In February 2016, a 48-year-old man was driving with his daughter on the New Jersey Turnpike and slowed as he approached a toll booth. A driver who was swerving in and out of traffic and going 53 miles per hour (mph) in a 5-mph zone slammed into the man’s car, ultimately killing him and his 5-year-old daughter.
The driver who caused the accident told authorities he took 10 unprescribed Adderall pills the day before and did not sleep for more than 24 hours before the crash. He also tested positive for methamphetamine and GHB, the “date rape” drug.
Nevertheless, this case illustrates the multitude of dangers that come with the recreational use of a stimulant like Adderall. Often referred to as a “study drug,” Adderall’s perils are underestimated simply because it is a prescription medication.
However, when abused, the negative effects of Adderall outnumber the positive ones by a country mile. Though rare, Adderall misuse can lead to psychosis, which causes symptoms of the mind such as hallucinations, delusions, incoherent speech, and inappropriate behavior, among other ailments.
Plus, the psychosis that is exhibited is nearly identical to schizophrenia.
Thus, there is a palpable connection between Adderall and schizophrenia.
Read on to learn more about Adderall and its damaging effects, along with available professional treatment options.
What is Adderall?
Adderall is a mixture of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine salts. As a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, Adderall is prescribed to adults and children (age 3 and older) to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. When people with ADHD take it as prescribed, the medication produces a calming effect, addressing the hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention, and fidgeting that come with the diagnosis. It is available in regular pill form and as an extended-release medication.
Adderall works by increasing the availability of norepinephrine and dopamine neurotransmitters, which boosts brain activity.
Why Adderall is Abused
When abused, Adderall can make people feel alert, powerful, and invincible. As a Schedule II controlled substance, Adderall carries the highest risk of addiction and abuse for a substance that has a legitimate medical use. That designation places it in the same category as other powerfully addictive opioid medications such as fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine.
The population that tends to use Adderall non-medically the most are people between the ages of 18 to 25, according to a study published by The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. In fact, there is statistical evidence that non-medical Adderall use is rising.
According to that same study, non-prescribed use of Adderall by young adults increased by 67 percent and associated emergency room visits spiked by 156 percent between 2006 and 2011.
Also, adults appear to be using Adderall in greater numbers. In the mid-2000s, for example, adults were the fastest-growing group of users. In 2012, about 16 million prescriptions were written for adults ages 20 to 39.
The Dangers of Abusing Adderall
When used as directed, Adderall can cause people to experience euphoria. It can also increase sexual desire and cause users to become more alert and experience improved cognitive control. The physical effects of Adderall include faster reaction time, resistance to fatigue, and increased muscle strength, all reasons why it is utilized as a performance-enhancing drug (PED).
But there is a litany of ruinous effects that can come when it is misused, potential psychosis notwithstanding. The less severe effects include:
- Weight loss
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Dry mouth
- Stomach pain
- Appetite loss
- Uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
- Changes in sex drive or ability
- Painful menstrual cramps
Serious Side Effects
The serious side effects that come with Adderall abuse are numerous and distressing, and they tend to be physical and psychological in nature. The symptoms of psychosis are among them. Those include:
- Hallucinating (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
- Mania (frenzied or abnormally excited mood)
- Aggressive or hostile behavior
- Weakness or numbness of an arm or leg
- Motor or verbal tics
- Fast heartbeat
- Severe muscle stiffness or twitching
- Loss of coordination
- Slow or difficult speech
- Dizziness or faintness
- Swelling of the eyes, face, tongue, or throat
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Blistering or peeling skin
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Fast or pounding heartbeat
- Teeth grinding
- Excessive tiredness
- Believing things that are not true
- Changes in vision or blurred vision
- Paleness or blue color of fingers or toes
- Feeling unusually suspicious of others
- Pain, numbness, burning or tingling in the hands or feet
- Unexplained wounds appearing on fingers or toes
The Link Between Adderall and Psychosis
The psychosis people experience from ADHD medicine is closely related to if not almost identical to schizophrenia. Simply put, the higher your dose of Adderall, the likelier you can develop psychosis.
In fact, a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine in 2019 concluded that among adolescents and young adults with ADHD who received prescription stimulants, the new onset of psychosis occurred in approximately 1 in 660 patients.
However, the lead researcher said the study only focused on youths who were recently diagnosed with ADHD and started taking Adderall and other medications for the disorder. The study did not take into account subjects who were already being treated with the medication.
Still, there are side effects from Adderall that can predispose someone to develop psychotic symptoms, states Healthline. Those effects include headaches, nervousness, and trouble sleeping.
The continued lack of sleep, according to Healthline, may cause worsening headaches and extreme nervousness, which may turn into paranoia — a symptom linked to psychosis.
People with a history of mental illness may also be more likely to incur psychosis after taking Adderall. Though the reason for this causation is not entirely clear. But one argument abounds.
States Healthline: One theory is that your body may respond differently to an increase — caused by Adderall — of certain chemicals in your brain. People with amphetamine-induced psychosis have significantly higher rates of norepinephrine in their blood than amphetamine users without psychosis.
How Professional Treatment Can Help
A reputable, professional recovery program can offer treatment that addresses any substance addiction and a co-occurring mental health disorder. This program is called dual diagnosis treatment.
With stimulant medications like Adderall, treatment starts with medical detoxification. In detox, the substance is removed from the body, and any withdrawal symptoms that arise are treated and alleviated.
Because dual diagnosis addresses addiction and mental health disorders, treatment is geared toward the restoration of the mind and soul, along with the body. There is an array of therapeutic approaches available in dual diagnosis, including:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Family therapy
If a patient requires additional support, help is available through an alumni program.