Several studies have shown that ADHD drugs can result in brain injury after long term use. The powerful ADHD drugs like Ritalin and Adderall have a similar composition and short-term side effects as cocaine – including anxiety, agitation, increased heart rate and blood pressure, loss of appetite, insomnia and even heart attack or stroke.
Although drugs like Ritalin are short acting, they can cause long term changes in brain cell functioning – particularly in the frontal lobe or reward system of the brain. The frontal lobe system is responsible for controlling impulses and long-term use of ADHD drugs may inhibit impulse control and contribute to clinical depression as the reward system of the brain has been over stimulated and essentially worn out.
Considering the fact that over 3 million children take ADHD drugs, it is disconcerting g to know that their brains are still developing and more vulnerable to these long-term effects of ADHD drugs than adults are.
However, it is not just children who are impacted, the growing subset of the population abusing these drugs long term are young adults – particularly college students. A recent article published by Collegian Central says that up to 6% of Colorado State University students abuse ADHD drugs. Students start taking them to pull “all nighters” and to study for exams. They think because they are prescribed (albeit often to someone else) they are safe, but they can have the same effects as harsher drugs like cocaine and meth while being just as addictive as these controlled substances.
In the article, some CSU students describe their regrettable experiences with ADHD drugs, as one freshman who used it to study said “I only do it when I screw up big time and I have to and there is no way around it…When I took it for midterms, I was at the library and I was just shaking and I didn’t feel good, like I had too much caffeine and my heart was beating really fast. It was weird, I didn’t like it.”
Her circumstance echos the negative side effects listed above and many young adults that we end up treating here at Harmony Foundation’s addiction rehab. Many students continue to abuse these drugs despite the side effects and and eventually need addiction treatment after they begin to experience the long term impacts described above – including impulse control and clinical depression. Fortunately our young adult addiction treatment recovery track cater’s to their specific needs as college students and we help them overcome their addictions and return to student life drug free.