The millennial generation is the first in history to be routinely prescribed stimulant medications like Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta to treat the symptoms of ADHD. Not surprisingly, many in this generation are also suffering from issues with stimulant drug abuse. Studies show that the recreational use of ADHD medications is the second-most common form of illicit drug use among college-aged adults, just behind marijuana.
The rise in young adults taking ADHD medications is shocking. In fact, in the four-year period between 2011 and 2015, the number of American workers who tested positive for amphetamine drug use increased by 44 percent.
Because stimulant ADHD medications are prescribed by doctors, many users mistakenly believe that there is little to no danger associated with taking them long-term. In reality, however, these drugs have a powerful effect on users, and extended use should never be taken lightly. Let’s take a closer look at the effects of long-term ADHD medication use.
Long-Term Adderall Abuse and the Brain
Stimulant ADHD medications increase energy levels and focus by artificially increasing the amount of specific neurotransmitters in the brain. The primary neurotransmitters affected by Adderall, for instance, are:
Over time, the brain adjusts to these elevated levels of neurotransmitters and loses its ability to produce enough of them without the use of drugs. Habitual amphetamine users, for example, often suffer from low dopamine levels, which greatly reduces the ability to feel joy or pleasure without chemical assistance. When the user’s tolerance to the effects of stimulants increases, they often become unable to function normally without them.
Those addicted to Adderall and Adderall-like drugs experience a number of troubling psychological symptoms upon stopping use, including:
- Lack of motivation
- Chronic fatigue
- Mood swings
- Suicidal thinking
Many researchers believe that the emotional and psychological effects of long-term ADHD medication abuse are the greatest risks users face. In extreme cases, prescription stimulants have been known to trigger the onset of serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia, psychosis and bipolar disorder. Those with a preexisting mental health disorder are at an elevated risk for developing negative side effects after long-term stimulant medication use.
The Dangers of Childhood Stimulant Use
Because Adderall and Ritalin help to increase energy levels and motivation, those who take these drugs during childhood often report that they never developed the ability to accomplish tasks and goals while unmedicated. While many outgrow their ADHD symptoms upon reaching adulthood, many childhood Adderall users find that they are unable to function effectively without drugs.
It is important to remember that even though ADHD medications can be used therapeutically and legally, there is always the possibility that long-term use can have serious, lifelong consequences.
Research on Long-Term Stimulant Use
Studies have suggested that the therapeutic effects of prescription ADHD medications begin to disappear when taken for longer than two years.
A study published in 2017 in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that long-term Adderall and Ritalin use was ineffective for long-term ADHD treatment. In addition, this study found that ADHD medications may also suppress psychological development well into adulthood.
Symptoms of Stimulant Medication Abuse
There are a number of physical side effects associated with the abuse of ADHD medications. Over the long term, amphetamine abuse can lead to problems in both the heart and cardiovascular systems. The most common of these problems include hypertension (high blood pressure) and tachycardia (irregular heart rate). Although rare, amphetamine abuse can even lead to sudden cardiac arrest and death.
Other side effects of long-term Adderall abuse include:
- Heart disease
- Abdominal discomfort
- Weight loss
- Tooth decay
- Heart palpitations
- Respiratory trouble
Recognizing ADHD Medication Abuse
Again, because doctors routinely prescribe amphetamine medications to Americans with ADHD, it can be difficult to recognize when the use of such drugs has become problematic. Recognizing the warning signs of amphetamine abuse is the first step toward correcting the problem before it’s too late.
Signs that a loved one has developed a harmful amphetamine habit include:
- Prioritizing stimulant medication use over one’s responsibilities
- Taking more of stimulant medication than prescribed
- An inability to function without stimulant drugs
- Misrepresenting one’s psychological symptoms in order to obtain ADHD medications
- An inability to either stop or control one’s use of ADHD medications
- Transitioning to the use of street amphetamines or methamphetamine
Overcoming Prescription Stimulant Use
Breaking an addiction to stimulant drugs is incredibly difficult, especially when the use of such drugs began in childhood. A key part of any effective drug abuse treatment program is identifying the underlying problems that led to addiction.
Those abusing drugs like Adderall and Ritalin may need help coping with their attention issues naturally. Often, these underlying issues stem from other undiagnosed psychological disorders. Therapeutic tools such as group counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can aid those struggling with addiction in achieving stronger mental health.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to prescription stimulants, know that there are people who can help. Contact a member of our team at Reflections Recovery Center today, and discover how our rehabilitation program can help you retake control over your life.