Adderall Abuse Expert Interview

Dr. Kimberly Dennis; Image provided by and used with permission from Danielle Bickelmann.
Kimberly Dennis, M.D.

In this Adderall addiction interview, LoveToKnow talks with Dr. Kimberly Dennis about abuse of this prescription drug. Learn to spot the signs of addiction, the effect it has on a person and how to begin recovery.

About Dr. Kimberly Dennis

Kimberly Dennis, M.D. is the Medical Director at Timberline Knolls, which is a residential treatment facility for women 12 years and older who suffer from emotional and mood disorders, drug addiction, substance abuse, eating and co-occurring disorders. Dr. Dennis is also a member of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.

Adderal Use to Get High

LoveToKnow (LTK): Dr. Dennis, why do people use Adderall to get high?

Dr. Kimberly Dennie (KD): People who become addicted to Adderall use it because it works for them. Adderall has the acute effect of increasing energy, motivation, and concentration, suppressing appetite, producing a sense of well-being and mild euphoria. Many people associate the combination of those effects with the high of using Adderall. People at higher risk to develop abuse dependence are people with family histories of addiction, personal histories of substance abuse, eating disorders, untreated depression and low self-esteem. There also tends to be fewer stigmas associated with using/abusing a medication that doctors prescribe.

LTK: While Adderall makes someone feel good during a high, what negative effects does the drug have on the way a person feels after getting off that high?

KD: People coming down off an Adderall high can feel irritable, restless, depressed, fidgety, unmotivated, lethargic and even suicidal. People coming off the medication typically have difficulty concentrating (even if they had little to no problems with concentration before starting the medication). Withdrawal symptoms can last months after stopping the drug, depending on how long and at which dosage a person took the medication.

LTK: How does someone become addicted to Adderall?

KD: There are neurobiological factors and certain life-experiences that can predispose a person to developing an addiction to stimulant medications. There are also emotional and physical effects of the medication that can lead some people to develop an addiction as well. Unmanageability and inability to regulate use of the medication consistently are hallmarks of a developing addiction.

The treatment of co-occurring psychiatric disorders can be an integral part of treating a person with ADHD and substance abuse/dependence. The two commonly co-occur, and treatment guidelines routinely recommend against prescribing addictive stimulant medications to this patient population.

LTK: How do people acquire the medication?

KD: People can get the medication in a variety of ways: prescriptions from a medical doctor (or seeking out several doctors and not telling them of the others), buying it on the street from drug dealers, using their friends' medications, stealing it from parents and/or buying it over the Internet.

Signs of Addiction to Adderall

LTK: What are the signs of someone suffering from an Adderall addiction?

KD: Some signs and symptoms of Adderall abuse or dependence include:

  • Using when not prescribed by a physician
  • Seeking out several different physicians to obtain the medication
  • Lying to physicians about ADHD symptoms to obtain the medication
  • Buying the medication on the street
  • Obtaining the medication over the Internet
  • Significant weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Needing higher doses to achieve the same effect (developing tolerance)
  • Suffering withdrawal symptoms if unable to obtain the medication (lethargy, depression, irritability, difficulty concentrating)
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased sleep
  • Personality changes

LTK: What are the short and long-term physical effects of Adderall abuse?

KD: Short-term physical effects of using Adderall include release of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, increased metabolism, decreased appetite and increased heart rate. Some people experience paranoia and other symptoms characteristic of schizophrenia when using stimulants. Long-term risks of abusing stimulants include irregular heartbeat, cardiac arrest, weight loss and stunted growth and long-lasting paranoid thinking.

Adderall as a Gateway Drug

LTK: What is a gateway drug, and is Adderall one of them?

KD: A gateway drug is a so-called "softer" drug that leads to use of drugs perceived as more dangerous, "harder" drugs. Some part of this is minimization and denial of substance abuse with medications like Adderall or drugs like marijuana. Some part of this reflects increased medical complications and morbidity associated with drugs like cocaine, crack, crystal meth and heroin. Since Adderall is so widely used and abundantly available to young people, it can be considered a gateway drug that primes the reward pathway in the brain for progressive addiction to a variety of other drugs.

Adderall Addiction Recovery

LTK: What are some ways people can begin Adderall addiction recovery?

KD: Ask for help. People do not recover from addiction alone. Be honest with someone such as a loved one, friend, doctor or anyone you think you can trust. Seek out the help of an addiction expert who can make recommendations about what treatment setting would best serve you. It's best to see an addiction expert who also addresses co-occurring disorders. Seek out the help of Narcotics Anonymous or other 12-step recovery communities.

For more information about the addiction recovery services offered by Timberline Knolls, admissions criteria and its approach to treatment, visit the center's web site.

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Adderall Abuse Expert Interview