09 Aug Are Study Drugs Addictive?
In today’s world, we medicate practically everything. From moderate pain, sleeping problems, to pills that help with weight loss. It seems there is a pill out there that can ‘solve’ nearly any problem onset by the human condition.
One such issue is a lack of focus and having ‘too much energy,’ which is now commonly diagnosed as ADD (attention-deficit disorder) and ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). These diagnoses came about once our understanding of the brain progressed, as neurologists were able to identify riffs in the brain’s chemistry linked to these issues.
In a pursuit to medicate the problem, Ritalin entered the marketplace in the 1990s, which started an explosion of study aid drugs that continues to gain momentum today.
The Harrowing Truth
When Ritalin first emerged in the US, the use of psychoactive medication on children was just starting to become more and more accepted—both by the public and the healthcare industry. Many blame Prozac and its widespread use for being something of a gateway. In the 20 years that followed, the prescription rate of Ritalin (and then Adderall) quadrupled in the US. Some accounts claim the FDA does not present accurate statistics and the rate actually increased by 700%.
The drug’s tremendous efficiency helped it spread like wildfire. Parents told other parents about this ‘miracle pill’ which helped their children focus in class and more of them rallied behind the medication. What was originally intended to be a short-term, quick fix to the problem, rapidly became a drug that held its position with pervasiveness. Those using it were delighted at the effects, so why only use it for a week? Thus a paradigm shift occurred and Adderall—Ritalin’s successor—became a long-term solution, with patients taking the medication for years after their first prescription.
As these kids aged and went to college, those without any ADD or ADHD caught wind of drugs to study that could magically grant hyper-focus and began to use Adderall and Ritalin without any prescription. Today, Adderall is not only overprescribed in America—but it’s not necessarily regarded as a drug and those who don’t need it seek it as a study aid.
This boom took America by storm. In less than thirty years, America became the largest consumer of study aid drugs in the world. The related is that us Americans consume 500% more study drugs than any other country.
What is Adderall?
Adderall, like its predecessor Ritalin, is a drug used to treat ADD and ADHD. In rarer cases, it can be used to treat sleep disorders like narcolepsy. Despite the current perception of Adderall, the drug is used to cover deficits, not optimize performance. The drug is the combination of four amphetamine salts—yes, amphetamines—and when it’s taken, it stimulates the neurotransmitter dopamine which is directly linked to the reward center of the brain. This release then causes euphoria but also helps the user feel calm, alert, and focused.
For those who have never taken the drug, it will certainly give them a ‘high’ like any other narcotic, but this ‘good’ feeling begets focus making it easier to study and be productive. Rather than using the drug for recreation (this still happens), those who abuse use it do so to boost their workmanship, thus seeing no problem in using the FDA approved medication—even without a prescription.
Is It Bad for You?
This question has yet to be fully answered. The study drug epidemic is too infantile to provide data that will answer: do study drugs do more harm than good? However, in this short period of time we’re certainly seeing a rise of evidence that supports their harming effects, rather than their beneficial ones. We’ll explain.
Adderall doesn’t necessarily focus on one part of the brain. In its attempt to compensate for deficiencies, it carpet bombs every region, which results in more stimulation than is needed. Dopamine and norepinephrine are released abundantly, which work to increase energy levels, suppress appetite, induce a ‘calming’ feeling, and stimulate the pleasure center of the brain—so that even studying can feel ‘good.’
Being that it’s a stimulant, it also raises blood pressure, heart rate, and activates the metabolism. As with any stimulant, those with a heart condition or high blood pressure are at risk of heart attack, stroke, and other medical emergencies when they take Adderall. These are rare incidents, but they do occur.
Yet, Adderall doesn’t have the same ‘killer tendency’ as say, benzodiazepine abuse and opioid abuse. It mixes poorly with others drugs and suppresses the effects of Alcohol, but we don’t see mass overdoses from its habitual use like we do with painkillers.
The real problem with Adderall is in the psyche, as the drug can manipulate the mind, foster addiction, and eventually drive a knife into mental stability.
As previously mentioned, Adderall directly manipulates the reward system of the brain. Every time it’s used, dopamine levels flare. Over time, the brain tries to compensate for this rush of neurotransmitters by stripping its dopamine receptors. This means that the brain’s functionality will wane and it’ll have a harder time producing the much-needed chemical on its own.
Thus, with a drop in dopamine, dangerous shifts can occur.
Depression & Anxiety
With the brain impaired, the natural state of ‘happiness’ can be hindered. The more and more the brain strips its dopamine receptors, the more and more Adderall is needed to achieve that euphoria or even stability. This means that without Adderall—or even on it for extended periods of time—the volatility can onset conditions like anxiety and depression.
In fact, once the brain has decided that Adderall is dopamine, when that link is broken, or in other words, Adderall is no longer granting its effects, then withdrawal-like symptoms can send the brain into a turbulent state. What was once a drug used to compensate for a deficit, or if used without a prescription to optimize performance, now becomes a medication required for mental stability.
The further this relationship between the brain and Adderall progresses, the less the brain can regulate its neurotransmitters on its own. Sadly, depression and anxiety are perhaps the most lighthearted side effects of study drugs.
With the brain massively depleted of dopamine, regulating energy levels becomes extremely difficult. Those that used Adderall for short and extended periods of time report that, once they stopped, simply rising in the morning was nearly impossible. The very drug that helps with alertness and focus, when abused, can render the brain less competent than it was before the medication was introduced.
Unfortunately, being that Adderall can cause massive swings in a person’s energy level, they tend to use the study aid drug even more when they’re feeling tired—to fight off the effects. Respectively, it becomes a matter of fighting fire with fire, until they’re completely burnt out.
Again, this occurs in rarer cases and often with a patient predisposed to certain mental illnesses or one that has co-occurring disorders, but Adderall has been linked with psychosis. Some users will have hallucinations, delusions, and full-blown psychosis. Further, it has now been linked as a trigger for schizophrenia, with many victims having first felt symptoms when they began to abuse the study drug.
Suicide and Adderall are not strangers, either. Brought about by psychosis, there have been a string of suicides directly linked to Adderall abuse since the early 1990s. From college students, teenagers, to fathers in their mid-30s, reports of suicide brought about by Adderall abuse has surfaced from nearly every part of the country.
Now we come to perhaps the scariest facet of the study aid drug epidemic occurring in our country; the addictive nature of the drugs we’re up against. Remember, Adderall is the combination of four amphetamine salts, which means it has specific similarities with crystal Meth abuse. We all know the reputation of meth—so how are they similar?
In short: it’s in their addictive properties and how they affect the brain. While Adderall addiction takes longer to develop, when the addiction hits, the treatment process is no different between the two drugs. The truth is this: Adderall churns out addicts because, well, the drug is extremely effective.
Just two years ago, over 100,000 patients were admitted into rehab for Adderall addiction—or addictions that first began with it. The easily accessible, over-prescribed drug is everywhere, and often we see two different types of addictions arise from its abuse.
Those in Need
While this article has had a primarily negative stance on the study drug, Adderall, we want to note here that it can be an absolute life changer for those suffering from extreme ADD or ADHD. Taken appropriately, with careful regulation by a doctor that cares for the patient’s well-being, it can be an effective tool to compensate for a person’s innate deficits.
Yet that’s not always the case. Those prescribed Adderall at an early age, or an earlier age, can develop a tolerance quickly. Tolerance begets dependency. Suddenly that 5mg prescription becomes 10mg, and eventually leads to those big 30mg pills every college student drools over. If the doctor is not closely monitoring a patient’s behavioral patterns, taking into account the amount of time they’ve been on Adderall versus the increase in prescription, and assessing their past history, then what was once a tool to combat their condition becomes a substance essential for their ‘survival.’
The less and less their brain can produce dopamine, the more and more they need to up their study aid drug prescription. Unfortunately, in many of these cases, the patient is continuously supplied with Adderall, and can even up their dosage effortlessly.
In which case addiction occurs and they become dependent on Adderall to function in their everyday lives.
Those Without Prescriptions
The college student that takes an Adderall for an all-nighter isn’t necessarily at risk for addiction. Plenty of students abuse the substance to knockout a last-minute essay or to study for a test they have to take the following morning. While we don’t advocate this type of use, it isn’t necessarily threatening.
However, what occurs is a paradigm shift in what the student or user thinks to be their most optimal performance. They’re incredibly pleased with how Adderall helps them study and aids their productivity. In which, they begin to think, ‘I am my best when I’m taking this study drug.’ They remove the link between the drug and the all-nighter situation, taking it simply to study during the daytime, to be effective at work, even just to clean their room.
These abusers, who haven’t eased into Adderall use (so to speak), are actually more at risk for addiction and the side effects brought about by Adderall. The quick introduction can shock the brain into a volatile state, and dependency can develop rapidly. Worst yet, their intake is not regulated. They didn’t start with the 5mg the doctor told them to take once a day, instead, they jump brackets and start with that 20mg pill they bought from the student down the hall.
In which case, the same addiction occurs, but it happens faster and with more volatility.
Adderall Abuse Statistics
- The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that around 7% of college students have used Adderall in a recreational way.
- Emergency room visits due to Adderall have tripled since its introduction to America, and so too has the addiction rate
- 1 out of every 10 high school students has abused Adderall without a prescription
- 1 out of every 3 college students have abused Adderall for study purposes
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse conducted a study that showed 10% of college students abused Adderall recreationally, which is 3% higher than the National Survey on Drug Use and Health
- The US consumes 80% of the worlds ‘study drug’ supply
- What was once thought to be a niche medicine, is now a multibillion-dollar industry
The reality is that, without a doubt, prescription drugs for studying are addictive. By their design, they’re not as lethal as opioids so they don’t receive the same attention, but every day they’re being abused and every day more and more addictions are forming. Perhaps the most devastating fact is that most who abuse the medication don’t consider it to be a drug at all. But we have a weapon to combat this phenomenon, and it’s called knowledge. It all starts here, by educating yourself on the true nature of these study aid drugs.
If you or a loved one is suffering from a substance abuse addiction, Georgia Drug Detox is here to help.
“Dangers Facing Students Who Use ‘Study Drugs’”. Addiction Center. 9 Jan. 2018. 15 Mar. 2019. https://www.addictioncenter.com/community/dangers-facing-students-who-use-study-drugs/
“Study Drugs.” Drugrehab.com. 1 June 2018. 15 Mar. 2019. https://www.drugrehab.com/addiction/prescription-drugs/study-drugs/
MacLaren, Erik. “History and Statistics of “Study Drugs.” Drugabuse.com. 15 Mar. 2019. https://drugabuse.com/adderall/history-and-statistics-of-study-drugs/