Is Adderall Bad for You? Long Term Effects of Adderall
Dr. Gerardo Sison
Roughly 10 percent of children in the United States are estimated to be affected by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. This common neurodevelopmental disorder impacts behavior, social interaction, and attention span, and it can make social settings a challenge. Some children with ADHD find that their symptoms diminish as they approach adulthood, while others find that their symptoms persist into their adult years. Adderall is one of the most popular prescription medications for the treatment for ADHD. While the drug can be effective at treating the symptoms of ADHD, it is also associated with a long list of short term and long term effects. Some people may tolerate Adderall well, while others may be at risk of serious side effects based on their medical history. The long term effects of Adderall can be serious, but is Adderall bad for you?
Short Term Effects of Adderall
Adderall is renowned for its short term effects. People who take Adderall for the treatment of ADHD or narcolepsy often notice a significant improvement in their symptoms over the short term. The effects of Adderall are so well known that the medication is commonly abused by students and other people who want to be able to focus intently on a particular task or subject for a short period of time, such as during a stressful time at work or while studying for a test. An estimated 30 percent of students report using a stimulant like Adderall as a “study enhancer” during stressful testing times. Ironically, studies show that people who do not have ADHD and take Adderall may actually experience memory impairment as a result of using the drug. The short term effects of Adderall can be broadly categorized as desirable and undesirable.
Desirable Short Term Effects of Adderall
Shortly after taking Adderall, people using the drug may feel more energized, motivated, focused, and productive. Some people may experience feelings of euphoria, but for the most part, the most common effect is a feeling of concentration and focus. People taking Adderall may feel capable of taking on any obstacle that crosses their path. These effects are the reason why Adderall is commonly abused by people who do not have a medical need for the drug.
Undesirable Short Term Effects of Adderall
For all of Adderall’s short term benefits, the medication is also associated with a number of undesirable short term effects or side effects. Adderall should only be taken with a valid prescription from a doctor because your doctor will be able to document any side effects and reduce or otherwise adjust your dose accordingly. Common undesirable short term effects of Adderall include:
- Appetite loss
- Dry mouth
- Head pain
- Digestive problems such as nausea and constipation
- Heart palpitations
- Rapid heartbeat
- Mood changes, including irritability, anxiety, or agitation
- Sleep issues
Rare and potentially serious side effects of Adderall include:
- Symptoms of psychosis
- Heart problems
- Mood changes
People experience the undesirable short term effects of Adderall differently. Side effects vary from person to person and can be influenced by a person’s age or underlying medical conditions. Many patients will find that their side effects disappear after a week or two as their body adjusts to the medication, and some people may not experience any side effects at all. Patients experiencing any of the potentially serious side effects of Adderall, including symptoms of psychosis, heart problems, and mood changes should seek medical attention immediately, even if the symptoms disappear after a short period of time.
Long Term Effects of Adderall
While the short term effects of Adderall can be positive, the patient’s experience can change over time as use of the medication continues. There are numerous long term effects of Adderall, some of which can be potentially dangerous, particularly for patients with certain medical histories or a history of substance abuse. Less serious long term effects of Adderall include:
- Weight loss
- Head pain
- Anxiety or panic
- Stomach problems
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Depressed or irritable mood
- Other emotional changes
Three potentially serious long term effects of Adderall include heart problems and potential for stroke, dependency and addiction, and changes in mood and sex drive.
Increased Risk of Heart Problems and Stroke
Adderall is a central nervous system stimulant. While the medication is intended to act on your brain chemistry and improve focus, one of the side effects of the medication is the potential for increased blood pressure and an increased heart rate. Adderall has a black box warning from the FDA due to its potential to cause serious cardiovascular problems, including heart attack and stroke. People with preexisting heart issues, high blood pressure, or other risk factors for heart problems are considered to be even more at risk of experiencing potentially serious cardiovascular events. Adults are more likely to experience potentially serious cardiovascular complications than children, and the risk increases as people age. Stroke, heart attacks, and sudden death have all been reported with stimulant drugs, including Adderall. Anyone experiencing chest pain, dizziness, or other symptoms of heart problems while taking Adderall should seek medical attention immediately.
Dependency and Addiction
Adderall is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance by the DEA due to its high potential for drug abuse and addiction. Schedule II is the highest level of control given to drugs that have a viable medical application. Many college students and high school students suffer from adderall abuse in order to stay awake studying for long periods. Long term use of prescription stimulants like Adderall can cause the brain to become dependent on the effects of the medication, which inhibits the brain’s natural ability to produce dopamine, an important neurotransmitter. Over time, lower levels of dopamine can cause:
- Depressed mood and mood changes
People who do not have a medical need for Adderall or who take the drug regularly over an extended period of time are more likely to develop a physical or psychological dependence on the drug. Symptoms of Adderall dependence may include:
- Muscle weakness
- Panic attacks
- Body aches
When Adderall dependence escalates, it can become an addiction. Common signs of an Adderall addiction include:
- Not being able to work without taking the medication
- Expending significant time and money to obtain and use the medication
- Not feeling alert without the medication
- Needing larger doses to achieve the desired effect
- Feeling unable to cut back on substance use
Adderall dependence and addiction are serious and potentially dangerous, but stopping the medication abruptly can also cause potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. If a loved one is suffering from prescription drug dependence, inpatient addiction treatment programs are available to help them safely discontinue their amphetamine use. Withdrawal symptoms are more likely to occur in people who have taken Adderall for two weeks or more. Patients who have been taking Adderall regularly for an extended period of time should only discontinue use of the medication or lower their dose with the supervision of a medical professional. Withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Changes in mood
- Increased appetite
- Strange dreams
Psychiatric Problems and Libido Changes
Long term use of Adderall can contribute to the escalation of mental health issues in rare circumstances. Reports of behavioral changes such as hostility and aggression can occur, and some patients have reported developing symptoms of bipolar disorder. The FDA warns that central nervous system stimulants like Adderall can contribute to symptoms of psychosis, including hallucinations and paranoia, as well as mood swings. People with existing mental health problems may be more likely to experience psychiatric problems when using Adderall long term.
Adderall is also known to cause changes in libido when taken long term. Men who use Adderall long term may feel less sexual desire or experience difficulty getting or keeping an erection, a condition known as erectile dysfunction, particularly when the drug is taken at high doses. Difficulty engaging in sexual activity can cause psychological issues and problems with self-esteem, which can further compound the problem.
Adderall is a helpful medication for the treatment of ADHD, but the long term effects of Adderall can be serious for some patients. While many of the long term effects of Adderall subside when use of the drug is discontinued, some side effects may not stop. Heart damage caused by Adderall is especially unlikely to improve over time. The good news is that Adderall is usually not associated with permanent changes to the chemistry of the brain. Some patients are more likely to experience side effects of Adderall, so the drug should only be taken under the supervision of your prescribing physician and should never be used without a prescription.