Why is Adderall Addictive?

What is Adderall?

Since its initial distribution to the US market in 1996, Adderall has remained one of the most widely prescribed medications in the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) for both adult and juvenile cases. The drug, comprised of a patented blend of amphetamine salts, is, chemically speaking, a close relative to Benzedrine—an amphetamine based stimulant widely abused in the 1960’s and 70’s—as well as methamphetamine or “crystal meth”, now one of the most commonly abused illicit drugs across the nation.

Adderall, along with many of its newer pharmaceutical counterparts such as Ritalin or Concerta, belong to a class of drugs known as Central Nervous System Stimulants (CNS), which share many of the same physiological effects as cocaine, ecstasy, or even caffeine. Given its propensity for abuse and off-label usage, Adderall has been classified as a Schedule II drug in the United States, which is defined as “drugs with high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” All of this to say that despite the drugs generally benign prevalence in schools, workplaces, and doctors offices; for some, the consequences of prolonged use can be catastrophic.

While many do acquire the medication legally through a psychiatrist or a physician, the pills are often sold on the black market, particularly amongst teens and on college campuses. In many cases, this after-market distribution of Adderall is largely due to its recreational value amongst drug-seekers, party-goers and students alike. There are a number of reasons why an individual may find themselves struggling in the grips of addiction after beginning Adderall. Here are a few:

Why is Adderall Addictive?

Physical Addiction to Adderall

Although it does not create a physical dependence on par with opiates or alcohol, the neurological effects of Adderall and other similar stimulants often leave users craving more, especially as a tolerance begins to build. Once Adderall has crossed into the bloodstream and reached the brain, it quickly stimulates the release of a number of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine; all of which serve vital functions in out day to day lives.

Dopamine, a chemical we hear a lot about these days, is the primary messenger in the brain’s pleasure system. It is the reason why users feel a sense of euphoria and well being after ingesting the drug. Scientific theory tells us that the practical utility of dopamine is the reinforcement of life-sustaining behaviors, hence it’s triggered reactions by things like sex or calorically dense food. Unfortunately, drugs like amphetamines evoke a “dopaminergic” response far larger than that of natural pleasures, causing the user to return to the pattern of using time and again, often placing more emphasis on the getting and using of drugs than basic functions such as nourishment or relationships. Many users spend years trying to attain the same euphoric “high” initially experienced, progressing further into their addictions with time.

The other two neurotransmitters largely affected by the use of Adderall, epinephrine and norepinephrine, are closely related in function and chemical makeup. Both of these, particularly in conjunction, are powerful activators of the sympathetic nervous system, which many know in the context of the “fight or flight” response. When these neural pathways are stimulated, particularly by an artificial catalyst, it creates feelings of clarity, alertness, creativity and mental acuity. Physical effects include an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, as well as a decreased need for sleep. Those who have used the drug for prolonged periods report an overall lack of energy after ceasing the medication. This, coupled with the perceived ability to accomplish more under the influence of the drug, also contributes to the highly addictive tendencies of Adderall.

Psychological Addiction to Adderall

Beyond the list of reasons that one might find themselves physically addicted to Adderall, individuals often develop a psychological dependence on the drug. While the underlying reasons may vary from person to person, the common perception is that it enhances their life in some way or another. Obviously, one of the environments in which Adderall is most commonly abused is on college campuses. As the culture around higher education has gotten increasingly more competitive, so has the number of students who turn to performance-enhancing drugs like Adderall risen to record levels.

Often times the drug is sold liberally amongst students, largely de-stigmatized in the name of efficiency. And what may begin as a one-time aid for an all-night paper or a final exam, slowly evolves into a constant in the lives of many, while searching for a competitive edge in a cut-throat environment. Many students report feelings of “not being able to keep up” or “not reaching the same potential” without the help of the drug; this belief often allowing the addiction to permeate into their daily activities. Given its nature, the scope of Adderall abuse goes far beyond campuses into many workplaces or other arenas that call for prolonged focus and acuity.

There are those too who utilize the recreational value of the drug for reasons outside of pragmatism. As mentioned earlier, Adderall is a strong dopaminergic “agonist”, meaning that it stimulates the secretion of dopamine and all of the psychological effects that follow. For many people, particularly those without a formal diagnosis of ADD or ADHD, amphetamines produce feelings of general well-being, decreased inhibitions and excessive confidence. Many times individuals who struggle with mental issues like depression or social anxiety find relief in Adderall, as many of their fears and feelings of sadness or inadequacy are temporarily alleviated. Unfortunately, the results are just that—temporary. As time goes on, the euphoric effects begin to dissipate, sometimes even exacerbating the problems it was originally sought out to fix. Despite the increasing prevalence of negative effects caused by the drugs, many continue to “chase” the initial high into the grips of full-blown addiction.

So as you can see, there is a wide range of reasons why one might get addicted to adderall. More often than not, the problem is rooted in any number of these factors, which are generally co-occurring. It may seem that Adderall is a harmless drug, particularly given its legal status, and for many it is. But in many cases Adderall can be the beginning of a long battle with drug addiction, sometimes leading to debilitating polysubstance abuse. If you, or someone you know, struggles with Adderall addiction, there is no shortage of help optional available.

Related article: How Do I Know If Someone Is On Adderall?

Last Updated on August 7, 2023


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