Dr. Samoon Ahmad of the Integrative Center for Wellness was recently featured in a Business Insider interview highlighting the effects of Adderall abuse on the brain and body.

Adderall, the drug commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, has another less-than-ideal use — recreation. Adderall abuse is a growing problem, especially among young adults and college-age students. In a 2016 study, researchers found that non-medical use of Adderall rose 67%. And usage of Adderall by high school seniors is one of the highest levels among over-the-counter, prescription, and illicit drugs.

For those who abuse Adderall, the side effects can be devastating for not only the brain, but the whole body. For those who rely on it, receiving the perfect dose for their needs is a critical component in their abilities to function on a day to day basis. And in both cases, professional help can make life as a whole more manageable.

From Concentration Aid to Dependency

In patients with ADHD, the stimulant amphetamine found in Adderall aids in concentration. Taking the medication triggers the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is involved in a range of functions, from controlling the brain’s reward and pleasure centers to regulating movement and emotional responses.

However for someone who has not been diagnosed with ADHD or if the medication is taken in a higher dosage than prescribed, Adderall can be habit forming, much like cocaine. When the effects of the dopamine wear off, those who abuse the medication may experience a “burn-out” feeling that can include depression, irritability, and dysphoria, among other side effects. Improper use of Adderall can also cause cardiovascular conditions, such as increased blood pressure or cardiac arrhythmias, and may also lead to stomach irritation and nausea.

The connection between a physical effect like nausea and Adderall abuse may not seem intuitive at first, but changes in brain chemistry or abuse of a substance like Adderall can cause a person to feel out of balance in other aspects of their lives. By understanding a person’s unique medical needs, as well as other health factors, a specialist can get a better picture of how Adderall is affecting the person individually.

There’s No One-Size Fits All Treatment

For true ADHD patients, there’s no one-size fits all solution for how the medication can affect a person psychologically and physically, but a proper evaluation with a specialist can help determine the most suitable treatment for the symptoms. Discussing the pros and cons of your medicine with your doctor or a specialist is important to determine if the benefits outweigh the long-term risks, as medicines like these have the potential for abuse and dependence.

But what about those patients — particularly children — who have been prescribed Adderall? Just like any medication, regular close monitoring is essential and necessary. For children especially, evaluation by a child specialist can help to discern if behavior can be managed more conservatively or requires medical intervention.

If prescribed and used correctly, Adderall can be a useful medication to mitigate symptoms of ADHD or narcolepsy. Recreational use, however, can affect a person’s whole well-being long after the drug’s “high” wears off.
At the Integrative Center for Wellness, we advocate for a holistic approach to the whole individual by addressing your unique personal health story. Schedule an appointment to evaluate your physical and mental well-being as it relates to your experiences with ADHD. You can learn more about the symptoms and neurobiology of ADHD here.