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Prescription drug abuse is a growing concern in the U.S., which accounts for just five percent of the world’s population but consumes 75 percent of its prescription medications, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

While nearly half of all teenagers and one-third of their parents believe prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs because they’re prescribed by a doctor, this simply isn’t the case. In fact, prescription drugs are responsible for 45 percent of all overdose deaths—more than cocaine, heroin and meth combined, according to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World.

Adderall is a commonly abused prescription drug that’s used to treat attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. When it’s abused, it is addictive and can be dangerous.

How Adderall Works

Adderall contains the stimulants dextroamphetamine and amphetamine, which increase brain levels of dopamine, the brain chemical that’s associated with movement, attention, and pleasure. It may sound counter-intuitive to treat hyperactivity with a stimulant, but for people with ADHD, Adderall has a calming and focusing effect.

When used properly, Adderall achieves its therapeutic effects by increasing dopamine levels slowly and steadily, which is how the brain produces it. When taken by someone without ADHD or in doses higher than prescribed, Adderall increases dopamine levels too quickly, leading to feelings of intense wakefulness, talkativeness and euphoria.

How Adderall is Abused

Adderall is commonly abused by teenagers and young adults who mistakenly believe that it enhances learning and thinking ability. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse points out that research debunks this idea. In fact, studies show that high school and college students who misuse stimulant medications have lower GPAs than those who don’t. It is also abused for the purpose of losing weight or getting high.

Consequences of Adderall Abuse

Stimulant drugs increase heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure, and they reduce sleep and suppress the appetite. Adderall abuse can cause malnutrition and general poor health as well as produce feelings of paranoia or hostility. High doses can lead to stroke and other serious cardiovascular consequences. Chronic abuse can worsen existing depression and anxiety or cause the onset of these and other mental illnesses.

The rapid increase in dopamine that results from misusing Adderall disrupts normal brain function and increases the risk of developing an addiction, which is characterized by compulsive use of a substance despite negative consequences. Abusing Adderall also increases the risk of developing a dependence on it, which is characterized by functional brain changes that lead the brain to function more “normally” when Adderall is present than when it’s not. As a result, withdrawal symptoms set in when the drug is withheld from the body. These include disorientation, deep depression, and fatigue.

Other health effects of Adderall abuse may include irregular heartbeat, a loss of strength, stomach pain, chronic constipation, feelings of hostility and sexual dysfunction.

Treating Adderall Addiction

If you’ve developed an addiction to Adderall and find that you can’t stop using it even though you want to or have tried to, a high-quality drug treatment program can help. Once an addiction has developed, it almost always requires professional help to overcome. Willpower and good intentions rarely work to curb addictive behaviors for the long-term.

Treatment will begin with medical detox if a physical dependence has also developed. During medical detox, various medications will be administered as needed to help alleviate the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms.

Once the physical dependence has been broken, various traditional and alternative research-based therapies will be used to address the far more complex issues behind the addiction. Therapy will help provide a higher level of self-awareness, identify and replace harmful ways of thinking and behaving and develop the skills and strategies necessary to cope with cravings, stress and other triggers.

If you’re addicted to Adderall, chances are, you’ve lost your sense of good health and well-being. The good news is that there is hope for a better future free of addiction. Getting help now will improve your physical and mental health and lead to a far higher quality of life.

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Know Your Pills: Adderall & Its Risks
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