When most people hear the word “amphetamine,” they usually think of crystal meth. At least I used to. Now, I associate it with a legal stimulant I used to take called Adderall. You may have heard of it. It is common among students looking to amp up their academic performance. In fact, college and high school kids who use the stuff call it their favorite “study buddy.”
Adderall – One of America’s Favorite Amphetamines
Adderall is a prescription medication commonly given to people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADHD. I know this because I took this medication at one point for this condition. At first, I thought it was a godsend for me. The drug seemed to be the answer to my all of my problems. What I didn’t know was how harmful it was going to be in the long run.
If you are currently taking this drug, you need to read my story. I don’t want you to get hooked on the stuff like I did. If you are trying it out, I hope I can help you understand the risks involved.
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My Need for a Medication to Help With My ADHD
Many times, people are prescribed Adderall when they are younger. For me, it didn’t become obvious that I needed medication until I was in college. Looking back, I definitely had an abundance of energy as a kid. I had a problem sitting still. But my parents thought it was just normal kid stuff.
My first semester of sophomore year at my university was stressful. My grades were horrible and I had a really hard time concentrating in class. It was also hard for me to focus when I studied. I didn’t realize at the time that there could be something wrong with me.
I was talking with a friend who suggested that I get tested for ADHD. She had been diagnosed with it several years earlier. She said I showed all the symptoms. I figured it couldn’t hurt to at least see a doctor and find out.
What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
There are a lot of fancy medical definitions of ADHD. I don’t want to explain in great detail how this mental disorder affects higher executive brain function. I won’t go all nerdy on you. I just want to share my personal take on it.
ADHD greatly affects a person’s ability to focus, concentrate, and be still in their own body. It produces a need to be in constant motion. It’s kind of like being driven by a motor that never shuts off.
ADHD makes everything external to the mind seem like a very inviting distraction. It makes it difficult to pay attention for extended periods of time. When you have this disorder, functioning mentally can feel like an impossible task.
The American Psychiatric Association reports that about five percent of all children and 2.5 percent of all adults have ADHD. However, many people go undiagnosed their whole lives so this may not be an accurate statistic.
What is Adderall?
Before I go any further, it’s important for you to understand what this medication is all about. Many people fail to understand that its chemical makeup is similar to the street drug crystal meth. It is a highly addictive substance – whether you are taking it as prescribed or using the drug illegally.
The so-called study buddy is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. It most commonly prescribed to treat ADHD. It is also used for a few other medical conditions like narcolepsy. This is a stimulant drug that helps people who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder pay attention and focus. It can also be used to help with behavioral problems.
I found out much later that Adderall can be addictive. This is something I wasn’t aware of when I first started taking it.
What Does Adderall Do?
This drug is a central nervous system stimulant. It increases the production of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.
I will let neuroscientist Dr. Ryan Davison explain it:
“People with ADHD tend to have lower levels of dopamine, a key chemical in the brain’s reward center. This lack of dopamine means people with ADHD are constantly seeking stimulation. Amphetamines stimulate the release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain so those minor distractions don’t cause you to lose focus.”
If you want a more in-depth explanation of how Adderall affects the brain, watch this video:
What’s the Difference Between Adderall and Ritalin?
Basically, when I went to the doc, I filled out a very lengthy questionnaire. My answers led to my diagnosis. My friend was right. I showed all the classic symptoms of ADHD. My doctor told me he was convinced I had the disorder.
We went over a lot of information together. He explained how ADHD affects the brain. We also talked about different options for me, including Adderall versus Ritalin. We discussed my symptoms and the side effects of each drug. He left the decision up to me.
Ritalin is very similar to Adderall. However, it doesn’t last as long. Honestly, that was the deciding factor for me. I started thinking about how much I needed to study. I knew that sometimes I needed to focus for long periods of time. I was afraid if I chose Ritalin, it might not work as effectively.
Because my friend had success with Adderall, I was hoping that I would have that same kind of success. The doctor gave me a prescription, but he never once warned me that it might be addictive.
Adderall Dosage Makes a Difference
This medication comes in different dosages. There are also different forms of the medication. My doctor and I discussed all of the different options. These included:
I was hoping the doc would put me on Adderall XR, because it’s extended release. This means it lasts longer. However, he thought it was safer to start me on 20 mg. He said a lower dose was better. We could increase it or change it later, if needed. He explained that if I started on too high or a dose, I could develop a tolerance. It wouldn’t be as effective if I went down on the milligrams later.
He didn’t explain to me what tolerance was and I didn’t ask. I should have. I trusted him completely. I was just looking forward to getting some relief from my ADHD symptoms. I should have slowed down. I never even thought to ask if the stuff was addictive. And, sadly, he didn’t volunteer that information.
ADHD and Addiction – The Two Go Hand-in-Hand
I now know that it is common for ADHD and addiction to go together. People who have this disorder are very uncomfortable in their own bodies. It makes sense that we would use chemicals to quiet the mind.
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In high school, I started mixing marijuana and alcohol. They helped me focus somewhat and it definitely mellowed me out. They calmed my nerves. I often smoked weed before school and I would sometimes sneak drinks from my parent’s liquor cabinet after school. I never got too carried away with my drug and alcohol use, thankfully.
But, I understand that people with ADHD use certain substances to help manage symptoms. This is called self-medicating. This kind of “self-help” often leads to substance abuse. Also, people who have this disorder are more prone to being addicted. This is problematic when someone turns to addictive Adderall as a solution. I would soon find this out.
My Adderall Abuse Begins
For people with ADHD, like myself, Adderall has a calming and soothing effect on the brain. Even though it is a stimulant, it would make me feel relaxed and focused. Abuse of the drug developed very quickly. It started it about a month before the fall semester of my junior year.
It wasn’t long before the pressure of school started to weigh on me. I took my regular dosage, but it didn’t seem to be living up to my expectations. Going to my doctor in the middle of the semester was out of the question. I had gone back home to visit our family doctor. Now, in college, I was two states away.
I increased the dosage on my own, not thinking anything of it. It was a legal prescription drug, right? Of course it was safe! After all, a doctor had recommended it for me. I had no idea I was participating in prescription drug misuse or abuse. It never even crossed my mind.
The Adderall High
Once I started abusing my medication, I experienced what the high was like. I never thought taking a few little pills could be so enjoyable. I don’t even know if I’d call it euphoria. The high was so much more than that. I felt like I could do anything; even take over the world if I wanted to. I kind of felt superhuman.
To say that I was enjoying Adderall at that point would be an understatement. It felt like I was soaking up information like a sponge when I was in class. I retained so much more when I studied. My grades suddenly went up, and my professors and parents were impressed with my progress.
The problem was, the stuff slowly stopped working. So, I would have to take more. This was the tolerance the doc was talking about. When you take an addictive substance, the brain gets used to it over time. What works in the beginning no longer works. You have to take more and more of the drug to get the same effect you used to get from a lower dose.
Adderall Side Effects
This medication comes with a lot of side effects. I didn’t know that when I started taking it. Sure, I received a drug information pamphlet from the pharmacy, but I threw it away like any college kid would.
When you take this drug, weight loss is a side effect, and it’s one that I started experiencing quickly. In fact, I lost so much weight in the first few months, I had to go buy new clothes.
There were other Adderall side effects that I didn’t know anything about too. They included:
- Insomnia (Many sleepless nights for me)
- Becoming constipated, or having diarrhea (I had both)
- A decreased appetite (I hated eating when I was high)
- Occasional headaches (some of these were pretty bad)
- Feelings of restlessness (This was worse than I felt before with unmedicated ADHD)
- Feelings of anxiety (I had the jitters a lot)
With Time, The Side Effects Got Worse
I would have been fortunate to only experience the Adderall side effects I mentioned on my first list. In fact, when I just had those issues, those were the good times – I just didn’t realize it. In time (with the more I took), the side effects got much worse. Looking back, I think it’s probably a good thing that they got worse. It’s when I started to realize something wasn’t quite right.
Here are some serious side effects I experienced:
- Changes in my vision (Things got blurry)
- Occasional chest pain (I freaked out a few times thinking I was having a heart attack)
- A rash on my body (Never itched so much in my entire life)
- Almost constant nausea (with nothing to throw up since I wasn’t eating)
These side effects didn’t begin until I had started abusing my medication. I’ll admit that many of these scared me. I was too afraid to tell my doctor that I had increased the dosage on my own. I also didn’t want to go home on break and have my parents wonder what was wrong with me.
Because of this, I made a decision. I immediately stopped taking Adderall altogether. It turns out that was a mistake.
My Struggle with Adderall Withdrawal
Medications seem safe because they’re prescribed. However, this is a misconception. You CAN get addicted to prescription stimulants. I know I did.
I told you I made the decision to stop taking my medication. I was so grounded in this decision, I even gave all my pills to a friend. Once I stopped taking my meds, I immediately went into withdrawal – only I didn’t know that is what was happening at first. I stopped taking the stuff to find relief from the side effects. Little did I know I would experience even worse symptoms when I suddenly stopped taking it.
Here’s what I experienced:
- Uncontrollable crying
- Overwhelming anxiety
- Body aches
- Hostility and irritability
- Mood swings
- Undeniable cravings for more Adderall
Things got so bad, I went to my friend and asked her for my pills back. At that point, I knew I had a problem and that I needed help.
The End of My Adderall Addiction
After some research, I realized that I was addicted. It wasn’t going to be enough for me to just stop taking it. I needed to get professional help. I called my parents and confessed everything to them. I told them I thought that I needed to go to an inpatient drug rehab. They were so supportive.
I had to go to a detox center first, but it was so worth it. They gave me sedatives to calm me down. Plus, they monitored me 24/7 to make sure I was safe. I stayed there seven days. It was the best thing I could have done. I simply could not have stopped using this drug on my own.
Going To Adderall Rehab
After detox, I stayed at a treatment center for two months that specialized in dual-diagnosis. This taught me how to cope with my ADHD without turning to a chemical solution. It also allowed to be supervised. I really struggled with cravings the first month. I don’t think I would have been strong enough to stay clean on my own without help.
I decided to take a year off from school to get stabilized without the medication. I stayed at an Oxford House near my parents after treatment so I could focus on my recovery full-time. I am happy to report that I am now three-and-a-half years clean from all substances, including alcohol. Plus, I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Engineering last year.
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How I Cope With My ADHD Without Adderall
One of the greatest benefits I took away from rehab was learning how to cope with my condition without pills. I am more stable now than ever. I feel balanced, focused, and content. I am doing awesome at my job. I even have an awesome girlfriend who says I am a great listener. (Imagine that!) I work an honest 12-Step program, which keeps me clean.
Meditation has helped me more than anything. So has yoga. I will admit that at first, I thought these things were corny. (And, I am the only guy in my yoga class, but so what!!) Yet, words cannot express how much these two practices have changed my life for the better. They have shown me how to be still and quiet my mind. They have taught me to be present in the moment. They have done more for me than pills ever could.
At first, I was intimidated by yoga so I started with meditation first. Once I learned that I could calm down and go at a slower place, I tried yoga. If you suffer from ADHD, I highly recommend that you give meditation and yoga a try.
Here is a video of an awesome guided meditation I really enjoy:
Also, you might like this beginner’s guide to yoga video:
Some Words to the Wise About Using Adderall For ADHD
In the United States, doctors push pills. It is a fact. It’s what they are trained to do. The problem is, many prescription drugs come with worse side effects than the condition itself. Plus, if you get hooked on an addictive medication, you will soon have a substance abuse problem to worry about too.
In my personal experience, I discourage anyone from taking Adderall. I just think it is too risky. If you have ADHD, you are predisposed to having a problem with addiction. Since the drug is addictive, you run the likelihood of getting hooked. It’s better not to take the gamble. Y
You can learn other ways to treat your condition without medication. Trust me. I have experienced this first hand. (By the way, there are other things that can help if meditation and yoga aren’t your thing).
If you are abusing this stimulant, stop now. If you are addicted, get help. The problem will only get worse with time.
Drugs.com. (18, April 2017). Adderall. Retrieved from: https://www.drugs.com/adderall.html
WebMD.com. (2017). Drugs & Medications: Adderall. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-63163/adderall-oral/details
Healthline.com. (14, July 2016). Adderall vs. Ritalin: What’s the Difference?. Retrieved from: http://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/adderall-vs-ritalin
Corpina.com. (2017). The Adderall High: What I Learned from Playing with Fire. Retrieved from: https://corpina.com/adderall-high/
Everydayhealth.com. (28, April 2014). What is Adderall (Adderall XR)?. Retrieved from: http://www.everydayhealth.com/drugs/adderall