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How Does Adderall Addiction Occur?

In 2010, over 18 million prescriptions for Adderall were written. Adderall is an amphetamine, a medication in the stimulant family that is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as well as narcolepsy and weight loss. Though amphetamine in certain forms is an illicit drug, Adderall, as well as other ADHD medications, are promoted as safe medications to treat certain conditions. Adderall does come with serious risks, however, especially when the drug is used recreationally.

Adderall was developed in 1887, according to the Huffington Post, and in 1927, it was first used medically. In World War II, Adderall went by the names benzedrine and dexedrine, and it was used by United States military personnel to help them remain alert and to fight fatigue. Even recently, this medication has been used by the military. In 2010 alone, $39 million was spent on more than 32,000 prescriptions courtesy of the United States Department of Defense.

Adderall works by releasing both dopamine and norepinephrine, both of which are chemicals that cause a drastic increase in alertness.

Most often, Adderall is taken in tablet form. Rarely, however, individuals may inject or snort it in an attempt to achieve a quicker high. Injection can cause effects to take hold almost immediately, while snorting Adderall can produce effects in 3-5 minutes.

Effects on the Body

Adderall use, whether medically or recreationally, carries a high risk of both short- and long-term side effects, some of which are serious. Short-term side effects can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Dry mouth
  • Euphoria
  • Hallucinations
  • Headache
  • Increased alertness
  • Increased energy
  • Increased libido
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heart rate

Adderall’s long-term effects can be a direct result of some of the short-term effects. These long-term can include stress, malnutrition, paranoia, and psychosis.

For those who choose to inject Adderall, there is a greater risk that they will contract an infectious blood-borne disease, such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis, if they share needles and supplies.

Overdosing on Adderall is very dangerous, and emergency services should be contacted immediately. Signs that an Adderall overdose has occurred include:

  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Hyperventilating
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Panic attacks
  • Tremors

How Does Addiction Take Hold?

Adderall is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse as well as physical or psychological dependence. The United States Drug Enforcement Agency states that Adderall is a dangerous drug, even though it has a medical use.

How exactly does addiction occur? Adderall works off the same receptors in the brain that cocaine, another stimulant, does. These receptors are located in the reward center of the brain, and addiction is a result of repeated stimulation of these receptors. The neurotransmitter dopamine, which is related to feelings of pleasure, attention, and movement, is rapidly increased, which is what causes the euphoric effect that causes Adderall to be addictive.

Addiction may occur due to other factors as well, such as:

  • Taking a higher dose of Adderall than prescribed
  • Taking Adderall more often than prescribed
  • Snorting or injecting Adderall, neither of which are appropriate methods of use
  • Taking Adderall for reasons other than ADHD
  • Taking Adderall that was prescribed to another individual

Since Adderall provides such a large increase in the ability to concentrate and has such a positive effect on energy, it is widely abused by college students. It can be used to help individuals stay awake for late-night studying sessions, and some may believe Adderall to be helpful in boosting academic performance, thus helping them achieve higher grades. Despite this widespread belief, the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that there is not much evidence this actually occurs. Studies show that students who abuse Adderall generally have lower grade point averages than those who do not abuse the medication.

As with most drugs, Adderall can cause individuals to develop a physical dependence as well as a tolerance to it, which is a large factor in individuals becoming addicted to the medication. Physical dependence occurs when the body becomes accustomed to having the medication in its system. A tolerance means that individuals will need to take a higher dose of Adderall to achieve the effect they desire.

Individuals are said to have developed an addiction when they begin to exhibit certain signs, such as:

  • Inability to stop using Adderall, even if they desire to stop or if they have experienced negative or dangerous effects from its use
  • A failure to manage responsibilities at home, work, and school
  • Devoting a large amount of time to obtaining, using, and recovering from Adderall
  • A strain on interpersonal relationships related to Adderall use
  • A lack of interest in work or school-related activities
  • The development of withdrawal symptoms

Some individuals may use other substances, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines, to counter some of the unpleasant side effects of Adderall. This can cause an addiction to the other substance in addition to an Adderall addiction, as well as an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Getting Help

When stopping Adderall, individuals can experience uncomfortable withdrawal effects, which may vary depending on Adderall use habits, such as the amount taken, how frequently it is taken, and how long they have been using the drug. Symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Cravings for Adderall
  • Inability to focus
  • Irritability
  • Anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure or excitement without being under the influence of Adderall)

Due to potential withdrawal symptoms, medical detox is often recommended. While medical detox is not a standalone treatment option, it is a good way to start the recovery process in a safe and supportive environment. Trained medical professionals ensure clients’ safety and comfort, providing continual supervision and care.

The Wiley Online Library states that there are currently no medications approved to treat Adderall addiction, but there are behavioral therapies that can help with recovery. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most widely used types of behavioral therapy. It has been used with individuals recovering from cocaine addiction and shown to be effective. CBT pairs a client with a therapist to work on identifying and changing learned, drug-related behaviors. Individuals will learn how to recognize situations that put them at risk for using Adderall. They will also learn how to avoid those situations, when appropriate, and how to cope with cravings.

While CBT is an effective treatment method, there are a bevy of addiction treatment therapies to choose from, and certain therapies work better for some than others. As part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program, clinicians will devise the most appropriate plan for the individual in need. With proper care, individuals can stop abusing Adderall for good and sustain long-term recovery.

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