An Expert Explains What Happens When You Misuse Adderall

August 25th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

The non-medical use of prescription stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin has health experts concerned — for good reason. These drugs can cause a wide range of physical and psychological problems for people who don't suffer from attention deficit disorders, studies have shown.


Misuse of prescription stimulants (especially among college students) has become more common in the past decade, according to multiple national surveys. The drugs are generally thought of as study aids that allow students to focus for extended periods of time. But these stimulants can pose health risks to those who take them without a prescription.

Moreover, the notion that such stimulants enhance academic performance has come under question in several studies. While these stimulants do appear to improve attention and mitigate disruptive behavior for individuals suffering from attention deficit disorders, it's unclear whether the drugs improve other cognitive functions such as memory.

Shaheen Lakhan authored a 2012 study comparing the effects of medical and non-medical use of prescription stimulants. He told ATTN: it's not accurate to describe these drugs as cognitive enhancers.

"Contrary to simple implicit assumptions found in bioethics and media discourses, there are actually only a few studies on the enhancement effects of cognitive enhancers in individuals without ADHD," Lakhan said. "Moreover, the evidence concerning stimulant effects of working memory is mixed, with some findings of enhancement and some null results, although no findings of overall performance impairment."


Research on the long-term effects of prescription stimulant use is limited, but studies show that abusing the drugs can raise users' risk of several psychological and cardiovascular problems.

"The most common side effects for a healthy individual taking stimulants recreationally are hypertension (high blood pressure) and tachycardia (fast heart beat)," Lakhan said. "Users may also have anorexia (lack of appetite), constipation, dizziness, dry mouth, headache, insomnia, jitteriness, irritability, nausea, and palpitations."

"Large doses of stimulants can lead to psychosis and seizures and potentially heart attacks, arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), and sudden death. It should be noted that these stimulates increase core body temperature that may lead to heatstroke."


People who misuse prescription stimulants over a long period experience several physical and psychological side effects, the American Addiction Centers reported. Those side effects range from sleep difficulties and irritability to panic attacks and tremors.

Lakhan told ATTN: that more research needs to be done into the long-term effects of stimulant use. "Unfortunately, there are few long-term studies (i.e., longer than 24 months) on the use of stimulants for the management of ADHD," Lakhan said. "Therefore, the precise long-term effects — either adverse or positive — remain unknown."

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