Misuse of this prescription is on the rise among young adults
It’s midnight, and you have yet to start that important project due tomorrow morning. You’re pulling out all the stops: coffee, energy drinks, comfy clothes and… ADHD medication?
A number of studies have found that nonprescription holders of the stimulant Adderall are consuming the drug at alarming rates in order to focus on their work, particularly among college students and young adults. What many fail to realize, however, is the multitude of risks this medication can pose to their health, especially without physician supervision.
While Adderall can be an extremely helpful medication for individuals with attention-deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), non-prescription-holders face serious risks by consuming the stimulant at unregulated amounts. Such concerns include stroke, dependence, hostility, increased risk of mental illness and damage to the heart and kidneys, among others. Pediatrician Dr. Christina Swanson of Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill., explains that while the short-term productivity boost these medications provide may seem helpful, when taken improperly or without physician supervision, their long-term effects are simply not worth the risk.
Heart and kidney damage: As a stimulant, Adderall boosts blood pressure and heart rate by activating certain chemicals within the brain. This increase in heart activity could potentially lead to a heart attack if the individual is already at an increased risk or if the medication is taken improperly.
“Many students misuse these medications by taking higher than recommended doses. Excessive stimulant use has been linked to heart attack, arrhythmias and cardiomyopathy,” says Dr. Swanson.
This increase in blood pressure also takes a toll on the kidneys, as increased blood flow through these organs can lead to the hardening of nearby arteries.
Aggressive or hostile behavior and mental illness: Adderall does not have chemically addictive properties; however, it is common for individuals to develop a dependence on the medication due to benefits such as the ability to focus more deeply and an increase in self-confidence. This dependence can easily lead to over- or misuse.
“Stimulants can be both physically and psychologically addictive,” explains Dr. Swanson. “Individuals may experience the need for increasing amounts of medication to reach the desired effect, thus increasing the potential for negative side effects.”
In addition to organ damage, these negative side effects can be psychological.
“Many patients experience a crash when medication wears off, associated with emotional volatility (aggression) and depressive symptoms,” says Dr. Swanson.
With the high levels of stress and pressure faced by college students and young adults in their classes and workplaces, it is no wonder many are turning to unhealthy options to complete their daily tasks. However, it is clear that the risks of unregulated use far outweigh the rewards.
As for some healthier alternatives, Dr. Swanson suggests finding a work- or school-life balance and getting a full night of sleep prior to exams or important meetings.
About the Author
Katie Helander, health enews contributor, is a public affairs and marketing intern for Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill. She is currently pursuing her BA in public relations and minors in international communication and Spanish at Illinois State University, where she also serves as the Chapter President of the Public Relations Student Society of America. In her free time, Katie enjoys theatre, traveling, working out, and learning new things. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career in international relations or with a major public relations agency.