Keeping Up with America’s Adderall Problem

Adderall in the USA

Written By: Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Digital Marketing Manager. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and experience in the digital media industry. Geraldine’s writing allows her to share valuable information about mental health, wellness, and drug addiction facts, hoping to shed light on the importance of therapy and ending the stigma.
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Geraldine. "Keeping Up with America’s Adderall Problem." Lighthouse Recovery Institute., Last updated Oct 8, 2020 at 3:57PM | Published on Oct 8, 2020, https://lighthouserecoveryinstitute.com/keeping-up-with-americas-adderall-problem/.

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Last updated Oct 8, 2020 at 3:57PM | Published on Oct 8, 2020 | Drug Addiction, Stimulants Addiction

America runs on Adderall, and Adderall runs Americans. At the risk of sounding like a broken record here, the real problem with Adderall in the USA remains to be addressed. Adderall is one of those drugs that became normal through extensive prescriptions and a little bit of media presence. Most people start taking Adderall by the time they reach their senior year in high-school. On occasions, parents are the ones that introduce them to the drug through their doctors. But like most prescription drugs, it snowballed into a huge issue impacting everyone around us.

What is Adderall?

Adderall is a prescription stimulant medication under the category of stimulants. It operates similar to other addictive drugs like meth and produces a surge in dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the central nervous system. Doctors prescribe Adderall to treat symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. However, some people fake symptoms to get prescription medication. 

The effects of Adderall are so strong and effective that people without ADHD use it to increase productivity on a stressful day at work or to power through studying sessions during college. However, people take these pills even when they’re not experiencing symptoms. Some people even use it instead of other daily stimulants, like coffee. 

How Did Adderall in the USA Become So Popular?

America’s love affair with Adderall started in the early 1990s. By then, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) seemed to be every doctor’s preferred diagnosis for children, with almost 5 percent of American school-aged children diagnosed with ADHD.

In 1990, over 600,000 children were taking stimulant medications like Adderall in the USA. By 2013, that number rose to 3.5 million

However, Adderall became the go-to ADHD drug because its effects lasted longer and were more effective. Yet, no one stopped to question whether giving potentially addictive substances to children was worth the risk.

Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical industry is astonishingly creative when it comes to marketing new products. Let’s say that Adderall received the VIP treatment. Prescription data tells us that in the first four years of its availability, Adderall had scored 5,000,000 prescriptions across the United States. By year nine, we’d hit 9,000,000 prescriptions and reached an industry-wide sales total of $2 billion.

Since 2000, the FDA has issued a citation to every major ADHD pharmaceutical company, including the makers of Adderall, for false and misleading advertising. Still, Adderall in the USA seems to be everyone’s favorite prescription.

The Rise of Adderall in Popularity

Reaching New Demographics

Initially, Ritalin was the medication used to treat ADHD in children. However, further research found that adults, too, can struggle with ADHD. By the mid-2000s, Adderall in the US was the fastest-growing prescription among adults. And by the year 2012, the 20-39 age bracket had reached a new milestone of 16 million prescriptions, alongside a spike in popularity — and the rise of black markets — at universities and even on primary education campuses.

Mostly students, young professionals, and athletes are the ones that abuse the drug the most. Trying to maintain high-performance levels, focus, and countering fatigue are all essential things for these groups. Adderall can help them conquer this effectively. 

Another group that’s also at high risk is people struggling with eating disorders. Since Adderall also works as an appetite suppressing drug, those with an eating disorder might abuse the drug to sustain their mental health illness. In this case, people should check into treatment facilities that offer dual diagnosis programs to treat both diseases simultaneously. 

What Are We Prescribing?

Unlike other drugs that treat a highly specific condition, Adderall seems to be a mainstream product. Adderall is set to become a $17.5 billion industry by 2020, and it’s because we prescribe it to people from all walks of life.

Between 2008 and 2012, young adults saw some of the highest rates of use, with prescriptions to this demographic increasing by 53 percent. The economic recession could be to blame for this spike. But as we all know, we have another recession bound to happen soon. Are we taking any preventative measures?

Truthfully, We Don’t Know

What’s even more concerning is that ADHD is a particularly misdiagnosed condition. Because so many of its symptoms overlap with other diseases, an incorrect diagnosis is widespread. This means there are thousands of people taking medications like Adderall for a condition they might not have.

In fact, children who start school at a younger age more frequently receive a diagnosis of ADHD. Additionally, boys are more likely to receive a diagnosis of ADHD than girls, with a ratio of 3:1 to 9:1 of boys to girls with an ADHD diagnosis.

You have children and adults with mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder that are mistakenly diagnosed as ADHD. People with autism can have similar symptoms to ADHD, but they need different treatment options than Adderall. 

Finally, one of the most common mental illnesses in the US is an anxiety disorder, with over 40 million adults, or 18% percent of the population. It turns out that anxiety can also cause irritability, restlessness, lack of social skills, and difficulty concentrating — symptoms that mimic those of ADHD.

Even allergies and celiac disease can have similar ADHD symptoms. A 2011 study looked at 67 people ages 7–42. Out of the 67 participants, 10 had celiac disease. After six months of following a gluten-free diet, those with celiac disease had considerable improvements in their ADHD symptoms.

The Secret Adderall Epidemic

The Unlabeled Epidemic No One Talks About

Adderall is a prescription amphetamine that helps manage symptoms of ADHD. To avoid being alarmist, we’re far from the amphetamine epidemic levels we saw in the 1960s. But, modern America demands that we work faster, more challenging, and for less. A recent study found that about 23 percent of workers feel burned out more often than not, with another 44 percent feeling burned out sometimes. 

The fact that Adderall is a prescription and controlled substance doesn’t make it secure. Generic versions of the drug are available for less than $20. One study found that 97% of those who diverted their prescriptions gave it away to free peers. To break it down, 44% of the survey participants admitted to diverting their drugs, and 29% admitted inappropriate use.

Another study found 56% of college students considered study drugs easy to obtain through friends and extended social networks.

According to the CDC, approximately 6.1 million children under 18 are diagnosed with ADHD. The prevalence in adults is about 2.8 percent, according to a study in 20016. Interestingly, adult ADHD diagnosis rates increase a 26.4% increase among children than 123.3 percent among adults. 

When we look at history, we can tell that during the original amphetamine epidemic, about 5 percent of Americans used prescription amphetamines, with another 3.2 million addicted. It has been reported that about 16 million prescriptions for stimulants like Adderall were written in 2012, which is about three times the number written in 2008. If you keep looking, by 2010, there were 18 million Adderall prescriptions in circulation. 

The reality is that we have an unlabeled epidemic that, if not addressed, can reach opioid-epidemic-levels before we think.

Adderall Addiction Statistics

Adderall Addiction Facts and Statistics

Despite being around for so many years, and becoming one of the go-to prescription drugs for common conditions, not everyone is aware of the realities behind Adderall.

  • Almost everyone develops a dependence: Due to our body’s physical response to the drug, Adderall dependence is natural. People develop a physical dependence because of how the drug interacts in the body. At this point, most people feel they need the drug to tamper their symptoms. And might need larger doses to make Adderall work as it initially did.
  • Most people mix Adderall with other substances: Combining Adderall with other drugs and substances is so common that at many college areas, you’ll easily find “Adderall cocktails” at most parties. People combine Adderall to enhance their effects. Some even try to take relaxing drugs or substances when Adderall is preventing them from sleeping. The most common drugs people combine with Adderall are cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana. 
  • Withdrawal can be quite dangerous: Similar to other drugs, quitting Adderall abruptly can be dangerous. When people stop taking it without supervision, they can experience a “crash” that triggers other problems. Long-term Adderall abusers can suffer significant health hazards and produce symptoms of Adderall withdrawal side effects like mood swings and chronic fatigue. Adderall withdrawal symptoms can lead to paranoia, depression, and even schizophrenia-like symptoms.

The Real Numbers

Most Adderall addiction statistics prove that high-school and college students are amongst the most vulnerable alongside young professionals. The problem of Adderall in the USA can’t be ignored when you look at the numbers:

  • In 2010, there were 18 million Adderall prescriptions in circulation. 
  • Since 2000, the FDA has issued a citation to every major ADHD pharmaceutical company, including the makers of Adderall, for false and misleading advertising.
  • Only 2 percent of undergraduate college students considered using Adderall to be “very dangerous.”
  • Between 2007 and 2012, the number of adults with ADHD prescriptions tripled.
  • In 2012, over 116,000 people were admitted to rehab for an addiction to amphetamines like Adderall.
  • Full-time college students are twice as likely to abuse Adderall than their peers who aren’t in college.

What Can We Do to Control Adderall in the USA

The key here is prevention and education. Not only do physicians need to understand the risks of prescribing a drug like Adderall, but they owe it to the community to analyze the diagnosis before making a final call. Many individuals fall victim to Adderall addiction for a condition that didn’t need the drug in the first place. 

Additionally, we have to do a better job explaining the real dangers of the infamous “study drugs.” While they can improve performance, aid in concentration, and more; they can also come with long-term adverse effects that harm your health, as well as your personal and professional life. 

If you or someone you love has to take Adderall for ADHD or other mental health condition, then consider these addiction prevention tips:

  • Follow your doctor’s instructions to the dot.
  • Take tolerance breaks occasionally to prevent your body from becoming dependent.
  • Know the signs of dependence and addiction, such as uncontrollable cravings, feeling useless without the drug, and struggling with withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the drug.
Detox Timeline

Treatment Options for Adderall Addiction

While Adderall is incredibly addictive, those who are willing to break the addiction cycle can seek treatment. Because cutting cold-turkey can be incredibly dangerous, it’s best to start with a partial hospitalization program (PHP) and a detox process to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms such as paranoia. It’s paramount that people find an addiction center to treat their abuse.

Speaking with an addiction treatment specialist as soon as possible is the best way to start seeking help for addiction. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our drug addiction recovery programs include:

  • Medical Detox: In this clinically supervised detox process at treatment centers, we ensure the patient’s safety and make the withdrawal phase as comfortable as possible by minimizing withdrawal symptoms and using medication-assisted treatment services to guarantee a complete detoxification process. 
  • Dual Diagnosis Treatment: Since many long-term addicts often struggle with mental health disorders, a dual diagnosis program can get them the help needed to simultaneously treat both conditions. 
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Most of the time, these sorts of addictions develop due to compulsive behaviors that must be treated at the source, with CBT being one of the most popular evidence-based treatments to treat addiction. 
  • Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs: When patients are looking to seek addiction treatment while maintaining daily obligations like work, school, or caregiving, IOPs are a more flexible option that still gives people access to the help they need. 
  • Long-term Recovery Programs: With long-term recovery assistance, patients can have the ongoing support they need to maintain long-lasting sobriety. Recovery programs are crucial to relapse prevention. 

Get Help Today

If you or someone you love is addicted to Adderall or other drugs and alcohol, seek help immediately. Contact Lighthouse Recovery Institute today and speak with our addiction specialists to learn more about our comprehensive and personalized drug abuse treatment programs.

We believe in treating each patient in a case-by-case scenario because no two addiction stories are alike. Start walking towards your recovery, and we’ll be here supporting you and your family every step of the way. Please don’t wait another day to start addiction treatment, primarily when your life depends on it.

🛈 This page’s content is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek your physician’s advice or another qualified health provider with any medical condition questions—full medical disclaimer.

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