Prescription stimulants such as Adderall are often prescribed to children and adults diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The medication usually has an immediate and apparent positive impact, allowing individuals to focus better and be more efficient. However, what most of these people fail to stop and think about is the long-term plan. There’s no cure for ADHD, but does that mean someone should stay on Adderall forever? After months or years of taking prescription Adderall, it can very quickly feel like a regular part of your daily routine. Still, it’s essential to consider the consequences for your overall health. Most notable, individuals should ask themselves what the effects of Adderall on the brain can be.
What Is Adderall?
Adderall is the brand name for a prescription drug that combines amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. It’s mostly used to treat conditions such as ADHD and narcolepsy. Other popular brand names for this drug are Mydayis and Ritalin.
All versions of this prescription drug help improve focus and reduce impulsivity. This is because amphetamine and dextroamphetamine are central nervous system (CNS) stimulants that help increase dopamine and norepinephrine production in the brain. Both dopamine and norepinephrine have a calming effect, allowing a person to focus.
Is Adderall Meant for Long-Term Use?
In 2016, the New York Times Magazine published a feature piece called “Generation Adderall.” In this article, author Casey Schwartz looks at how she started taking Adderall to get her through the difficulties of university and her early career years. But after many years of taking medications, she began to question what it could mean to her health.
Schwartz isn’t a unique case — millions of people are currently taking Adderall without thinking of the side effects of the medication long term. Most drugs are prescribed with the intent of weaning off of them in the future. But if a person becomes reliant on Adderall for their everyday functioning, there’s no natural endpoint for them to stop taking it.
How Many People Are Using Adderall?
In 2008, one study stated that 2.5 million people were prescribed Adderall annually. A few years later, in 2012, that number rose to 16 million prescriptions just for individuals aged 20-39. Of course, these numbers aren’t counting the millions of children with Adderall prescriptions or the college kids who love to use this medication illegally. Clearly, Adderall usage has become common and prevalent across the nation.
The Effects of Adderall on the Brain and the Body
Many medical professionals stand behind the statement that Adderall is okay long term if the person uses it in appropriate amounts. In reality, since Adderall is a moderately new drug, there isn’t much information available yet on the long-term affects of Adderall. Instead, the people who are currently taking the medication are almost acting like a sample study.
However, it’s clear that Adderall is damaging if used in high quantities. Simultaneously, it’s a highly addictive drug, making the risk of abuse relatively high.
We can break down the health effects of long-term Adderall use into three categories:
How bad is Adderall for your body? Abusing Adderall in high quantities or over a long period can have serious consequences for your health. Most notably are the effects of Adderall on the brain. This medication increases the levels of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is typically released whenever we experience pleasure, such as when having sex or eating fantastic food. As this prescription medication continuously provides forced rushes of dopamine, it conditions the brain to rely on an external source. This can potentially cause the brain to stop producing dopamine on its own. Without dopamine, it’s challenging to maintain our normal levels of energy and happiness, and we can experience depression and insomnia.
Additionally, extended use of Adderall can potentially damage the dopaminergic nerve endings, making it difficult for the brain to produce dopamine even when it wants to. This type of damage to the nerve endings can take years to heal and in some cases can be permanent.
Of course, it’s not just the brain that’s affected — there are plenty of other side effects of long-term Adderall use. The other notable impact is on the heart. Adderall is a stimulant drug. While depressive drugs slow people down, stimulants bring people up in energy, focus and mood. Stimulants naturally raise a person’s heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. The heart needs to pump faster to get a person’s energy levels up. Unfortunately, when this increased heart rate is happening artificially and for long periods, it can increase a person’s overall risk of a stroke or heart attack.
So, can Adderall cause heart damage? It depends on the person, but if taken in large quantities or over a long period of time, the risk of heart damage increases significantly.
Adderall is incredibly addictive. Individuals keep getting a rush of dopamine from the drug that can feel invigorating. As their body establishes a tolerance for it, they’ll need to take more and more to get the same feeling. This can spiral into an addiction, with people abusing the drug and taking far too much.
Additionally, as the person’s body becomes reliant on Adderall, it displays severe withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit. Withdrawal symptoms indicate a physical and emotional reliance on Adderall. It’s important to remember that just because you have a prescription for a drug, that doesn’t mean you can’t get addicted to it.
Benefits of Adderall
With so many potential side effects, it can be confusing to understand why Adderall is allowed to be prescribed in the first place. You can’t dismiss the benefits of Adderall — most notably, that the drug works in the way it’s meant to. It can help people with ADHD become more focused and productive human beings.
As previously stated, Adderall can be an effective solution if used as prescribed. Individuals on the medication should plan to safely wean themselves off one day or monitor their usage so they don’t go above recommended dosages.
Getting Off Adderall
There is no standard timeframe for how long a person should take Adderall. However, if you feel that it’s no longer benefiting you or is causing you harm, bring these concerns up with your doctor. After canceling your prescription, the next step is to make a safe plan to cut Adderall from your daily routine.
Adderall is a powerful drug that impacts how your brain functions. It’s perfectly reasonable for individuals to need help getting off the medication versus attempting to do it independently. Most individuals who try to go cold turkey will experience side effects such as headaches, insomnia, hunger, depression, aggression, anxiety and more. You can reach out to a rehabilitation facility for professional help in transitioning to an Adderall-free lifestyle.
If you’re struggling with Adderall addiction, it’s time to seek professional help. At FHE Health, our compassionate and knowledgeable staff can help you take back control of your life. Call us today at (844) 299-0618 to set up a consultation and find out more about how we can help you get better.