Long-Term Effects of Medical and Recreational Use of ADD Meds

You’ve heard the names: Adderall, Ritalin, Dexedrine, Concerta. Need we go on? Did you happen to see the episode of Desperate Housewives, where one of its characters, Lynette, began taking her kids’ Adderall so that she could have more energy needed to keep up with three boys? It got a lot of people talking about the misuse of ADD medications.

Consider this story.

Mike is a successful attorney with a very hectic schedule. More and more demands are being made on him, and if he wants to make partner at his firm in record time, he has got to find more hours – and more energy.

One night, he was having drinks with a pal and complaining about his fatigue but that he can’t afford to slow down. His friend said he’d been taking Adderall for the past 2 months to keep his competitive edge at work. He was able to convince his physician that he had trouble paying attention at work and staying organized. He was subsequently diagnosed with ADD and voila – he had his prescription for Adderall! He felt great, maybe a little more edgy than usual, but it was worth it!

Mike took his pal’s advice and was easily able to score his very own prescription for Ritalin. For the first few weeks, Mike thought he felt better. He didn’t seem to tire as easily and he was winning his cases like crazy! Moreover, he had lost those extra 8 pounds he’d never been able to shed. Mike thought he’d found the perfect solution.

Three months later, Mike seemed like a changed person. His wife reported that Mike wasn’t sleeping well at night, and often didn’t get more than two or three hours of sleep at a time. Usually pretty level tempered, she and the children found themselves walking on egg shells because “even the smallest things sent him over the edge.” His moods were unpredictable, and even though she tried to point this out to her husband, he told her that she had no idea what she was talking about!

Meanwhile, at work, Mike’s coworkers began to observe some paranoia. Mike was positive that attorneys with whom he previously professed to have a close working relationship were now gunning to get him fired and trying to sabotage his cases. No one seemed to know what he was talking about.

A visit to a different physician revealed the problem. Use of stimulants was causing these symptoms and he was taken off the medication. Just two weeks later, his symptoms had disappeared.

First, you need to know that chemically, the drugs prescribed for ADD are very similar to cocaine. And like cocaine, they increase the amount of dopamine available to receptors and that translates into a calming effect on the body. These drugs are dangerous, not only for those who don’t have ADD, but also for those that do!!

Second, even though the goal of using these stimulants illegally is to get that calming effect just like they observe in those who have ADD, they get the opposite effect.

Can you guess the top two groups of people who use stimulants non-medically? College students and stay-at-home moms! The three major reasons, some researchers say, for this use is to have more energy, more attention, and to get high. The drugs can be taken as is, or they can be crushed and snorted which increases the effect of the drug.

Because the use of stimulants is reaching epidemic proportions, it is important to know the long-term effects of using such substances.

Abusing stimulants for even short amounts of time alter the brain and its chemistry. These same drugs that are thought to produce that calming effect (remember the dopamine?) actually begin to destroy the receptors for dopamine, which in turn makes dopamine less effective for calming! Other side effects of using these drugs can include:

§ Significant losses of grey matter in the brain – what does that mean? This is stuff in your brain that surrounds the corpus callosum, which is responsible for the communication between the two hemispheres of your brain.
§ Deficits in the hippocampus – responsible for such basic functions such as feeding, drinking, activity level, etc.
§ Associated with a pattern of abnormal brain structure that looks like the deficits in early dementia and schizophrenia seen on MRIs.

If that’s not enough to scare you, there are even more side-effects that shouldn’t be ignored.

§ Paranoia
§ Insomnia
§ Extreme feelings of hostility
§ Anorexia
§ Depression
§ Short temper
§ Poor attention span
§ A feeling of “being on the edge”
§ Psychosis
§ Memory loss
§ Hallucinations
§ Severe mood problems

You also need to understand that like many other drugs, you need more and more of it to get the same effect you are hoping to get. So there really doesn’t seem to be a good reason for using these drugs, is there?