The active chemicals in Adderall, mixed amphetamine salts, are stimulant drugs similar in mechanisms of action to methamphetamine. Meth has been shown to be significantly neurotoxic, causing damage to brain cells, when used in large amounts for a long period of time.

Abuse of Adderall can increase the risk of brain damage and neurotoxicity, which can lead to psychological and physical complications that are not completely reversible. Many of the neurotoxic effects can be reversed with complete abstinence from Adderall.

What is Adderall?

Adderall is a prescription stimulant drug that contains both amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Amphetamines are often used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. It’s also in a wider category of drugs called central nervous system stimulants. Stimulants work by increasing activity in your brain and nervous system to facilitate wakefulness, alertness, and focus. Amphetamines like Adderall work with a specific chemical in the brain called dopamine, which is one of your brian’s feel-good chemicals. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that works to create feelings of pleasure and reward. It’s thought that people with ADHD have low levels of dopamine in the brain, which causes them to be easily distracted in search of sources of reward. 

Adderall can increase dopamine levels to help alleviate distractibility and increase focus. Adderall also works with a chemical called norepinephrine, which is tied to your heart rate and blood pressure. Increasing your heart rate may contribute to increased wakefulness alongside elevated levels of dopamine.

The prescribing information for Adderall published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that the medication is not recommended to be taken long term. Regular use of Adderall can lead to drug dependence, as the medication is extremely habit-forming and has a high potential for abuse.

Adderall can also be misused for recreational or performance-enhancing purposes. Some people may seek to use Adderall as a way to achieve a stimulating high. The drug isn’t as potent as other recreational stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine, but it can cause some mild euphoric effects. However, Adderall and other ADHD medications are more commonly used as study drugs. Drugs that are thought to increase wakefulness and focus are often used on college campuses to increase a student’s ability to study for long hours and retain more information. However, whether the drug is misused for recreational purposes or as a study drug, Adderall misuse can lead to significant consequences. 

What is Neurotoxicity?

Neurotoxicity is a substance’s ability to damage or disrupt brain or nervous system function. 

There are many naturally occurring and man-made substances that can be neurotoxic, including many illicit and prescription drugs. When drugs are being investigated for use in humans, neurotoxicity is one of the important factors that researchers consider. Highly neurotoxic substances don’t make it into use as medications. These substances damage nerves and the brain in relatively low doses, making them dangerous to use. However, some prescription drugs can be neurotoxic if they are taken in high doses for a long period of time.

Many stimulants can be neurotoxic, causing damage to nerve cells with very high doses. However, is Adderall neurotoxic, and can Adderall cause nerve damage? 

Neurotoxicity of Adderall

Adderall is less potent than methamphetamine, even though the two drugs have similar effects and mechanisms of action, the journal Psychopharmacology explains. Adderall is likely to be less toxic than meth and has a lower potential for neurotoxic effects.

Even so, large doses of Adderall taken for an extended time can have a neurotoxic impact, especially if the drug is being misused and not taken in therapeutic doses for medicinal purposes.

Stimulants interact on levels of dopamine in the brain, raising them and blocking reabsorption. Over time, interaction with the chemical balance of this neurotransmitter can lead to damage at the dopamine nerve terminals or neurotoxicity.

The journal Frontiers in Psychology reports that neurotoxicity related to meth use is caused by neuroinflammation, oxidative stress, and excitotoxicity. All of these factors are related to the way that the stimulant drug interacts with brain chemistry.

Dopamine is a chemical messenger used by the brain to regulate emotions. It is involved in the reward-processing pathway, which can also relate to impulse control, decision-making abilities, and feelings of pleasure. Dopamine also helps to regulate sleep functions, working memory, learning processes, and movement abilities.

The  U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) publishes that the exact mechanism of neurotoxicity of amphetamines is not clear. These stimulants cause damage to monoaminergic neurons, which can trigger disruptions to the normal dopaminergic functions of the brain.

Recognizing Neurotoxicity

Neurotoxicity as related to other amphetamines like methamphetamine can have far-reaching consequences. The journal Behavioral Neurology explains that it can cause cognitive and emotional deficits as well as increased risk-taking behaviors that can lead to social, legal, and medical issues.

Adderall neurotoxicity may lead to the onset of Parkinson’s disease, a nerve and movement disorder, or to impaired memory functions similar to those associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Damage to dopamine cells and the way the neurotransmitter is produced, transmitted, and reabsorbed can be side effects of Adderall neurotoxicity. Damage to brain structure and function are additional effects. 

The following Adderall Neurotoxicity symptoms:

  • Coordination issues and difficulties with fine motor skills
  • Tremors or twitching
  • Seizures
  • Problems concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Lessened working memory functions
  • Impulse control problems
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Mood swings and problems with emotional regulation
  • Mental confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal and/or homicidal thoughts
  • Aggression, hostility, and violent behaviors
  • Impaired verbal learning skills
  • Problems making logical decisions and impaired decision-making abilities
  • Psychosis, including auditory and visual hallucinations, compulsive behaviors like skin picking or itching, paranoia, panic attacks, and delusions

Can Your Brain Recover From Adderall?

If Adderall causes neurotoxic effects in the brain, can they be reversed with time? The long-term use or misuse of drugs like Adderall may cause some changes in the brain, but what happens if you stop taking the drug? The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) published studies on the effects of methamphetamine on the brain. Meth is similar to amphetamines, though it’s much more potent than Adderall.

Damage to dopamine receptors and changes in the brain may be long-lasting. For instance, meth can damage your dopamine receptors to the point that they are less functional, and it’s more difficult for you to experience feelings of pleasure or reward. People in recovery from meth addiction may experience symptoms of anhedonia, which is the inability to feel pleasure. However, symptoms usually improve over time. 

NIDA also showed that after more than a year of prolonged abstinence, some of the neurotoxic effects can be reversed. Not all brain damage was completely reversed, which shows that amphetamine neurotoxicity can have very long-lasting effects.

To avoid Adderall’s possible neurotoxic effects, be sure only to take the drug as directed by a medical professional and limit use to a short period of time in the lowest doses possible.

Behavioral therapies and other non-stimulant treatments for ADHD can be explored to minimize the use of Adderall altogether.

How Can Neurotoxicity Be Reversed?

If you’ve been misusing Adderall, or if you’ve used it for a long time, the first step in reversing the neurotoxic effects is to cut back or stop using the drug. Speak to a doctor about quitting, even if you’ve been using the drug illegally. Your doctor will be able to guide you through a safe detox process. 

Misuse of Adderall increases the risk of neurotoxicity and addiction.

Adderall addiction is ideally managed through a comprehensive addiction treatment program that can address drug abuse and teach coping skills to minimize drug cravings and instances of relapse.

Drug use needs to stop completely to reverse neurotoxicity from Adderall. This may need to be managed through a medical detox program that can help to lessen the side effects of withdrawal.

As soon as any adverse reactions to Adderall are recognized, contact your medical provider and discuss possible dosage changes or a new treatment plan.

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