If you are reading this article, there’s an increased likelihood that you’ve heard of Adderall. Whether you are a college student that knows friends who use the substance recreationally, or you’ve been prescribed the drug throughout your childhood to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you’re aware of the mark Adderall has made in our society.
Amphetamine was discovered over 100 years ago, and since its emergence into our community, it has transformed from a drug that was freely available without a prescription as a panacea for a broad range of disorders into a highly restricted Controlled Drug with therapeutic applications restricted to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. While it is one formulation of the drug, it has been proven to be dangerous and cause adverse effects in those who abuse it, but can be useful in those with disorders such as ADHD.
Amphetamine was first discovered by Barger and Dale in 1910, but it was not until 1927 that the molecule was synthesized by the chemist., G. A. Alles, during his search for a cheaper and more cost-effective alternative to ephedrine. The first experiments showed that the drug could reverse drug-induced anesthesia and produce arousal as well as insomnia.
In 1937, early reports emerged about the effects of the medications created from amphetamine treating children with severe behavioral disorders, which is now what we call ADHD. Fifty percent of the observed participants showed “remarkable” improvements in their school performance, behavior, and demeanor. It was seen as a miracle drug, but there is a dark side of amphetamine.
Fast forward to 1996, and Adderall was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat problems that relate to ADHD. The disorder continues to rise each year, but currently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 11 percent of all children in the United States aged four to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD or ADD – roughly 6.1 million American children in 2016, a 43 percent increase since 2003.
Boys are nearly three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD (13.2 percent) than girls (5.6 percent). Adults see a much lower rate of diagnoses at 4.4 percent, but experts stress that this only reflects those who are seen by a doctor and diagnosed.
With such staggering figures affecting our child population, it’s easy to understand why such a significant portion of those diagnosed take medications such as Adderall. One of those is a woman by the name of Sheri; in the morning she attends class, and in the afternoon works at a coffee shop. Sheri was diagnosed with ADD, and without Adderall, she has a difficult time getting out of bed and accomplishing the tasks she sets out for the day.
The story mentions how she doesn’t have insurance and has to purchase the drug off the street from a friend. Adderall is an addictive drug that is very similar to the dangerous street drug, crystal methamphetamine. Buying drugs on the street can present its own set of dangers, but one aspect of the pill that much thought is not put into is the connection between Adderall and brain damage. Let’s take a more in-depth look at that below.
Prolonged Adderall Use and the Brain
With a 40 percent rise in stimulant prescriptions such as Adderall since 2007, it’s crucial to pay attention to the long-term effects of these drugs before giving them to our children. Stimulants are designed to increase concentration and energy levels while decreasing the need for sleep and suppressing the appetite. Adderall increases the activity of several neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. The changes in dopamine activity begin to impact the brain’s reward center and alter the ability to experience pleasure without the chemical support of the drug.
Someone that becomes dependent on Adderall will feel depressed, have trouble sleeping, or notice a lack of motivation when they run out of the drug. Abusing amphetamines can increase the risk of aggression and suicidal thoughts, and someone who has been abusing it for an extended period will notice the emotional toll it takes the most during withdrawal. Natural production of dopamine is reduced, causing low moods and an inability to feel pleasure without the drug. The longer Adderall is abused, the more pronounced mood swings will be when it is no longer in the body. Most of these changes in the brain will be repaired over time with sustained abstinence.
Adderall and Brain Damage
Data relating to illicit use of Adderall has only recently become available, and there are far more studies that must be performed to validate most of the information.
Preliminary information, however, shows that the connection between Adderall and brain damage does exist. A small-scale study released by the National Institute of Health found that chronic users of methamphetamine, (which shares similar characteristics to Adderall) have multiple abnormalities in brain chemistry, function, and structure in the brain region with the highest dopamine concentrations.
While more extensive testing is needed to understand the relation between Adderall and brain damage better, there have been other small studies that produced information about Adderall misuse causing nerve damage.
As bad as nerve damage and these areas of the brain getting affected, there is one side effect we are certain occurs; that is an addiction.
Physical Side Effects of Adderall
Stimulants have plenty of other side effects other than brain damage, and drugs like Adderall raise body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Those who initially use the drugs and may be unaware of heart conditions can risk having a stroke or heart attack. Adderall also has the potential to damage the heart and cardiovascular system when used for extended periods. Other side effects of Adderall include:
- Heart disease
- Dry mouth
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Heart palpitations
- Trouble breathing
- Feeling jittery or “on edge”
The heart muscle may be weakened from prolonged stimulant abuse, which can lead to even more complications than listed above. Detox from Adderall is not a sufficient treatment, and it must be followed by a substance abuse treatment program to help prevent relapse and support long-term recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with Adderall abuse, and you are concerned about brain damage, getting treatment should be a top priority.