Last Updated on August 25, 2022 by Dr. Ronaye Calvert-Conley
When used correctly, Adderall has an incredible potential to change a person’s life. Someone who previously struggled with ADHD symptoms may find it far easier to handle daily tasks and function independently when properly using this popular medication.
But for those without ADHD, Adderall has other attractions: namely, a sharp increase in focus. That may be why Adderall abuse is on the rise among young adults, especially those aged 18 to 25.
Prolonged Adderall abuse can have dangerous health effects. If you’re worried that a person you know is misusng Adderall or similar stimulants, it’s vital that you help them get treatment.
Here Are 4 Signs of Adderall Abuse
Adderall and other ADHD stimulant medications are typically abused in an effort to bolster productivity, especially among college students.
Because of this, the first changes people may notice will be lifestyle changes. Out of nowhere, a teen or young adult student may have dramatically improved performance at work or school.
At least, at first.
When someone sees these encouraging results, it creates a positive reinforcement.
Soon, they begin taking it more frequently to boost themselves through a school or work project. That can quickly lead to taking Adderall on a daily basis to get through school classes, sports, or a job.
As this misuse continues over a prolonged period of time, it can have a very serious effect on brain functioning.
For those who have been diagnosed with ADHD, the frontal lobe, which is responsible for executive functioning (attention, memory, organization, focus, prioritization, impulse control) is less active than in a normally functioning brain.
ADHD medications like Adderall are designed to activate the frontal lobe to bring the person closer to typical functioning levels.
So for someone with ADHD, these stimulants actually have a calming effect, which in turn makes it easier for them to manage impulses and regulate their attention and focus on daily tasks.
For a person without ADHD, Adderall basically acts like a high dose of extremely powerful, targeted caffeine. This makes it easier for them to concentrate, but this form of concentration is working ten times faster than it should.
When someone abuses Adderall, this can create a pattern of overworking and over concentrating followed by extreme burnout. And unlike someone with ADHD who takes the medicine to focus on work or school, other priorities can quickly slip by the wayside as addiction sets in. The sole focus becomes getting more Adderall so they can function normally, at least to them, because they don’t realize their brain stops working correctly without the medication.
Alongside lifestyle changes, Adderall abuse can create physical changes as well. Many of these physical changes are related to the normal physical side effects of Adderall use, such as:
- Weight loss (due to appetite suppression, a common side effect)
- Rapid heart rate (imagine your heart jackrabbiting when you drink too much coffee, only worse)
- High blood pressure
- Dry mouth
- Involuntary muscle twitches
- Shortness of breath
- Peeling skin
The difference between an addict and a regular Adderall user is that an addict is using an Adderall dosage that may be far too high for their weight or too frequent for their body to safely process the stimulant.
In more extreme cases of abuse, these physical changes may be exacerbated.
Involuntary muscle twitches, for example, may increase until they develop into seizures.
Nausea and reduced appetite often become more problematic as they progress to more severe digestive issues such as stomach upset, malnutrition, and diarrhea.
So far, we’ve talked about the extreme effects of Adderall abuse. But sometimes, the effects of abuse are more subtle, which is especially true of mood changes, at least at first.
Initially, after an improved performance at school or work, a person may have an increased positive self-image. As abuse progresses, though, this can take one of two routes.
The first route if positive results continue, is a superiority complex, especially during times when they are using the drug. This may result in exhibiting signs of excessive or unrealistic feelings of cleverness or invincibility, which should be especially concerning if they have never shown such symptoms before. If these outward signs continue, they can evolve into mania.
The other route is due to a known fact about Adderall and ADHD drugs: these stimulants often aggravate mood disorders, especially depression and anxiety.
The mood disorders usually get worse when the Adderall wears off and they can no longer work as effectively as they did when they were high on the medication.
If left untreated, Adderall-related mood disorders can spiral out of control until they become even more serious and display as symptomatic signs of paranoia or extreme anxiety (such as panic attacks). Even worse, they can lead to suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
If a person mentions or displays any signs of suicide, don’t delay by hoping it will go away. Get help immediately. Resistance or anger from a person you care about is far better than risking a chance on the alternative.
Finally, significant behavioral changes in the person you’re concerned about will become readily apparent, especially as Adderall abuse progresses.
For example, aggressive behaviors have been linked with Adderall use when it is normally prescribed and can become far worse in cases of abuse.
Another common change is impulsive or reckless behavior patterns. They may have bursts of seemingly endless energy, followed by total exhaustion later, that can mimic the same signs or symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Excessive talkativeness is a frequent signal shown by people misusing Adderall. As impulse control is hampered, there’s a weaker brain-to-mouth filter, and thoughts may race rapidly between seemingly unrelated topics, also like those with bipolar disorder.
If You See the Signs of Adderall Abuse
If you notice the signs of Adderall abuse in a friend or family member and suspect they might be having problems, it’s of the utmost importance to speak with them about your concerns.
The long-term impact on their mental and physical health could have negative consequences, and seeking help early is critical before things spiral too far out of control.
Getting help may be a difficult journey, but that doesn’t mean anyone should have to take it alone. There are plenty of treatment options available that offer success for getting clean.
Always approach a person you suspect is having problems with love and kindness, instead of being confrontational. Let them know your concerns, but make it clear you want to help them in any way you can.
Point out some of the things you have noticed and hopefully they will see it too and understand they need help. Most of the time, things begin as a seemingly harmless way of getting through a short-term project and Adderall helped give them a boost. Once it continues for a long period of time, it often becomes difficult to stop and may require outside help.