Today, I will be speaking to you about the drug known as Adderall. I will discuss its side effects, its medicinal qualities, its desired effects and various case studies of its users: both positive and negative.
Adderall is a drug which stimulates the central nervous system by altering chemicals released in the brain and nerves which help to alter hyperactivity and impulsiveness. (Drugs.com) It is mostly commonly used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, known as ADHD, and Narcolepsy, although it has been used to help treat/manage obesity. (Fletcher-Janzen & Reynolds, 2007, p 53) For those of you who are unsure, ADHD refers to a condition primarily seen in children and teenagers and is characterized by an inability to focus, impulsive and spontaneous behaviour, and is often misconceived as being poor behaviour. Medication is only part of a treatment plan for ADHD and healthy eating, exercise and sometimes therapy are other aspects. Narcolepsy is a condition which causes the sufferer to fall asleep spontaneously and can be extremely dangerous, which is why sufferers are not allowed to hold a driving license or a job that involves operating machinery, of any description. It is a condition that is directly affected by the ‘sleep-wake’ control mechanism in the brain. (Chew et al. 2009, p 325)
Adderall has been proven to increase alertness, improve attention span, decrease distractibility and increase the ability to follow instructions in children of three years and up. Because of it only needing to be taken once or, sometimes, twice a day, it is popular with families of children who require the drug as it prevents the need to take drugs in school (Fletcher-Janzen & Reynolds, 2007, p 53), meaning that the parents are able to exercise a lot more control and there is less onus on the child to remember. It is available in 5mg to 30 mg increments and can sometimes take up to four weeks to become fully effective. (Fletcher-Janzen & Reynolds, 2007, p 53)
Adderall is a form of amphetamine which have been available over the counter since 1932 (Moore, 2010, p 5), despite their capacity to attract people who abuse their use. Amphetamines are psycho-stimulant (or just ‘stimulant’) drugs which, as the name suggests, stimulates the brain. They are well known for helping to increase attention and for giving the user extra energy; because of this, they are often used by students, long-distance truck drivers, musicians, artists anyone, in fact, who sometimes needs an extra boost. (Moore, 2010, p 5) However, amphetamine abuse can lead to horrific results: Elaine Moore discusses how it wasn’t until her first year as a toxicologist that she realised their downside: “I encountered a middle-aged doctor whose leg had been amputated as a result of gangrene caused by his injecting amphetamines intravenously.” (Moore, 2010, p 5) It is recommended that Adderall is not taken if you have used MAO inhibitors within the last fourteen days – these are drugs which are a form of antidepressant, known for their dangers of mixing with the wrong types of food. Adderall should also never be taken with alcohol as it has associations of being linked to Myocardial Infarction. (Taylor, 2010, p 225)
When Adderall is used correctly, there are a number of potential side effects which may need to be considered before its prescription. These tend to be very similar to other stimulant drugs prescribed for ADHD, such as loss of appetite, reduced rate of growth in the child, insomnia and headaches. All of which are, obviously, worrying side effects for parents of young children. Other, less common, side effects include tics, dry mouth, irritability, and the speeding up of the patient’s heart (cardiovascular acceleration). In high dosages, there are other, more extreme, side effects which may be upsetting for a child to experience. These include hallucinations and “a disorder characterized as amphetamine psychosis.” (Fletcher-Janzen & Reynolds, 2007, p 53) Whilst this may sound quite worrying, symptoms stop once the drug has stopped being taken and if they don’t, then it was a pre-existing condition anyway. (Larson, 2010)
The abuse of amphetamines such as Adderall has meant that the drug has not always been able to be used for its correct usage, following clinical trials. In 1936, a study showed that “amphetamines [benefit] the majority of children with learning difficulties” which would have been great news, as at that time, there was little development in our knowledge of learning difficulties. However, the results were “quickly swept aside” (Moore, 2010, p 5) because of the fears of children becoming addicted to amphetamines. Fears of the drugs’ side effects forced there to be stunted development in the benefits of this area. Today, the fears are focused more on children’s dependency when taking the drugs in a high dosage, for a prolonged period of time; and when the drugs are misused in a non-prescriptive, self-medicating fashion.
The latter of these fears is a very real problem: abuse of prescription drugs is a well-documented issue which suggests that some 20% of Americans have used a prescription drug for non-medical reasons. (Mediline Plus) Adderall, in particular, is a routinely prescribed drug which decreases fatigue, increases alertness and allows you to work at a faster speed. For many, this is an attractive prospect: we all want to perform better at work or college; we all want to be able to work hard and play hard without feeling the tiring effects.
One man decided to experiment with Adderall in order to enhance his working ability. After discussing how safe it was to use it without a prescription, several pharmacists told him that, in theory, it was safe so long as it was small, controlled dose and he wasn’t on other drugs or schizophrenic or had any other mental health issue. Following one week of taking the drug, he describes the results as being “like [he’d] been bitten by a radioactive spider.” He goes on to add that his ability to work became “almost mechanical” and adds: “I didn’t feel like I was becoming smarter or even like I was thinking more clearly. I just felt more directed, less distracted by rogue thoughts, less day-dreamy.” It all sounds great, but then he goes on to add that Adderall can lead to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Psychosis (as previously mentioned). He says: “Several years ago, a North Dakota man blamed Adderall for making him murder his infant daughter and won an acquittal.” He also added that he “just didn’t feel like himself” and said that friends had said they felt ‘blinkered’ and that it stifled their creativity. (Foer, 2005) So, perhaps it doesn’t help as much as first thought.
When used correctly and under the guidance of a trained physician, Adderall can be an excellent way of managing ADHD and Narcolepsy. Its side effects are minimal when handled correctly and a low dosage is used; generally, doctors do not prescribe high dosages to children. However, when it is used on a self-medicating basis, it can be dangerous and can lead to a number of highly debilitating side effects ranging from a lack of creativity to psychosis and everything in between: none of which is a lot of fun. As with all prescription drugs, and particularly amphetamines, it is best to use them when they have actually been prescribed to you or else they can be extremely harmful to your health. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be taking Adderall improperly, or even illegally, there are a number of sources where you can gain help: any pharmacist would be willing to help, as would a doctor. There are various phone numbers, websites and support groups available to aid in the ceasing of abusing prescription drugs, which are displayed on the PowerPoint.
- Chew, R. H. et al. (2009). What Your Patients Need to Know About Psychiatric Medications, Volume 1. Virginia: American Psychiatric Publishing Ltd.
- Drugs.com (2011). Adderall. Retrieved from http://www.drugs.com/adderall.html
- Fletcher-Janzen, E. & Reynolds, C. R. (2007). Encyclopedia of Special Education: A-D. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
- Foer, J. (2005). The Adderall Me. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/id/2118315/
- Larson, M. F. (2010). Amphetamine-Related Psychiatric Disorders. Retrieved from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/289973-overview
- Mediline Plus. (2011). Prescription Drug Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/prescriptiondrugabuse.html
- Moore, E. A. (2011). The Amphetamine Debate: The Use of Adderall, Ritalin and Related Drugs for Behaviour Modification, Neuroenhancement and Anti-Aging Purposes. North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc. Publishing.
- PrescriptionDrugAbuseHelp.com. (2011). Adderall Abuse Help. Retrieved from http://www.prescriptiondrugabusehelp.com/adderall-abuse-help
- Taylor, R. B. (2011). Essential Medical Facts Ever Clinician Should Know. London: Spring Science & Media.