Adderall: Is it the Good Grade Pill?

Community was a highly acclaimed TV show that first came out in 2009 on NBC. It was a sitcom revolving around a group of community college students. The show’s humor came from being extremely meta about every aspect of the show and through a heavy dosage of pop cultural references. It was self-aware to a fault and parodied itself and other shows and movies to their full extent.

But being a sitcom, it was full of wacky and zany characters that on closer inspection, would reveal to be affected by serious mental and personality related issues. You know – just like any other TV sitcom that makes light of mental illness.

The Tale of Annie Edison

One of these wacky characters was Annie Edison, played by the lovely and talented Alison Brie. As a child, she was one of those children who are pressurized by their parents (her mom in this case) to have exceptional performance and to excel academically. She was doing pretty well, but this push from her mother sent her on a downward spiral. She was naturally intelligent and attractive but became very unpopular in high school. Of course, the desire to fit in during the teen years is prevalent, for sure. Ultimately, Annie became over-competitive and a compulsive overachiever to a dangerous degree.

In order to fulfill her and her mother’s expectations, she succumbed to relying on a prescription pill for some help. She picked up Adderall, as it was supposed to help her focus better in the never-ending activities that occupied her schedule. Now, it could have helped her focus some, and perhaps gave her some extra energy, but it culminated in her becoming addicted.

As a result, she ended up having a nervous breakdown, running through a glass door and being severely injured and embarrassed. Her addiction and emotional issues prompted her to drop out of school and as a result, she lost her scholarship.  However, at the beginning of the television show, she had just come out of rehab free of her addiction and was joining a community college. By the end of the series, she was (Spoiler Alert) about to join an internship under the FBI.

The Truth Behind The Fiction

Stories very similar are not that difficult to find in the real world. It used to be that Adderall addiction was more prevalent at colleges and grad schools, but now,  Annie’s story can be found even among high school students. And, this is a trend seen across the country, with other drugs like Focalin and Ritalin also joining the ranks of abused prescription drugs used to increase academic performance.

All these drugs are Schedule II controlled substances. This means that there is a high chance that the user will become psychologically or physically dependent on it. Other drugs that they share space with on the schedule are Demerol, Methadone, and Fentanyl – all opium derivatives.

The Lure of Adderall

Adderall works more along the lines of cocaine. It is a combination of two amphetamines salts. It was first launched by Richwood Pharmaceuticals in 1996 and is currently owned by Teva Pharmaceuticals. The name itself is meant to be a contraction of “ADD for All”, which was supposed to be “an inclusive thing”.

The ADD part was for what Adderall was used to treat – attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. It was also used to treat narcolepsy, and it is recognized as particularly effective. It is a stimulant of the central nervous system. Smaller therapeutic doses are found to bring about a sense of euphoria, increase alertness, improves cognitive ability and thereby, increases productivity. It promises better grades and is often abused because of this. However, by just taking Adderall, you will not just automatically get better grades.

The increase of Adderall addiction

Adderall achieves its therapeutic value by increasing dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that causes us to feel happy. Adderall prevents it from being reabsorbed into the body after its use, thus leading to greater concentrations of it in the brain. This becomes addictive on larger doses over longer periods of time and is a major concern for Adderall addiction.

The brain’s reward system becomes wired in such a way that it craves the feeling that Adderall provides it with. With prolonged and continued use, the body develops tolerance towards it. This means that larger doses become necessary, as the previous doses don’t work anymore. Now what started as a productivity boost has become full blown Adderall addiction.

This changes the behavior of the person, who is supposed to just be taking Adderall as prescribed. The person then does everything to get more pills. They may fake symptoms of ADHD, ask their friends to fill prescriptions for them, steal from people with ADHD and spend all their money on Adderall instead of daily necessities.

Adderall addiction causes painful withdrawal when trying to stop

What’s worse is that people trying to quit the addiction are faced with withdrawal. It shows up within hours of the last dose. The person has already developed a tolerance so the drug doesn’t seem to be effective. But the addicted person cannot stop taking it.

Withdrawal shows up in the form of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. All the effects of the drug are also removed, and it gets harder and harder to concentrate or feel energetic. Additionally, the more dependent the person is, the harder the withdrawal symptoms.

During withdrawal, the body is trying to get over the effects of Adderall and get back its rhythm of dopamine. However, this takes time and can range from one week for mild users, and 3-4 weeks for people who have been dependent for over a year. The rehab itself is not dangerous, but it is difficult.

There is however, more to this problem than this. Some of it comes from our limited understanding of ADD. Many people who suffer from genuine cases of ADHD are never diagnosed with it, while many children are wrongly diagnosed with it. The undiagnosed ones try to treat their condition by self-medicating with Adderall. Over time, research has shown that Adderall users are more apt to try cocaine down the road and become addicted to it. People on Adderall medication have also shown a greater tendency towards addiction to other drugs in general. Some even abuse Adderall as a substitute for cocaine.

A False Promise

The increase in the number of high strength prescriptions being made for such conditions can partly be blamed for this. Numbers have tripled in the four years between 2008 and 2012 itself. In 2012, 16 million people were prescribed with stimulants. In 2013, 3.5 million children were prescribed stimulants. It is certainly much easier to get an Adderall prescription than before.

But as the name indicated, this is just what was intended. ADD for all. The drug has become extremely popular, even for people with no ADD. Teens can find out about it easily in high school and it’s very easy to find on college campuses.

For students struggling with course work and trying to live it up in their college years, it promises them everything they wish for. But the dream only lasts for a very short time. Soon the student develops tolerance and needs more and more doses that are not as effective as they were before. If they somehow haven’t developed a tolerance, they burn themselves out on the Adderall provided dopamine rush.

In many of these cases, the end result is a panic attack, a hospital ride and a trip to the rehab. But it can also very easily end in a ruined career too. Most abuse results in making the lives of students even more in a disarray.

Interestingly enough, the cognitive enhancing abilities of the drug are not even proven. Most research calls them ambiguous at best. But Adderall addiction is no laughing matter. Getting a prescription has become easier and an addict goes to any length to acquire their drugs.

But that does not mean that it should be abused. Take a page from the book of Annie Edison and come to terms with your lives. Adderall is not the crutch that will help students get good grades. It is a trap. But for many students, it’s a choice. A choice that can have very big consequences.

There is help for Adderall addiction

If you are struggling with Adderall addiction or any type of addiction, know that there is help available in getting you off of it. There are drug abuse treatment centers with qualified staff that can assist you in getting through your withdrawal symptoms. They can also provide you with counseling and a plan that you can use moving forward in your life without relying on Adderall.

It will take a while for your body to get used to not having Adderall, but it is possible and you will gain much more clarity once your body is detoxed from the drug. You do not have to let a drug control your life any longer. Whether it’s Adderall, alcohol, or any other drug, make a decision today to reach out for help. Decide that you will stop abusing drugs and go on to create a life that you absolutely love. Make a call today to a substance abuse professional, so that you can begin this new journey of freedom.