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Adderall Signs of Abuse

Adderall: It’s hard to think of another drug that’s so tailor-made for the world we live in.

From dawn to dusk, we hustle to make enough money to make ends meet, and at the same time, the game is rigged against us. For each raise we get, house prices rise just a little more. The solution: the weekend side hustle.

And some aren’t even old enough to have that first job. They toil away in classrooms, and they aim to keep at the top of the class so they can grab the good job before their classmates do.

Adderall’s seductive promise of enhanced focus with no regrets is hard for almost anyone to pass up. And its ubiquity leads writers to quip that the 20 mg pill should be a college’s mascot.

But all jokes aside, while Adderall abuse might be common, it’s certainly not universal. There are plenty of people who never touch the stuff. And it’s up to those of us who abstain to identify abuse and help those who struggle.

Here’s what to look for.

weight loss

Physical Symptoms to Watch For

Adderall is a stimulant medication. While most people are focused on its impact on brain cells, the drug also touches major systems within the body. A high and its aftermath come with physical symptoms you can see and that users can’t hide.

You might notice:

  • Cardiovascular symptoms. Amphetamines can both speed up and skew heartbeats. Someone on Ritalin may complain of heart palpitations, or the person may talk about feeling “sped up.” In severe cases, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says, people can have heart attacks due to drug exposure, and some people have died due to Adderall’s impact on the heart.
  • Gastrointestinal distress. Diarrhea, vomiting, and constipation are all side effects of Adderall. Some people complain of dry mouth too.
  • Weight loss. Adderall can suppress appetite, and people taking the drug often feel too busy or active to eat. That can lead to significant weight loss in a short period.
  • Sleep disturbances. While intoxicated, people with an Adderall habit can’t fall asleep or stay asleep. While you’re resting, they’re working. But when the drug wears off, that sleep debt is waiting. During the recovery period, people can sleep for days.
  • Movement disorders. At high doses, Adderall tinkers with the nervous system. Muscles may jump or twitch uncontrollably, and some people feel compelled to repeat gestures or movements. Some people pick at their skin, leaving deep scratches or marks from their fingernails.

You may see all of these signs, or you may notice just one or two. The number and severity of symptoms you see depends on how much the person takes and how long the abuse lasts.

empty wallet

Financial Changes to Spot

When we talk about Adderall addiction, we often talk about changes that touch the body or the mind. But drug abuse is a systemic problem, and it can change almost everything about a person’s life. For those with an Adderall issue, some worrisome symptoms are financial.

The National Center for Health Research suggests that most addicted people get the drug from friends or classmates. Adderall is prescribed to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and as the number of diagnoses rises, so does the number of people with pills to give away or sell.

It’s not uncommon for dealers to give some pills away. They’re hoping their testers will get a taste for the drug, and when that taste develops, they can begin charging for the products they once handed out for free.

Adderall is incredibly expensive in some parts of the country. The website StreetRx tracks drug prices in real time, and the fees are staggering. This is a sample of prices paid in April 2019:

  • Las Vegas: $20 for a 20 mg pill
  • Virginia: $5 for a 10 mg pill
  • North Carolina: $8 for a 10 mg pill
  • Key Largo: $42 for a 15 mg pill

For people with addictions, one pill is not enough. A buyer might need a handful to get through the day and stave off symptoms of withdrawal.

Someone raising funds for drugs can sell possessions, borrow from savings, and otherwise hide the damage for a bit. But in time, theft might seem like the best way to cover the debt.

Financial losses aren’t limited to drug purchases. Both buying and selling Adderall is illegal, and depending on the logistics of the purchase, the penalties can be severe.

For example, a reporter explains that selling Adderall via the internet could violate laws concerning interstate commerce, and that could make it a federal case. People looking at these charges need lawyers, and their fees can run into the hundreds per hour.

If money is consistently going missing, this is an excellent indication that a drug abuse issue is at play.

adderall

Behavior Changes You Might Notice

Adderall touches almost every cell in the brain, including those that dictate what we do and when we do it. When those brain changes take hold, people can begin to act in extremely unusual ways, and those differences are easy to spot.

Adderall is a bit like drinking 15 cups of coffee all at once. People immediately feel both focused and active at the same time. You might notice:

  • Fidgeting
  • Stuttering
  • Pacing
  • Humming

At the same time, people under the influence often feel they’re in the best physical and mental shape of their lives. They may speak eloquently about how wonderfully their writing project is going or how well they’re doing at work. Neither may be true, but the person may not know it.

At very high doses, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Adderall can trigger a psychosis that is similar to the episodes experienced by people with schizophrenia. People may:

  • See things you can’t see.
  • Scream and yell.
  • Hit or kick.
  • Express paranoid thoughts.

These episodes are scary, and they constitute a medical emergency. Stay safe, even if that means locking yourself away from the person, but call the authorities and ask for help. The person you love needs medical attention and supervision, so this episode doesn’t have lasting consequences.

friends helping each other

What Can You Do Next?

When you see symptoms of Adderall abuse, it’s tempting to move straight into Detective Columbo mode. You might think about searching for pills, running covert blood tests, or interviewing friends.

There’s no need to be secretive.

People with addictions often both want and need your help. Explain what you’ve seen, and talk about your concerns. Explain that you’d like to be part of the solution and that your support will stretch from intake into treatment through sobriety maintenance.

These are tough conversations, and you probably don’t want to start this talk. But the words you share could mean the difference between letting the addiction blossom and allowing it to heal.


A Bitter Pill to Swallow. (April 2016). 34th Street.

Adderall (CII). (March 2007). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Adderall. (August 2018). Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

Most Popular. StreetRx.

Pop-Up Pill Pusher. (November 2001). New York.

A Misuser’s Guide to Adderall. (April 2009). The Harvard Crimson.

Prescription Stimulants. (June 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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