Adderall: Use by prescription only

Dangers of using ADHD drugs when they're not prescribed for you

Adderall is a stimulant prescription drug usually prescribed for individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is a disorder that has symptoms starting in childhood. The predominant symptoms are of inattentiveness and hyperactivity.

Stimulants like Adderall can be misused. Some people use it in an attempt to stay up to study. Studies of the effect of stimulants on people without ADHD do not show any significant benefit. Much of the benefit could be a placebo effect. Even in students with ADHD studies do not show that medications have a big impact on G.P.A. What does have an impact is regular class attendance and putting in sufficient time, especially spending time regularly reviewing previously learned material. It is best for the review to be started as soon as possible, not the night before the test.

When taken recreationally, Adderall is sometimes combined with alcohol. The combination of these two drugs has not been researched and could be potentially harmful or deadly. Adderall is a stimulant and alcohol is a depressant so they compete with each other in your body. Although it appears that individuals primarily drink alcohol when abusing Adderall in an effort to lessen the effects of the stimulant, it is far more likely that individuals will overdose on the alcohol or suffer from alcohol poisoning due to the effects of the stimulant negating the intoxicating effects of alcohol.

Of course, alcohol poisoning or an overdose of alcohol is a potentially fatal situation. Mixing Adderall and alcohol leads to a significant stress on the cardiovascular system and can lead to short-term issues with hypertension as well as long-term issues with cardiovascular disease and even an increased potential for stroke.

Long-term abuse of Adderall and alcohol can lead to serious cognitive issues that reflect damage to the central nervous system. These issues most often manifest as issues with attention/concentration, learning and memory, and complex problem solving. In addition, a number of emotional effects that may represent damage to the central nervous system may also occur, including longstanding issues with depression, apathy, loss of motivation, and even potential psychosis.

Background on ADHD

One subtype of ADHD is inattentive alone (also called ADD). If both inattentiveness and hyperactivity are present then the subtype is called combined ADHD. By young adulthood the symptoms of inattentiveness tend to predominate over hyperactivity.

Treatment of ADHD can consist of medications and non-medical therapies. One of the common types of medication used to treat ADHD is stimulant medications. Stimulant drugs are either a version of an amphetamine (such as Adderall) or of a medication called methylphenidate (Ritalin). Stimulant drugs seem to activate a function of the brain that helps to maintain focus on things that are not as interesting as something else. In patients with ADHD this function is reduced.

Possible side effects

Combining drugs is not recommended and could be very dangerous, especially when the drug has been prescribed for someone other than the user. Taking someone else's prescription drugs is considered a felony offense, subject to fines and jail time.

Some of the side effects for an individual on recreational Adderall could include:

  • Suppression of growth in height (for those still growing)
  • Excessive sweating
  • Decreased appetite
  • Excessive talking
  • Nervousness
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches
  • Skin rashes
  • Itching
  • Digestive problems
  • Toxic psychosis
  • Drug dependence (addiction)
  • Severe depression upon withdrawal

Those with heart problems should stay clear of recreational use completely because it could cause cardiovascular complications. The dosage for Adderall can typically be calculated by using the patient's weight. If you are taking someone else's prescription drug and the individual is much larger than you, overdose is possible. The consequences of excess dosage can be hallucinations or delusions, paranoia, or even something called "formication"—the sensation of bugs crawling under the skin.

Long-term effects

Stimulant medications have generally been found to be safe with long-term use. This is, however, in a population of patients who receive treatment from a provider (Physician, PA, and ARPN). The provider will monitor for any side effects and has adjusted the dosage to the proper level. The long-term effect of stimulants in those who misuse or abuse them is unknown.

Stimulant medications used for ADHD typically will show up on a urine drug screen. If you are taking a medication for ADHD, it is important to be aware of drug screening policies if you are concerned about test results.

University of Iowa students can schedule an appointment with a provider at Student Health and Wellness online through their MyChart account or by calling 319-335-8394.
Last reviewed: 
August 2017

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