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Effects Of Adderall Abuse On The Brain

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

March 29, 2019

Abusing Adderall can have a negative impact on the brain and other body organs. Getting help for Adderall addiction can prevent these negative side effects and get you on the path to long-term recovery.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, stimulant drug prescriptions have seen a nearly 40 percent increase since 2007. One of the most popular drugs being prescribed in this category is Adderall.

Adderall is a prescription stimulant used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. It is known for its ability to increase focus, concentration, and energy. When used as prescribed, Adderall is highly effective at helping combat ADHD symptoms.

However, as prescriptions for this drug rise, the chance of it being abused does as well.

What Is Adderall?

Adderall, brand name for amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, is a stimulant that works by affecting the central nervous system in the body. Adderall is one of the top line of defenses in the treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It can also be used to treat sleep disorders like narcolepsy.

Adderall works on the dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters in the brain. Dopamine is part of the reward system in the brain, whereas norepinephrine affects the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is in charge of “fight or flight” responses like high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and blood vessels.

How Does Adderall Affect The Brain?

Because Adderall directly affects the dopamine and norepinephrine receptors, it has a direct impact on the brain. Adderall increases the activity of these neurotransmitters, which in turn can produce feelings of euphoria, focus, and energy.

Taken in therapeutic doses, Adderall rarely has long-term negative effects on the brain. However, when abused, Adderall can have a significant and lasting impact on the brain.

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How Does Long-Term Adderall Abuse Impact The Brain?

When Adderall is abused long-term, changes in the brain can happen. This is especially true in the case of dopamine. Adderall abuse can change the activity of dopamine in the brain and decrease the amount of dopamine available.

Less dopamine in the brain means that it’s harder to feel pleasure with the drug. People who abuse Adderall long-term often have to take the drug just to feel normal or happy. Without the drug, they may feel depressed and uninterested in things they used to enjoy.

Additionally, a tolerance can be built up to Adderall. This means that more of the drug is needed to feel the same effects. The more Adderall a person takes, the more likely he or she is to experience these changes in the brain.

Can Adderall Cause Brain Damage?

Because the rise of Adderall abuse has been fairly recent, few studies have examined whether abusing this drug can cause brain damage. However, a study performed by the National Institutes of Health concluded that methamphetamine abusers are more likely to have brain abnormalities.

Adderall Neurotoxicity

Abusing Adderall can also have severe effects on the nervous system. High levels of dopamine can lead to neurotoxicity, which can cause damage to the nerves.

Adderall floods the brain with dopamine and prevents it from being naturally reabsorbed. By repeatedly abusing Adderall, the brain’s ability to create and reabsorb dopamine diminishes. The brain may even eliminate dopamine faster in attempt to balance itself.

When a person’s brain is unable to create dopamine at a normal rate, he or she is more susceptible to the Adderall “crash” that happens when the drug leaves the system.

Symptoms of low dopamine in the brain that can occur after stopping Adderall may include:

  • fatigue
  • increased appetite
  • depression
  • sleep problems
  • panic attacks
  • irritability
  • motor control problems
  • stomach pain
  • memory issues
  • tremors

The brain will likely recover from any damage done by long-term Adderall abuse. However, it can take several weeks or months for a person to feel normal again after stopping the drug.

Other Long-Term Effects Of Adderall Abuse

Adderall abuse can have an effect on nearly every system in the body as well as the mind. The longer a person abuses the drug, the more likely he or she is to experience negative effects.

Other long-term effects of abusing Adderall may include:

  • ulcers
  • breathing problems
  • heart damage
  • mood changes
  • seizures
  • psychosis
  • trouble sleeping
  • inability to concentrate
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • irritability

Getting Help For Adderall Abuse And Addiction

If you or a loved one is coping with an Adderall addiction, getting treatment is the best decision that can be made to get on the path to recovery.

Depending on the severity of addiction, a formal treatment program may be recommended. This can include a medically supervised detox program that helps the individual withdraw from the drug.

Inpatient rehab programs are also highly recommended for stimulant addiction. Inpatient programs offer daily intensive treatment that is often personalized to each patient’s needs. These programs can help someone overcome Adderall addiction and learn how to live life without drugs.

To learn more about the effects of Adderall abuse on the brain and treatment options for Adderall addiction, contact our treatment specialists today.

RxList - Adderall XR Capsules

Everyday Health - What Is Adderall (Adderall XR)?

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Prescription Stimulants

Molecular Psychiatry - Potential Adverse Effects of Amphetamine Treatment on Brain and Behavior: A Review

Center for Substance Abuse Research - Amphetamines

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