The Long-Term Effects of Taking Adderall: Tips for Harm Reduction
When attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) became a more common diagnosis in childhood, kids without ADHD perceived that their classmates or friends experienced impressive cognitive benefits from taking medication. While ADHD treatment is years-long and complex, involving a combination of medication like Adderall and ongoing therapy, adolescents who did not have ADHD saw only the improvements and, in turn, began to assume that taking ADHD medications, including Ritalin and Adderall, could improve their cognitive performance, too.
This led to the rapid rise in popularity of study drugs, prescription stimulants diverted and abused by those without a medical need for them to stay up all night, retain more information, enhance physical performance on sports teams, and even lose weight.
As the first generation of study drug abusers enters the workforce, they are not quitting use of these drugs. Many young adults continue to abuse drugs like Adderall to stay competitive in a stressful career.
The Risks with Long-Term Adderall Use (& Other Study Drugs)
Adolescents and young adults who abuse prescription stimulants, including Adderall, put themselves at risk for dependence, tolerance, and addiction. They are also at risk for chronic, long-term health consequences associated with abusing these drugs. On a short-term basis, abusing stimulants, even prescription stimulants like Adderall, can cause nervousness; induce mood disorders like anxiety or depression; cause headaches; decrease appetite, leading to dangerous weight loss; and trigger seizures, heart attacks, strokes, aggressive behavior, and psychosis.
Long-term problems associated with Adderall abuse include:
- Heart damage, increasing the risk of cardiovascular events like heart attack or stroke
- Skin disorders from picking at the skin during hallucinations
- Trouble breathing
- Mood disorders
- Seizures or convulsions
- Behavioral disorders like addiction
- Toxic psychosis
Toxic psychosis is a persistent mental illness that requires a lifetime of treatment. Abusing stimulants like Adderall can trigger this condition.
- Confused thinking: Forming sentences, concentrating, and holding thoughts becomes difficult.
- Delusions: This includes false beliefs about reality, such as believing one has greater powers or that one is being followed.
- Hallucinations: This involves seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, or tasting things that are not real, often to the point of interacting with them in some way.
- Mood swings: These have no cause based in reality, and a person’s mood may shift suddenly.
- Behavioral changes: Changes in physical energy and a reduced willingness to participate in social activities are common.
Toxic psychosis induced by amphetamines, including Adderall, will appear similar to acute schizophrenia spectrum psychosis, although hallucinations may be more intense or vivid in toxic psychosis. Sometimes, toxic psychosis resolves with medical attention in a hospital setting, which includes detox and abstinence. However, this condition does not always resolve on its own, and it may persist for months, years, or a lifetime. Acute toxic psychosis will go away; chronic toxic psychosis does not.
Addiction and physical dependence are also long-term problems associated with drug abuse, including Adderall. Some people may mistakenly believe that Adderall, Ritalin, and similar drugs are safe because they are prescription substances. While they may not have unknown adulterants, and they may come in specific doses, they are not safe for those who have no medical need for these substances.
It is more likely that those with a genetic or familial risk of schizotypal disorders will develop chronic toxic psychosis, but this condition is not fully understood.
Drug abuse, including abuse of prescription drugs like Adderall, is dangerous and causes long-term damage to the mind and the body. For those who struggle with addiction to Adderall or other stimulants, it is important to get evidence-based treatments, which include medically supervised detox and comprehensive therapy, to understand the addiction and change compulsive behaviors around drugs.
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