When drugs are being developed, they are formulated to treat a particular condition. Most drugs however, contain compounds that also make them suitable for treating other conditions or bringing about other benefits, even though they might not be licensed for that purpose.
Adderall is an example of a drug that was originally developed to treat certain health conditions, but is used off-license for other reasons.
What is Adderall?
Adderall is classed as a central nervous system stimulant. It is made up of 2 main chemicals; amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Both of these chemicals can alter the chemistry of the brain, and manipulate the levels of its chemical messengers. The drug is approved for treatment of ADHD and narcolepsy. In the case of ADHD, it helps a sufferer to focus and calms them. With narcolepsy, it reduces daytime sleepiness.
ADHD is one of the conditions for which Adderall is commonly prescribed. ADHD presents with symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.
Symptoms of ADHD tend to first be noticed at an early age and may become more noticeable when a child has to interact with others and adhere to rules like they do when they start school. Most cases are diagnosed in children when they are between 6 and 12 years old. ADHD in adults has usually been missed in childhood.
Sometimes, ADHD can continue into the adult years, but the condition presents differently in adults, and sleep and anxiety disorders might be problematic.
Symptoms of ADHD
The symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be categorised into 2 types of problems.
hyperactivity and impulsiveness
Most people with ADHD have problems with both, but everyone is different. Some people might find it hard to pay attention, but they might not experience impulsiveness. In this case, attention deficit disorder might be suspected.
Symptoms of ADHD in children and teenagers
The symptoms of ADHD in children and teenagers are usually quite obvious, and they’re usually noticeable before a child reaches 6 years of age.
Symptoms that are usually noticed include:
having a short attention span
being easily distracted
making mistakes (in school work for example)
being unable to finish tasks
being unable to listen to or carry out instructions
difficulty organising tasks
Hyperactivity and impulsiveness
being unable to sit still
inability to concentrate
acting without thinking
no concept of consequences or potential danger
These symptoms can cause problems such as underachievement at school, the inability to interact appropriately with other children and adults, and problems with discipline.
What causes ADHD?
The exact cause of ADHD is unknown, but there is some evidence that it runs in families. Research has also identified that there appear to be differences in the brains of people with ADHD compared to those who don’t have the condition.
How is ADHD treated?
There’s no cure for ADHD, but the condition can be managed with advice and support for parents and their children, along with medication.
Narcolepsy is a rare brain disorder that can cause a person to fall asleep at inappropriate times. The brain can’t regulate its sleeping and waking patterns, and this make sufferers feel sleepy throughout the day, and fall asleep without any warning.
Narcolepsy doesn’t usually lead to serious physical health problems, but it can have a huge impact on everyday life and it can be difficult to cope with emotionally.
Symptoms of narcolepsy
excessive daytime sleepiness: feeling very groggy through the day, and having difficulty concentrating and staying awake
sleep attacks: falling asleep suddenly
cataplexy: temporary loss of muscle control which results in weakness, usually in response to experiencing emotions such as anger.
sleep paralysis: a temporary inability to move or speak when waking up or falling asleep
excessive dreaming and night waking
What causes narcolepsy?
Many cases of narcolepsy are caused by a lack of the brain chemical hypocretin which is responsible for regulating wakefulness. The lack of the chemical is thought to occur because the immune system mistakenly attacks the cells that make it in the body. The exact cause of narcolepsy is unclear, though possible triggers that are being investigated include hormonal changes, stress, and infection.
Who’s affected by Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a fairly rare condition. It’s difficult to know exactly how many people have narcolepsy because many cases are thought to go unreported or undiagnosed. Men and women appear to be affected equally by narcolepsy, although some studies have suggested the condition may be more common in men. The symptoms often begin in the teenage years, although the condition is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40.
How is narcolepsy diagnosed?
Make an appointment to see your doctor if you suspect that you have narcolepsy. They will ask about your sleep and your symptoms. They might check for other conditions like sleep apnoea, restless legs, or an underactive thyroid gland, which could produce similar symptoms. You might be referred to a specialist sleep disorders clinic.
There’s currently no cure for narcolepsy, but making changes to improve your sleeping habits and taking medication can help to reduce the impact the condition has on your daily life.
Taking frequent naps throughout the day is a good way to manage excessive daytime drowsiness. This may not be practical when you’re at work or school, but your doctor or sleep specialist may be able to come up with a realistic sleep schedule that will help you get into a routine of taking naps.
Keeping to a strict bedtime routine can also help, so you should go to bed at the same time each night whenever possible, and wake up at the same time each day.
If your symptoms are particularly troublesome, you may be prescribed medication that can help reduce daytime sleepiness, and improve your sleep at night. These medications are usually taken as daily tablets, capsules or drinkable solutions.
The ‘smart’ drug
All about Adderall
So Adderall can treat some difficult health conditions because of its unique properties. The drug has an ability to increase alertness and concentration and to reduce fatigue in users, which means that it is also used off license for other issues. It is often used by students as a ‘smart drug’ when they need to study hard for an exam. An American study found that around 14% of students on any given university campus might be using Adderall at any one time.
Adderall is most commonly prescribed for people suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder(ADHD) and attention deficit disorder(ADD) and the fact that it contains the stimulant amphetamine helps those with ADHD to concentrate and focus. Many people with the condition who take the drug function better, though some people don’t like how the medication makes them feel. Adderall is classed as a Schedule II class drug in the US, because of its potential for abuse and stimulant addiction.
A recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 6.4% of full time college students used Adderall for unlicensed purposes. Of those students, 89.5% also reported binge drinking or heavy alcohol consumption, which adds fuel to claims that taking Adderall can lead someone into taking other substances.
Adderall and other drug use
Of the full-time college students who used Adderall for unlicensed purposes, the survey also found that they were:
8 times more like to have used prescription tranquilizers for unlicensed purposes than those who were not full-time college students.
5 times more likely to have used prescription pain relievers for unlicensed purposed than those who were not full-time college students
3 times more likely to have used marijuana than those who were not full-time college students
3 times more likely to have used cocaine than those who were not full- time college students
A 2005 study found that Adderall use by students for unlicensed purposes is increasing. Some experts believe that the figures are a result of the pressure and stress that many students experience.
College students are visiting doctors in increasing numbers and are complaining of symptoms such as problems with concentration. They might then be given a prescription for Adderall, which seems to happen quite easily.
Many students do not believe there is a risk in using medications like Adderall for unlicensed purposes. They do not appreciate or understand that stimulants can be highly addictive, and that they can cause heart problems, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, depression and headaches.
Abuse of drugs is the leading cause of death among students aged from 18-25.
Many studies have shown how easy it is to be given a prescription for Adderall, which results in the pills being sold on campuses during exam periods and when papers are due.
Because the drug is widely available and freely given out by doctors, people assume that it is safe.
In the case of students, studies have found 3 important facts about the use of Adderall.
People taking the drug for unlicensed users typically get lower grades than people who don’t use the drug.
People who take the drug for unlicensed purposes are more likely to be heavy drinkers who abuse other substances.
Boosting academic performance is not the only reason why students take the drug. They often take it to enhance their experience of partying hard.
The low down on Adderall
There is a lot of potential for abuse
Because Adderall is a stimulant, and it can give users a feeling of euphoria and of being very energetic, there is a high potential for abuse of the drug. These effects are caused by the fact that the drug increases the levels of dopamine in the brain and dopamine is associated with pleasure. Adderall is easy to obtain, though in the US it is classified as a class 2 controlled substance, due to its habit-forming potential. There have been recorded cases of people who abuse the drug developing psychosis, even if they had no history of mental illness prior to use.
Adderall is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, and it’s most common use is to treat the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It has also been shown to benefit those with sleep disorders and is sometimes used off-label for severe depression that has not responded to other treatment.
But it is a potent stimulant, and it is known to speed up bodily processes, and heighten alertness. This is partly to blame for users abusing the drug. They may like the way the drug makes them feel, so they may find that they have to take larger doses to get the same effect.
How is Adderall abused?
People may take a higher dose of the substance than prescribed.
They may take the drug using a non-approved method, such as snorting it.
They might take the drug for non-medical reasons, such as needing to stay awake for long periods.
They might take the drug more frequently than advised.
They might take the drug even if it was not prescribed for them.
They might buy the drug for recreational use from an illicit source.
How much does Adderall cost?
The branded form of Adderall is quite expensive, if you are planning on getting a 30-day supply. The brand name Adderall IR (the immediate-release form) will set you back between $150 and $170 for 30 tablets in the US.
The branded Adderall XR (the extended-release form) costs around $220 for a 30-day supply. Adderall is available in a cheaper generic version though.
The generic version of Adderall IR costs between $25 and $40 for a one-month supply. Generic Adderall XR usually costs between $75 and $150 for a 30-day supply.
What dosages are available?
Adderall is available in “IR” (immediate-release) and “XR” (extended-release) formats. The immediate-release version of Adderall is available at dosages of 5 mg, 7.5 mg, 10 mg, 12.5 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, and 30 mg. The extended-release version of Adderall is available in 5 mg, 10 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, 25 mg, and 30mg doses.
Once taken, the effects of Adderall IR last 4 to 6 hours and the XR format lasts 12 hours. Because there are more dosage options available, doctors will find it easier to manipulate doses to bring about the desired effect for a patient. Withdrawal from Adderall can be done far more easily because of the ability to reduce the doses in small increments.
Side effects of Adderall
Common side effects associated with the drug include appetite loss, dizziness, dry mouth, headache, insomnia, nervousness, stomach aches, and weight loss.
Levoamphetamine, the main compound in Adderall, is known to cause cardiovascular effects such as increased blood pressure and increased heart rate.
However, Adderall tends to produce stimulation without the ‘jittery’ side effects that are often associated with stimulants.
Withdrawal from Adderall
When people stop taking Adderall they can experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can include:
A worsening of ADHD/narcolepsy
It is possible that some people can experience worse symptoms of their condition than they experienced prior to taking the medication.
The effects of withdrawal from the drug can last for months or even years. This is due to the effect it has on the chemistry of the brain. Manipulating dopamine levels for long periods can leave a person with low dopamine levels in the brain and they will find less pleasure in things, lack focus, and motivation. In other words, they will need Adderall to feel happy. However, because Adderall is available in many different dosages, it is easier to reduce dosages gradually to reduce possible side effects and the effects of withdrawal.
Not much is known about the brain, and how even the slightest misfire of neurons or imbalance of brain chemistry can cause some troubling health conditions.
One such condition, that usually develops in childhood, is ADHD. It usually presents with symptoms such as hyperactivity and impulsiveness, and is usually treated with therapy and medication.
Narcolepsy is another condition which is often caused by problems with the brain chemistry. It causes people to feel very sleepy during the day, and to fall asleep at random times, without warning. The condition can’t be cured but it can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication.
Adderall is the drug of choice for both conditions. The drug calms ADHD sufferers, and alleviates daytime sleepiness in narcolepsy sufferers. The drug boosts alertness and energy too, so it often used off license for other reasons. It is used as a ‘smart’ drug by students, as its concentration boosting effects make it ideal for taking when they have to revise hard for an exam.
But these effects, plus its ability to increase the dopamine levels in the brain, mean that there is a high potential for abuse of the drug.
If a user takes too high a dose of the drug for an extended period, the manipulation of brain chemistry can lead to withdrawal symptoms once use is discontinued.
Symptoms of withdrawal can be lessened by using the drug appropriately, and reducing dosage in increments gradually, as recommended by your doctor.