so that it can function without the drug that it has become accustomed to. Unfortunately, many people who try to withdraw on their own experience suicidal thoughts. They find the process of withdrawal unbearable and don’t succeed.
Professional Treatment Increases Success Rates
In Granite Recovery Center’s detox program, you will be aided and supported by experienced and compassionate professionals such as doctors, therapists, holistic practitioners, and others. Not only will you be given the help you need while you are in the process of detoxification, but you will also be given ongoing guidance to make sure that you don’t relapse.
The Granite Recovery Centers provide a safe and hopeful place where people can recover. For those who have been taking Adderall for a long period of time and are suffering from deep depression and suicidal thoughts, having opportunities for ongoing care may be critical to making a full and long-lasting recovery.
For these individuals, intensive outpatient options are available. These provide a combination of group therapy, individual therapy, education, and other services that the client may need.
These are just some of the many options that are available at the Granite Recovery Centers. Programs are tailored for each individual, and all are administered with compassion and understanding. If you are dealing with an Adderall addiction, don’t suffer in silence. Reach out for the help that you need so that you can get your life back.