Adderall Abuse: How to Recognize the Symptoms

Adderall is a brand name for a stimulant medication that combines amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. The medication is approved for the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder. It may also be used to treat obesity and to counteract the effects of neurological conditions such as stroke or a head injury that produces lethargy.

Adderall is a controlled substance in the Schedule II classification by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Schedule II controlled substances are at the highest level of control for medications that can be prescribed by physicians. This means that these substances have a high potential to be abused and produce physical dependence.

Adderall is available in an immediate-release formula and an extended-release formula (Adderall IR and Adderall XR, respectively). Extended-release versions of the drugs will typically be used to avoid multiple doses throughout the day.

The effects of the immediate-release version will most often last four to six hours. The extended-release version will most often be effective for 12 hours.

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Adderall Misuse

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) releases figures about the use and misuse of medications and other substances. Adderall use and misuse are not specifically identified in the 2017 results, but the estimated rates of use and misuse of amphetamine products (which would include Adderall) are reported.

  • In 2016, it was estimated that about 12 million individuals used an amphetamine product. Of these individuals, about 5.1 million reported at least one misuse of the product.
  • In 2017, it was estimated that 12.7 million individuals used an amphetamine product. About 5.3 million misused an amphetamine product at least once.

The estimates listed above do not simply apply to Adderall, but all amphetamine products. It can be seen that a significant proportion of individuals who admit to using some type of amphetamine product also report misusing amphetamines at least one time.

Misuse of the medication is not the same thing as addiction. Misuse refers to using the medication in a manner that is not appropriate given its intended use.

Amphetamine misuse most often occurs in the context of individuals using the substance to promote wakefulness or to increase their ability to focus.

The development of a substance use disorder represents a clinical syndrome of chronic misuse. However, misuse rates associated with amphetamine products like Adderall portray the significant potential for abuse that these drugs carry. The development of any substance use disorder typically begins with occasional misuse of the product.

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Adderall Abuse

Adderall Abuse and Young People

Research studies indicate that Adderall abuse is more likely to occur in college students (often as cognitive enhancers) or young professionals in high-pressure business positions (for the stimulant effects) than in people of similar ages who are not in college or a high-pressure profession.

The research suggests that nearly 25 percent of college students have misused a stimulant like Adderall that is designed to treat ADHD at least one time. About 6.5 percent of college students would qualify as having a stimulant use disorder.

Even though many college students begin abusing Adderall as a study aid, the findings indicate that abusers of Adderall typically have lower grade-point averages than those who don’t abuse the drug. They also have lower levels of achievement in other areas.

Female students are more likely to abuse Adderall to help them lose weight. They are less likely than male students to abuse the drug to promote wakefulness or to increase their ability to focus and study. Both males and females who abuse Adderall are often members of a college sorority or fraternity.

These studies also indicate that the majority of individuals who abuse Adderall have not been prescribed the drug. Instead, they get the drug from family members or fellow students or obtain it illicitly.

An individual who is prescribed Adderall to treat ADHD or some other condition is actually less likely to abuse the drug, according to SAMHSA.

Any person who engages in what is commonly referred to as doctor shopping (trying to get numerous prescriptions for Adderall from different physicians) should be suspected of abusing the drug.

Stats on Those Who Abuse Adderall

Research indicates that individuals who abuse Adderall are:

  • Nearly eight times more likely to have used or abused cocaine than their peers who have not abused Adderall
  • Nearly eight times more likely to engage in the nonmedical use of tranquilizers
  • Nearly five times more likely to engage in the nonmedical use of pain relievers such as opiates
  • Significantly more likely to engage in binge drinking or heavy drinking

Other Potential Signs of Abuse

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) lists formal criteria to diagnose a stimulant use disorder, which is a substance use disorder that is associated with the abuse of stimulant drugs like Adderall. Because all stimulants function in a very similar manner, the diagnostic criteria are generalized to cover the abuse of all stimulants.

The following are some of the diagnostic signs that an individual is abusing Adderall:

  • Unable to control their use of Adderall in numerous contexts, such as:

    • Repeated attempts to stop using the drug but not being able to do so
    • Spending an inordinate amount of time using Adderall, trying to get it, or recovering from using it
    • Continuing to use the drug even though the person knows it is causing health problems or issues in important life areas
  • Frequent urges or cravings to use the drug
  • Often using Adderall in dangerous situations
  • Developing tolerance for the drug\
  • Withdrawal symptoms after stopping Adderall

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There are very few diagnostic signs and symptoms that would specifically point to an individual abusing Adderall and not another stimulant.

Specific signs that an individual is abusing Adderall might include the following:

  • A person without a prescription for Adderall who frequently uses the drug
  • Grinding up Adderall pills and snorting them or mixing them with water and injecting the substance
  • Frequently taking Adderall in conjunction with other drugs of abuse
  • Empty prescription containers for Adderall lying around
  • Trying to purchase, borrow, or steal Adderall from others

Some indirect signs of Adderall abuse would include the person:

  • Becoming defensive or aggressive when the subject of Adderall abuse is raised.
  • Reducing their participation in social events or frequently failing to fulfill their day-to-day responsibilities
  • Making assertions that they can’t handle everyday life situations such as schoolwork, employment, or other activities
  • Talking about Adderall in ways that are inconsistent with using the drug for medical reasons, such as crediting Adderall for weight loss, studying longer, or improving their performance in other activities
  • Beginning to ignore self-care issues
  • Suggesting that someone else tries Adderall to enhance their performance or increase their success at some activity

Physical signs that may indicate the abuse of Adderall or other amphetamine products include:

  • Periodic increases in physical activity that are followed by periods of lethargy
  • Pressured speech or extreme talkativeness
  • Frequent lengthy periods where the individual does not sleep
  • Mood swings that range from elation to depression
  • Appearing overheated and perspiring excessively
  • Physical signs, such as increased breathing rates, heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
  • Frequent runny nose or nosebleeds as a result of snorting the drug or track marks as a result of injecting it
  • Periodic displays of aggression, irritability, or even paranoia and psychosis (hallucinations and/or delusions)

The formal diagnosis of a stimulant use disorder can only be made by a mental health professional. If someone is suspected of abusing Adderall, they should be evaluated by a professional to determine if they have developed a substance use disorder.

Anyone diagnosed with a stimulant use disorder as a consequence of abusing Adderall should seek professional treatment.

Because Adderall can produce physical dependence, abruptly stopping the use of the drug without medical supervision can be potentially dangerous. Consult with a physician before stopping use.

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