Adderall is readily available in schools and on college campuses across the country. It is widely prescribed and, when taken as prescribed, is considered both safe and useful for treating ADHD. However, the prevalence of the drug, coupled with its appeal to those without ADHD as a “study drug” can often lead to addiction. It is important to understand the physical impact of Adderall use as well as the warning signs of addiction. It is also important to understand how difficult it can be for an Adderall user to seek treatment and what form that treatment will take once they do decide to ask for help. Adderall addiction is more prevalent in teens and young adults than in older adults, so parents and family members often play a larger role in the recovery process.
Adderall is the brand name for the medication that is a blend of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. It is a common drug for the treatment of ADHD and, as such, is often readily available to kids and young adults. Adderall serves as a stimulant to the central nervous system It triggers the brain to release dopamine (just like cocaine does) and norepinephrine. For people suffering from ADHD, the release of these chemicals in the brain increases focus and concentration. In the proper dosage, Adderall can provide much needed calm and focus for people with ADHD.
But for individuals who don’t suffer from ADHD, Adderall stimulates the central nervous system and causes the user to experience a “high.” Adderall is classified by the DEA as a Class II Controlled Substance, meaning it is deemed to have a high potential for abuse and physical dependence. Adderall has the same drug classification as cocaine in terms of its potential for abuse and dependency. Adderall is often abused by college students who use it to stay up longer to study. One of the uses of Adderall is as a treatment for narcolepsy, so the counter-effect of helping someone stay awake can be easily abused.
Of course, once the high wears off, the user is transported back to their “normal” mental state. In many cases, users of Adderall are attempting to escape reality or take a shortcut to success. But inevitably, the effects of the Adderall wear off, forcing the user back into their reality, often with a heightened sense of depression. That rapid change in mental state from euphoria to reality is jarring and leaves the user craving that euphoric feeling. Even if the user’s current reality isn’t unpleasant, it can rarely compete with the artificially positive, almost manic, happiness that accompanies the high. The ability to escape reality to a world without pain, anxiety or fear is a powerful attraction. It is easy to see why users choose to spend more and more time in the high state, avoiding their reality whenever possible.
Because many abusers of Adderall are kids or young adults, they often don’t give much thought to the long-term effects of Adderall on their body and their brain. However, Adderall addiction can have a severe mental and physical impact on the user. Since Adderall use increases the heart rate, it has been associated with heart failure. If Adderall is snorted, it causes damage to the lining of the nose, leading to nosebleeds, loss of smell and, in some cases, a destruction of the nasal cartilage. Injecting Adderall puts the user at risk for HIV or hepatitis from shared or unsterile needles.
Adderall also has a profound impact on the mind of the user. For people who do not suffer from ADHD, the chemicals in Adderall produce increased energy and focus on a manic level. The high can cause rapid thoughts and talkativeness, a feeling of fearlessness or invincibility, and the ability to go long periods without sleep. Prolonged Adderall use can also cause paranoia, insomnia, and even hallucinations.
As with all drugs, once Adderall wears off, the individual “crashes,” experiencing severe fatigue and depression. Over time, the human brain is remarkably adaptable. The more Adderall a user ingests, the more the brain adapts to the increased dopamine and norepinephrine. This adaptation requires the user to increase their Adderall intake over time to maintain their high, which can lead to addiction.
Addicted youth tend to try to keep their addiction a secret. They may recognize that they are powerless to stop using Adderall on their own, but they fear getting in trouble at home or at school and are hesitant to speak up. For those around the user, there are signs to look for that should clue them in that something isn’t right with the user. An individual who is abusing Adderall might suddenly become more secretive and less social or outgoing. They may also show bursts of manic energy or activity, going all night without sleep.
Conversely, they may also show signs of depression or anxiety during the times they are not using Adderall. Physical symptoms to look for include dilated pupils, a loss of appetite, and a fast or irregular heartbeat. If the individual addicted to Adderall is under the age of 18, their parents or other responsible adults should step in and offer to get them help for their addiction.
With many addictions, the individual can make the decision to seek treatment on their own. In the case of addicted teenagers or young adults, it is often family members that make the decision to get treatment for the Adderall addict in their life. The biggest barrier to seeking treatment is the belief that the addiction cannot be cured. The word “cured” is often a misnomer, because people recovering from addiction often remain in the recovery phase for the rest of their lives. It is more accurate to say that addiction can be managed very successfully, allowing the individual to lead a stable, healthy and productive life filled with love and friendships.
The decision to seek treatment can be even more difficult if the user has tried treatment in the past and relapsed. At that point it is easy to feel like treatment doesn’t work for you. But a relapse does not mean that recovery has failed. A relapse means that the treatment plan isn’t yet right for you. If a person with cancer doesn’t get optimal results from one cancer treatment, they don’t give up. They try another cancer treatment, and maybe even another, until they find the treatment that works for them. The human body is a complex machine and each brain has unique properties. The treatment for addiction must be highly specialized to the individual and it is not uncommon for the treatment team to try several different options before finding the right treatment for the individual.
If individual has a severe addiction it might be up to the individual’s friends and family to help them see that they need help to manage their addiction. While treatment is proven to be more effective when an individual enters voluntarily, in the case of a severe addiction, the most important thing is to get them treatment, regardless of how they get there. However, if it is possible to convince the individual to enter voluntarily, the treatment will typically be more effective in the long term.
Some of the hesitance toward treatment could be caused by the fear of the withdrawal process. While it is true that the withdrawal process can be unpleasant, it will look different for each person that goes through it. Just like there is no “one size fits all” treatment process, there is also no one withdrawal journey. Each individual will experience withdrawal differently. How withdrawal symptoms manifest will depend on a variety of factors, such as the severity of the drug use before treatment, the overall mental state of the individual, and the person’s tolerance for pain and discomfort. What one person would describe as “excruciating,” another may describe as “uncomfortable.” It is also important to remember that, although it can be intense and uncomfortable, withdrawal is temporary.
Withdrawal is a common term for the process of ridding the body of external chemical substances. When a person is addicted to an external chemical (often referred to as chemically dependent), the body adapts to function with the chemical and feels the absence of the chemical when it is withheld. A common example is that of caffeine. The three cup a day coffee drinker will feel sluggish and suffer from headaches if they suddenly give up their daily coffee. The body has adapted to function with a daily influx of caffeine. The absence of it causes the brain to send signals to the body to restore what it considers to be the balance. In the case of Adderall use, withdrawal symptoms can include fatigue, panic attacks, insomnia and depression. dizziness, and even seizures. Just like with cocaine, the brain of the Adderall user has become adapted to the regular influx of dopamine. Once that regular dopamine “fix” is removed, the brain will begin to send the body signals in an attempt to restore that balance. The detoxification process is the process of teaching the body to recognize a new, healthier balance, without dependence on external chemicals.
While in the withdrawal process, the individual may also feel a variety of physical and emotional symptoms. The first and most difficult to manage is the craving for Adderall. These cravings can take two forms. First; the body will crave Adderall as a way to minimize the other physical symptoms of withdrawal. Second, the brain misses the “high” that the dopamine brought with it and wishes to re-enter that state. In addition, since Adderall impacts the user’s heart rate, those going through withdrawal may experience an irregular heart rate as the heart works without the artificial influence of amphetamines. Withdrawal from Adderall can also cause changes in your mood. Due to the decrease in dopamine in the brain, depression is a common withdrawal symptom. This depression can become serious, even leading to suicidal thoughts.
How long the withdrawal period lasts can depend on a variety of factors, including the severity of the addiction, and the physical health and mental state of the individual. Typically, the detoxification process lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Even after the body has completed the process of ridding the body and brain of any dependence on Adderall, the individual will likely need to undergo additional treatment to address the reasons for their addiction to Adderall as well as to learn coping mechanisms to learn to handle daily life without Adderall. The detoxification process, therefore, is the first step in a long treatment process.
Individuals with a mild dependence on Adderall might be able to wean themselves off the drug without residential treatment. However, even people who detox at home should do so under the care and supervision of a physician. Detoxification can cause physical and emotional trauma. At a minimum the individual should seek support from a trusted friend or family member who can monitor the process and be on the lookout for warning signals that might require medical attention. For individuals with a more severe Adderall addiction, or those who don’t have a support system at home to assist them, the detoxification process should be monitored by both medical and mental health professionals in a controlled treatment setting. This can be in a hospital or a residential treatment center.
A residential treatment center offers many benefits to the individual who is facing the detox process. First, and most importantly, the center will be staffed with medical professionals that are specially trained to monitor and manage the withdrawal process. In some cases, there are medications the medical staff can provide to help minimize the more negative symptoms of Adderall withdrawal. There are no medications that treat Adderall addiction, but doctors can use medication to minimize some of the withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety or depression.
In addition to medical support, a residential treatment center can also offer easy access to psychological support as the brain begins to function without the aid of Adderall. The therapists at a residential treatment center can talk the individual through the emotions of withdrawal and detox and help them to process these feelings. Drug counselors are also typically on hand at a residential treatment center to talk with the individual about the detoxification journey. In many cases, drug counselors are recovered drug addicts who can draw upon their past addiction recovery and provide first-hand experience for the newly recovering.
Once the detoxification process is complete, or at least well underway, the individual should start working with counselors and therapists to figure out a plan for moving forward in life without the aid of Adderall. While abusing Adderall, the brain was wired to receive a high dose of dopamine on a regular basis. The detox process rids the brain of its reliance on Adderall. Then the counselors and therapists step in to train the individual to function in daily life without chemical assistance. Mental health counseling is the cornerstone of any residential treatment program and can help those who used Adderall as a way to cope with stress and anxiety. Counseling can also help the recovering addict process and move forward through the guilt that they feel about their Adderall use. Counseling can help to free the individual from that guilt and also help them to rebuild their relationships.
Residential treatment facilities provide a variety of different therapies to help individuals through the recovery process. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a therapy that challenges the thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that led to drug addiction. CBT is considered a problem-focused therapy in that it addresses current issues and helps to establish strategies to deal with those issues. A similar approach, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) uses CBT techniques combined with mindfulness. In DBT, the individual learns about their tolerance for stress and the triggers that can cause an emotional reaction. They learn coping skills that can be used to avoid a negative spiral that could lead to relapse.
One of the most important benefits of residential treatment is the ability to interact with other people who are recovering from drug addiction. One of the therapies that residential treatment provides is group therapy. Group therapy allows individuals to hear other addiction journeys and to understand that they are not alone. Group therapy also gives individuals the opportunity to support others who are recovering. Whether it be an opinion on how to cope with a potential trigger, or just a kind word of encouragement, the power of peer support cannot be overstated. Another type of group therapy comes in the form of 12-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous. Even inside residential therapy, the 12-step mindset and road map can be extremely beneficial to someone struggling with recovery. It can provide some much-needed structure to a life that has been without structure during addiction.
Often residential treatment facilities provide some sort of alternative therapies as well. These can take many different forms and are often viewed by the residents of the facility as extra-curricular activities. While they can be fun activities, they also provide a therapeutic benefit. Art therapy, for example, can assist the individual in expressing emotions through art that they have been unable to express with words. Art is seen as a “safe” form of expression. An art therapist can then work with the individual to unpack the elements of their art and begin to work through the emotions that are reflected in the piece. Another useful alternative therapy is equine therapy. Horses are beneficial in a therapy setting because they are seen as non-judgmental and are good at mirroring the emotions and attitudes of the people who care for them. If the individual is stressed or scared, the horse will reflect that stress or fear. Equine therapy encourages the individual to be in a calm, relaxed state while caring for the horse. The ability to choose to be calm is a powerful tool in the recovery toolbox.
At some point, the recovering individual needs to re-enter their daily life. The detoxification process and residential treatment should go a long way toward preparing the individual for this transition. At some point in the recovery process, the care team in residential facility will begin to prepare the individual to leave residential treatment. They will review triggers and coping mechanisms, discuss options for handling work, family and social obligations. They will either schedule regular visits back to the facility for outpatient treatment or pair the individual with a counselor in their area for regular visits.
Individuals who abuse Adderall often do so in response to external pressures to succeed, get good grades, or achieve professionally. For people recovering from Adderall addiction, it is important that they learn to minimize these pressures moving forward. If they experience the same level of pressure that led to their addiction, there is a potential for relapse. Remember, relapse does not mean failure. If an individual relapses and re-enters treatment, the chances are high that they will end up in long term recovery. Some warning signs of Adderall relapse include not keeping regular meetings with counselors, spending time with friends who are using drugs, isolating themselves, and romanticizing past drug use.
Adderall addiction is prevalent among high school and college students. Individuals with valid ADHD prescriptions sell the pills to classmates, which makes it seem more legitimate. Cocaine deals in a back alley are obviously wrong but buying a $5 pill in the locker room after gym class can easily be justified by the individual. However, Adderall is an amphetamine and is classed by the government in the same classification as cocaine. Addiction to Adderall carries the same dangers as drugs that are widely recognized as dangerous. If you or someone you love is suffering from Adderall addiction, contact a drug treatment facility. They will have trained professionals to talk you through the admissions process and make sure all of your questions are answered. As the saying goes, the first step is admitting you need help. Once you take that first step, there will be a team on your side to help you be successful in your new future.