Adderall kickback proves more dangerous than users think

Several generic Adderall pills in the hand of University of Arizona student Lilly. (Arizona Sonora News Service)

Lilly has a morning routine that is a little different than many college students. She wakes up. She eats breakfast. But with her breakfast, she takes a small pill that helps her feel more focused and relaxed as she starts her day.

Vyvanse, Lilly’s morning prescription drug choice, is used to stimulate the central nervous system and affect the chemicals in the brain often used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in which the patient finds it extremely difficult to concentrate.

Although Vyvanse helps Lilly stay focused, it only does so for a short time.

That’s why around 3 p.m. Lilly switches to another drug, one that usually keeps her alert, focused and motivated until she goes to bed and a drug that 1 in 5 college students regularly abuse, according to a survey released by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.


Some of the more common side effects of Adderall include loss of appetite, dry mouth, blood pressure elevations, insomnia, headache and abdominal pain.

Many people are aware of these common, short-term side effects, but little are aware of the long-term consequences of abusing Adderall, such as disturbances in sexual function, slowing of growth rate, faster heart rate, nervousness, hearing voices, suspicion for no reason, becoming manic and even death.

Lilly, a University of Arizona student who has requested not to use her last name, says, “The bad side effects of it are that it sometimes makes me less social and sometimes I get easily annoyed if someone interrupts me when I am in the middle of something.”

Graph shows the rising prescription stimulant sales in the US from 2002 to 2012. (Photo from the Huffington Post)

Released in 1996, Adderall, a drug very similar to Vyvanse in helping those with ADHD, has quickly become a popular “study drug” among college students.

Adderall use and abuse has substantially risen over the years, especially among college students.

Lilly is one of few students who takes it because of her ADHD, unlike others who use it to stay ahead and focused in school without actually having the disorder.

She takes around 10mg of Adderall daily about four to five times a week, along with her 40mg dose of Vyvanse in the morning. This dosage of Adderall is normal, according to health experts.

But the other college students who are popping these tiny pills daily like Skittles, may have something to worry about in the long-run.

Of the 16 million prescriptions written nationwide for Adderall in 2012, 60 percent were among 18 to 25 year olds, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Here’s the problem.

Adderall is a schedule II addictive drug, making it just a category below the most addicting drugs in the world. It is placed in the same category as methadone, oxycodone, morphine and opium.

Adderall works by creating unnaturally high levels of dopamine in the brain. Without it, people feel tired and muggy and crave the alertness the drug gives them.

But a nationwide study shows that only 2 percent of students believe that Adderall has the potential to be dangerous, while 81 percent say that it’s only slightly dangerous or not dangerous at all.

Health experts say differently.

According to the Addiction Center, 116 thousand people were admitted to rehab for addiction in 2012 and full-time students are twice as likely to abuse Adderall as people who are not in college.

Over six years, non-medical use of Adderall has risen 67 percent and emergency visits due to abuse of the drug have risen 156 percent.

Even worse, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, people who use Adderall are more likely to abuse alcohol, three times more likely to use marijuana, five times more likely to have misused prescription pain killers and eight times more likely to recreationally use cocaine.

Although many students combine alcohol and Adderall, health experts say that they should never be mixed together.

Generic Adderall in the prescribed bottle. (Arizona Sonora News)

Adderall is a stimulant, while alcohol is a depressant. Combining the two could lead students to be unaware of how much they are drinking, leading to potential alcohol poisoning.

Many of these students who abuse Adderall, aren’t even getting a prescription from a doctor.

Rather, 74 percent of all college non-medical users get their Adderall from a friend or family member who has a prescription, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of American College Health.

Adderall continues to sweep the nation among college students desperate to enhance their studies, but the long-term side effects have many asking, is it really worth it?

Click here for high-resolution photos.

Jessica Carpenter is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at

One comment Add yours
  1. Thanks Jessica. Great article. Research just released shows that long term stimulant use connected with stunted growth. And now the NHI has approved comparative studies, one study just funded comparing behavioral therapy and meds for ADHD found that behavioral therapy was more effective. Neurofeedback, another non-drug intervention is named a Tier One (best) practice for ADHD by American Pediatric Association.

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