Adderall addiction can be devouring, sucking people down into a spiral of dependency, addiction, and psychosis. In the case of a promising, 24-year-old Virginia man, addiction to the prescription stimulant eventually contributed to his death.
After becoming violently delusional in 2011 and spending a week in a psychiatric hospital, the man met with his doctor and received prescriptions for 90 more days of Adderall.
According to a New York Times report, “He hanged himself in his bedroom closet two weeks after those prescriptions expired.”
That man was introduced to prescription stimulant medications like Adderall as a college student. In time, his Adderall abuse devolved into dependency and addiction, where he believed he could not function without the drug.
His story illustrates the profound dangers of Adderall, which is considered as physically and psychologically addictive as prescription opioid medications.
What is Adderall?
Adderall is a stimulant medication comprised of four amphetamine salts (dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine aspartate, dextroamphetamine sulfate, and amphetamine sulfate). In 1996, it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy in children and adults. It is available as a tablet or capsule in immediate and extended release forms.
Adderall treats the fidgeting, lack of focus, disorganization, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that comes with ADHD. For patients with ADHD, it improves focus and attention and lessens hyperactivity and impulsivity.
This central nervous system (CNS) stimulant works by boosting the availability of norepinephrine and dopamine. This mechanism of action ramps up brain activity, causing people to experience a rush. Users also report feeling alert, powerful, and invincible.
For adults taking Adderall for ADHD, use should not exceed 40 milligrams (mg) daily, whether it is of the immediate or extended-release variety. For narcolepsy, dose amounts should range between five to 60 mg daily.
Why Adderall is Abused
At college campuses and workplaces across the country, “study drugs” like Adderall are often abused to improve cognitive functioning.
In this regard, the Virginia man was no different. In fact, he, like countless others who develop Adderall addictions, started in college.
“Friends said he was a typical undergraduate user — when he needed to finish a paper or cram for exams, one Adderall capsule would jolt him with focus and purpose for six to eight hours, repeat as necessary,” stated the New York Times report.
A 2016 Johns Hopkins study reported that of all the people ages 12 and up who used Adderall nonmedically, about 60 percent of that activity came from people ages 18 to 25. That same study also reported that the nonmedical use of Adderall by young people rose by 67 percent between 2006 and 2011.
The nation’s top regulatory agency on illicit drug use even recognized the abuse potential of stimulant ADHD medicines like Adderall. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies Adderall and Ritalin as Schedule II controlled substances, which means that despite their medical utility, they “have a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.” That designation puts Adderall on par with notoriously addictive prescription opioids like fentanyl, oxycodone, morphine, and opium — substances with Schedule II designations.
When Addiction is Present
When determining whether a patient has a substance use disorder (SUD), health care professionals rely on criteria outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), which is considered the principal authority for psychiatric diagnoses.
The criteria set forth by the DSM-5 can help you determine if you have an Adderall abuse problem. If you or someone you know exhibits two of the following symptoms over 12 months, addiction may be present:
- Taking more of the drug than intended and for a longer time than intended
- A persistent desire to stop taking drugs or repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit taking drugs
- A lot of time spent trying to get drugs, abuse them, and/or recover from their effects
- Intense cravings or urges for specific drugs
- Failing to go to work or school, or to meet obligations to friends and family because of drug abuse
- Ongoing drug abuse despite the physical, mental, emotional, or social problems associated with the abuse
- Giving up hobbies or activities to abuse drugs
- Ongoing abuse of drugs in inappropriate situations, such as using them in the morning before work, driving while intoxicated, or abusing drugs around children
- Experiencing physical or psychological problems due to substance abuse but continuing to abuse drugs anyway
- Physical tolerance, meaning the body needs more of the drug to experience the initial level of intoxication
- Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when trying to quit the drug
The Effects of Adderall
Adderall can bring users a multitude of complications in the form of common and serious side effects, especially when it is abused.
The common side effects of Adderall include:
- Dry mouth
- Changes in sex drive or ability
- Painful menstrual cramps
- Weight loss
Serious side effects include:
- Hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
- Feeling unusually suspicious of others
- Agitation, hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist), fever, sweating, confusion, fast heartbeat, shivering, severe muscle stiffness or twitching, loss of coordination, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Believing things that are not true
- Unexplained wounds appearing on fingers or toes
- Swelling of the eyes, face, tongue, or throat
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Mania (a frenzied or abnormally excited mood)
- Blistering or peeling skin
- Weakness or numbness of an arm or leg
- Changes in vision or blurred vision
- Paleness or blue color of fingers or toes
- Slow or difficult speech
- Motor or verbal tics
- Teeth grinding
- Pain, numbness, burning or tingling in the hands or feet
Adderall and Overdose
Prescription stimulant use can cause someone to suffer a heart attack or seizure, states the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Loss of consciousness and death were reported with Adderall as well.
When Adderall is abused with other substances like alcohol or other drugs, the risk of death greatly increases.
According to MedlinePlus, other overdose conditions include:
- Coma (loss of consciousness for a period of time)
- Muscle weakness or aching
- Tiredness or weakness
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- Hallucination (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
- Feelings of panic
- Aggressive behavior
- Blurred vision
- Uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
- Upset stomach
- Dark red or cola-colored urine
Adderall And Sudden Death
Adderall can cause sudden death in children and teenagers, especially those with serious heart problems or heart defects. Adults, particularly those with heart defects and serious heart problems, can suffer a heart attack, stroke or sudden death from Adderall.
How Professional Treatment Can Help You
Despite its use as a legitimate prescription medication, Adderall is indeed highly addictive. Because of the litany of dangers associated with this drug, it is advised that you enter into professional addiction treatment. Why? Because attempting to quit “cold turkey” can be a futile, if not deadly, endeavor.
The first step in professional treatment is medical detoxification.
In detox, the Adderall is flushed from the body, and any withdrawal symptoms or effects are medically treated.
A team of doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel will provide around-the-clock supervision to ensure a safe and comfortable process.
For people with prescription stimulant addictions, it is recommended that they receive behavioral therapy and contingency management treatment, according to NIDA.
They are most effective when administered to clients with Adderall addiction.
Both modalities are provided to clients when they enter into residential treatment or an outpatient program. These programs feature evidence-based addiction therapies, which treat the psychological and emotional aspects of addiction.