Perhaps you or your child has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and you’re looking at treatment options. On the other hand, you may be desperately seeking a study pill to improve your performance at college or work.
In any case, you’re probably wondering what the side effects of Adderall are, and if any are long-term. What are the most common and rare effects of the drug? Is it all worth it in the end? Let’s take a closer look.
Key Takeaways: The Effects of Adderall
What Is Adderall?
Adderall is a common stimulant medication. It is made up of a legal combination of amphetamine salts, including both D- and L-amphetamine. In chemistry terms, D- and L- forms of molecules are mirror images of each other and have different effects. For example, D-amphetamine is more potent in terms of increasing dopamine levels .
What Does Adderall Do?
Adderall increases the levels of dopamine and noradrenaline in your brain. It boosts the release of dopamine into the synapses, where brain cells communicate; while reducing its reuptake into the cells (where it cannot be used) and slowing its breakdown.
The drug also increases levels of other neurotransmitters, namely serotonin. While dopamine improves your motivation to make an effort and focus, serotonin is a mood-boosting brain chemical.
What Is Adderall Used For?
Adderall is primarily used as an ADHD medication and is sometimes a treatment for narcolepsy. This is because both disorders feature impaired production of dopamine and noradrenaline . However, many people abuse Adderall in order to improve their academic or professional performance.
In which age group is the use of ADHD medication, like Adderall, most prevalent?
Common Side Effects of Adderall
Adderall use has a range of common side effects, which differ across gender and age groups. These include erectile dysfunction, pregnancy risks, loss of appetite, and sleep issues.
Adderall Side Effects in Males
As a man, Adderall abuse can negatively affect your performance in the bedroom. Amphetamine is linked with a higher risk of erectile dysfunction, despite the belief that stimulant drugs boost sexual function. However, amphetamine may also enhance sexual desire in men, creating a combination that could lead to a lot of disappointment .
Adderall Side Effects in Females
There are a few side effects specific to women, particularly in pregnancy. Compared to women who discontinue the drugs, women who keep taking Adderall and other stimulants have a 26% higher risk of pre-eclampsia. You are also 30% more likely to have a premature birth if you continue Adderall, too .
Both Adderall and Ritalin constrict the blood vessels, which can raise a person’s blood pressure whether or not they are pregnant. This may restrict oxygen and nutrient supply to your baby, thereby potentially reducing birth weight or causing premature birth.
Adderall Side Effects in Children
Children, like adults, usually experience mild side effects, including appetite loss, stomach ache, and trouble sleeping . As described below, there is a small decrease in growth rates with long-term use.
Severe Side Effects of Adderall
Sometimes, Adderall use can take a turn for the worse and cause serious side effects. Seek medical attention if you or your child experiences any of these:
- Cardiovascular effects.
- Psychiatric issues.
- Growth suppression in children.
- Serotonin syndrome.
As a stimulant, amphetamines speed everything up, including your cardiovascular system. Common side effects include high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), palpitations, and a faster breathing rate. Some people develop tachycardia, a faster heart rate that is most pronounced when you exercise. In rare cases at high doses, heart attack is possible .
Common psychiatric side effects of Adderall include anxiety, hyperactivity, insomnia, and even paranoia. Amphetamine can also trigger psychosis in genetically susceptible people. While having these genes does not necessarily mean you will experience psychotic symptoms for life, they do make it more likely that you will have an episode of psychosis from amphetamine use.
Anywhere between 8–46% of people taking amphetamines are estimated to have experienced drug-induced psychosis .
Growth Suppression in Children
Growth suppression is a known side effect that may have negative physical and social consequences if you don’t address it. Children taking Adderall grow an average of 2 centimeters (just under 1 inch) less over three years, and their average weight gain is 2.7 kilograms less than unmedicated children. There is no rebound after Adderall withdrawal .
Adderall use, especially in high doses, can lower your seizure threshold. This is more likely if you have a history of seizures or EEG abnormalities whether or not they are severe enough to be clinical epilepsy. For this reason, the FDA recommends caution or avoidance if you have had seizures in the past .
One lesser-known effect of Adderall is that it increases serotonin levels in the brain. This may put you at risk of serotonin syndrome, especially if you are mixing Adderall with antidepressants or other drugs that raise levels of the neurotransmitter.
The most common symptoms of serotonin syndrome include sweating, rapid heart rate, excessively fast reflexes, and an altered mental state. Severe cases with very high doses can cause organ damage .
Who Should Not Take Adderall?
There are some people who should avoid Adderall entirely. If you have a personal or family history of psychosis, for example, you should not take Adderall. Continuing to use amphetamine treatment after an episode of drug-induced psychosis can increase your risk of developing a chronic psychotic disorder .
Can Adderall Permanently Change Brain Chemistry?
Unfortunately, Adderall may affect brain chemistry for three years or more, but its short-term effects make quitting difficult.
Adderall’s Short-Term Effects on the Brain
Whether or not you are taking Adderall as a prescription medication, it affects brain chemistry by increasing levels of dopamine, noradrenaline, and other neurotransmitters such as serotonin. With chronic use, your body adjusts and will make less of these without the help of Adderall. This is why withdrawal symptoms are an issue with quitting the drug.
Adderall withdrawal has its own short-term effects on brain chemistry. When you recover from substance addiction, taper suddenly, or miss a dose, your cortisol levels rise in your brain as dopamine and noradrenaline levels fall. This increases oxidative stress, impairs the growth of new brain cells, and may contribute to withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety .
Adderall’s Long-Term Effects on the Brain
Research shows that Adderall may, unfortunately, have long-term risks regarding brain chemistry, whether you use it for a short or long period. In fact, impaired dopamine signaling has even been found after three years of abstinence. As this causes poor memory and slowed motor function, many feel that taking more Adderall is the answer and fall back into substance abuse.
Adderall may also be directly toxic to brain cells, through excessive levels of dopamine. This leads to oxidative stress and may kill off the cells. Brain cells do not divide, only neural stem cells can, so damage can last years or be permanent .
Is Adderall a High-Risk Medication?
It is a common misconception that Adderall is safe, thanks to its status as an ADHD medication. Although some students believe if you take Adderall for school and to be a success then it is fine, there is a risk of abuse .
Is Adderall Addictive?
Adderall has such a high prevalence of substance abuse that the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified it as a Schedule II substance. Legally, you must have a prescription to buy Adderall. You are only able to buy 30 days’ worth of doses at the same time, and you cannot get refills with the same prescription .
Signs of Adderall Abuse
Adderall abuse can follow the same pattern as other types of drug abuse. You are likely addicted to Adderall if you constantly seek your next dose, or a secure supply of the drug, at the expense of your safety or other aspects of your life. If you feel you cannot live without Adderall, there is a chance you are addicted.
Taking Adderall for medical reasons or under limited circumstances, such as during an exam period, are unlikely to be situations of addiction. If you’ve skipped classes or parties to seek your next round of pills, or knowingly risked arrest, you could have an Adderall addiction.
Alternatives to Adderall for ADHD
If you can’t bear the side effects or just feel they’re not worth it, there are alternatives available. These include both pharmaceutical drugs and nootropics, the closest thing you can get to over-the-counter Adderall.
Ritalin is a common non-amphetamine pharmaceutical treatment for ADHD. You may feel safer taking Ritalin as it does not last as long in the body, although it requires more frequent doses. This allows you to control when you feel its effects, which may be helpful if you don’t need ADHD meds all the time as your condition is milder .
There are many natural nootropics for energy and cognition that can improve mental performance in young professionals and older adults. For example, Ginkgo biloba is able to boost blood flow to the brain, increasing energy supply. Clinical trials show that this can improve attention span and memory .
Another example of the popular nootropics for memory, Bacopa monnieri, increases acetylcholine, dopamine, and noradrenaline. It may also increase attention span, as well as processing speed .
If you’re having trouble choosing which natural alternative is right for you, Mind Lab Pro and Performance Lab are two nootropic supplements with carefully curated ingredients.
Mind Lab Pro features 11 ingredients, including tyrosine, lion’s mane mushroom, and key B vitamins for neurotransmitter production. Lion’s mane mushroom can enhance the production of new brain cells, which is important after years of heavy Adderall abuse or ADHD treatment. Clinical studies show improved memory and general cognition in older adults .
For more information, check out the full Mind Lab Pro review.
Performance Lab contains citicoline, phosphatidylserine, tyrosine, and maritime pine bark extract. Phosphatidylserine, for example, is another nootropic that supports brain cell maintenance and regeneration, by aiding the transport of nerve growth factor . Maritime pine bark extract is a powerful antioxidant that may help clean up the damage from the chronic use of amphetamines .
Read the complete Performance Lab review here to learn more.
What are the most important things to know about the downsides of Adderall?
Is It Bad To Take Adderall if Not Prescribed?
Abusing Adderall is unlikely to do you any favors. With few real improvements to cognitive function seen in people without ADHD, you will still suffer from side effects .
Is Adderall Bad for Your Heart?
Adderall can dysregulate your heart rhythm, making it faster or irregular. With high blood pressure, this can cause damage to your blood vessel walls in the long term. If the blood vessels in your heart are damaged, this can have catastrophic consequences.
Can You Overdose on Adderall?
Yes, it is possible to overdose on Adderall and other ADHD medications. In the case of Adderall, excessive levels of dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin cause overdose symptoms. Seizures, paranoia, hallucinations, delirium, and rapid heart rate are some symptoms, with treatment typically involving sedatives or antipsychotics.
Some patients unfortunately need intensive care, but sudden death is rare as overdose is well-understood and treatable .
What Does Adderall Do if You Don’t Have ADHD?
There aren’t many positive effects of Adderall if you don’t need it to treat ADHD. Research on healthy college students shows that Adderall only made minimal improvements to cognitive performance. Some aspects of mental performance, such as cognitive flexibility, may worsen with Adderall abuse .
Can You Take Adderall for Life?
The risk of Adderall abuse as a result of dependency means that the FDA does not recommend prolonged use of the drug. Other pediatric or adult ADHD medications may be prescribed, or Adderall could simply be used as a stop-gap solution during therapy.
Overall, Adderall is bad for you with prolonged use. With side effects ranging from insomnia and irregular heartbeat to pregnancy complications and brain cell toxicity, the drug may only have its place as a short-term treatment.
Options include transitioning to other drugs under medical support if you have ADHD, or addiction treatment if you’ve been using the stimulant as a study pill. Nootropic supplements, in either case, can help to both increase your neurotransmitter production and address damage caused by long-term Adderall use.
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