Adderall, commonly referred to as “Addy,” has become as ubiquitous as a cup of Starbucks or a can of Monster among U.S. students who are abusing the drug as a tool to remain competitive. Nothing like a bump of speed to get those brain cells humming, right?
Adderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse are stimulants prescribed to those with ADHD to assist with focus, attention and memory. These drugs are schedule II bedfellows with cocaine, morphine and meth, and most definitely not innocuous substances. They are being liberally abused by healthy people for the stimulating properties that trigger the release of adrenaline, increased heart rate and blood flow to the muscles. The resulting boost in energy and increased attention and concentration has led about 20 percent of healthy, college-aged students to abuse the drug, thus dubbing it the Study Drug. Using these stimulants to enhance academic performance is akin to an athlete using steroids.
Erroneously considered a safe drug, Adderall can cause not only short-term side effects, but the long range fallout can be life altering. Some 23,000 young adults, a four-fold increase since 2005, were taken to emergency rooms in 2011 due to the abuse of this class of drug. The short-term effects include:
- Disrupted heart rhythm
- Elevated blood pressure
- Sleep difficulties
- Weight loss
- Dry mouth
The long term effects of Adderall use are quite serious, including physical and psychological dependence. Because it is an amphetamine, the symptoms and effects of addiction are on par with those of methamphetamine, such as hostility, paranoia, depression, anxiety, cardiovascular problems and stroke.
In addition to the physical side effects, behaviors can be negatively affected by stimulant use, too. A study conducted at McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) led by researcher Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, is one of the first to shed light on how long-term amphetamine use in adolescence affects brain chemistry and risk-taking behavior. Using adolescent rats, the test subjects were given one of three dosing regimens of amphetamine during adolescence. When they reached adulthood, drugs were withdrawn and their neurophysiological activity and risk-taking behavior were studied. According to Dr. Gobbi:
“We focused on the key neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. We found abnormalities in brain activity associated with all three of these neurochemicals, called ‘monoamines.’ Imbalances of monoamines are associated with emotional disturbances and mental diseases such as depression or addiction.”
Unfortunately, no blood test or brain scan is available for the diagnosis of ADHD, so a list of behavioral criteria is all physicians use to arrive at a diagnosis. Some teens will fake their symptoms in order to garner a prescription for Adderall, and other teens may be experiencing a lack of motivation or a drop in grades. Although those symptoms may be included in the DSM criteria for ADHD, many doctors do not make the distinction between a normal, healthy kid who is temporarily struggling in school and a person with actual ADHD, and liberally prescribe these medications. In many cases, doctors routinely upgrade a diagnosis, coding the symptoms to fit ADHD to justify the treatment and insurance reimbursement.
Adderall comes in two types, the instant release or the extended release formulas. The most common method of taking Adderall is to swallow the tablet or capsule. However, other methods are parachuting, which involves crushing the pills into a powder and then eating them; snorting, again by crushing the pill and sniffing through the nose; and plugging, which is a rectal delivery.
Social media, especially Twitter, has a very active “Addy” user base, where upwards of 10,000 tweets related to Adderall or Addy can amass in a matter of days. On Twitter, students openly shop for sources of the drug, boast about their Adderall high and how much homework they blew through, or post photos where their coffee cup and laptop accompany a displayed Adderall pill. There seems to be no sense of fear or shame for using the drugs illegally.
Despite the dangerous addictive properties of these drugs, millions of U.S. students still use Adderall, Ritalin or Vyvanse in order to enhance their studying abilities. This addiction is becoming a huge problem, as millions of young people are making stimulant use part of their everyday lives.
Sovereign Health Group is a residential treatment program for substance and mental health disorders, with facilities across the nation. For more information about Adderall abuse, please call 866-524-5504.
Written by Eileen Spatz, Sovereign Health Group writer