By Markham Heid
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College students across the country are gearing up for finals, which means anyone with an Adderall prescription is about to become really popular. On some campuses, up to 35 percent of students admit to popping amphetamine-based drugs like Adderall or Concerta to aid with exam cramming, says Lawrence Diller, M.D., a member of the University of California, San Francisco's clinical faculty who has prescribed these drugs and studied their effects for more than three decades. But students aren't the only ones involved with the craze. Adderall use is growing among adults, including women who take extended-release versions of the drug to suppress appetite and help with weight loss, Diller says. In fact, prescriptions for Adderall-style attention deficit drugs have roughly quintupled in the U.S. since 1996. [Tweet this news!]

While many people with attention deficit disorders have benefited from the drug, it can have some scary consequences for those who abuse it, Diller says. Here's a look in your brain as you swallow a drug like Adderall.


After roughly 20 to 30 minutes, you'll experience a mild euphoric lift, Diller explains. Similar to other amphetamines like MDMA (Ecstasy), Adderall mimics feel-good brain chemicals like dopamine by binding to receptors that would normally respond to those hormones. Research shows the drug also blocks chemicals that temper reward-based responses, meaning the high continues till the effects wear off.

At the same time, Adderall provokes some of the same reactions as the fight-or-flight chemical epinephrine, indicates research from the University of Vermont. There is a rush of energy and clarity, Diller says, which focuses your attention and quiets your appetite. This is why some women take the drug to drop pounds, Diller adds. Similar to other stimulants like coffee, Adderall raises your heart rate and blood pressure, Diller says. This cocktail of focus-boosting, feel-good sensations gives your brain the impression that it's incredibly powerful and working at maximum efficiency, Diller adds. "You're king of the world, at least for a little while," he adds.

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Depending on whether you've taken regular Adderall or the extended release version, its effects have largely worn off, meaning levels of feel-good brain chemicals have plummeted. Their absence can leave you feeling drained, or even depressed, Diller says. At the same time, your appetite roars back. "Your body was burning energy while you were on the drug, so when it wears off, you're really hungry," he adds.

More bad news: When you revisit the work you did while your mind was abuzz, you might be disappointed. Diller points to an inflated sense of performance brought on by euphoric chemicals. Adderall can't improve complex thinking tasks like reading comprehension or critical thinking, he adds. So if you had to write or assemble some a report, you may find your amped-up mind produced mediocre results.

Long-Term Effects

Like other stimulants, Adderall can be habit forming. "Your experience the first time may be amazing," Diller says. "But over time that intensity wears off, and you may need higher doses."

You also aren't going to keep off weight unless you continue to swallow the drug, which is the only way to keep your appetite at bay, he says. And because you'll require higher and higher doses to sustain the same effects, this can lead to full-on addiction, Diller explains. (Adderall is structurally and effectively similar to crystal meth, and may be similarly addictive, shows a report from the University of Southern California.)

While lots of people who rely on drugs like Adderall for diagnosed disorders can take it every day without issue, the amphetamines keeps abusers' brains and bodies artificially aroused-and you may need other drugs to help you mellow out and sleep. "You can't function this way in the long run," Diller adds. Of course, this type of Adderall addiction only happens to about one out of every 20 people who take it and similar drugs, says Diller. Managed appropriately, Adderall can be beneficial for some people with significant performance problems involving attention and organization, he says. But the risks for those who abuse the drug are real (and potentially life threatening). "Far too many people who don't really need it get very messed up by this stuff."

Comments (5)

October 13, 2018
M Gayhart, I am married to a man of 30 years. He started taking adderall for a form of narcolepsy. Even though he may need it for driving and for work,... I can tell you he has completely changed. He thinks he does a good job with tasks around the house but, actually he just has many many projects started but, none are complete. He is now aggressive/ angry/ forceful with sex and thinks he is perfect in his thoughts and actions. You cannot disagree with him because he is right and you are wrong. My sons and I have tried to express our concerns but all he does is get angry and has caused great discord within the family. So, I will say that you are taking this to personal. You may have ADD or ADHD and need it but, not too say that you may be kidding yourself on just how rash YOU behave. You are dead wrong about what the author was conveying.
October 10, 2018
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May 11, 2018
Please find better educated people to write your articles. This article has no educational value what so ever. It's based on opinion at best
March 31, 2017
I'll also quickly add that Adderall is used to help those with depression, increasing their energy to a normal level so they are able to function efficiently how they intend to. Any work they complete on adderall is progress for them as well. So I really don't like that argument "when you come back to look at your work you will be disappointed" because that is usually BS. If this article was meant purely for neurotypical people who are considering taking Adderall for fun or unnecessary reasons, that should have been highly stressed at the beginning of the article. Instead you just are giving Adderall and those who take it a bad rap with your crummy journalism.
March 31, 2017
I think this article has some negative bias towards Adderall. To start, the author describes the short-term effects of Adderall very similarly to the short-term effects of Cocaine. Adderall is not cocaine; and if one is just taking their prescribed dose, they will not feel "incredibly powerful" or that you are "working at maximum efficiency." One may feel more efficient because they have more energy to concentrate on things they otherwise wouldn't, but it does not warp one' sense of reality or their own perception, like the author is implying. Secondly, while it is true Adderall cannot improve intelligence or thinking skills, it does help those who normally are more "scatterbrained" organize their thoughts and motivation towards what they are working on, which does help create better results. It's not a miracle drug, but nobody is claiming it to be, so that argument in this article is a bit irrelevant and misconstrues the reason behind why people take Adderall. The implication that Adderall is like cocaine demeans the value of Adderall and negatively stigmitizes it's use for those who do benefit from it. Third, this article was not scientific at all. I was reading this hoping it would tell me the short-term and long-term affects of my brain CHEMICALLY. What this article did was state the obvious that if you abuse amphetamines you could become addicted. I could summarize this article by saying, "short term you feel like god, but you are not god. drugs can be addicting, a researcher told me so." You tried to seem level-headed with your conclusion. You last minute noted that there is a difference between those who use Adderall and those who abuse it. Although, it's not a strong conclusion at all since the w[filtered] article before that point never distinguished between recreational and medical use, and therefore just seemed to be bashing the drug in general. The conclusion should have been the thesis to avoid sounding condescending and like you are belittling a medicine that really helps many throughout the w[filtered] article.