Adderall is the brand name of a prescription medication that contains the stimulant drug amphetamine,…
What Does Adderall Do to People With ADHD?
All people with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) have at least one of two behavioral problems: an inability to focus or maintain attention and unusual symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. Doctors frequently treat the condition with Adderall, a name-brand medication containing the active ingredients dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. In combination, these two stimulants work by making certain changes in the brain’s chemical balance.
Adderall comes in two basic forms: standard Adderall and an extended release product called Adderall XR. Both of these medications contain dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. Along with Ritalin, these two forms of Adderall are among the most widely prescribed ADHD treatments.
What does Adderall do? As stimulants, dextroamphetamine and amphetamine have one primary effect on the human body: speeding up the normal rate of activity inside the central nervous system, including both your brain and spinal cord. Part of this effect is an increase in the brain levels of certain chemicals, known as neurotransmitters. Specifically, dextroamphetamine and amphetamine boost the levels of the chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine. The increase in norepinephrine mainly produces a physical effect (e.g., heart rate and blood pressure elevation). However, the increase in dopamine produces a relatively weak pleasurable sensation and substantially improves the ability to focus and pay attention.
The change in the brain’s dopamine levels helps explain how a stimulant medication actually produces a calming effect in children and adults with ADHD. In order to produce Adderall’s benefits without triggering unwanted side effects, doctors must work carefully to prescribe the proper dose. Once the minimum effective dose is established, patients can typically continue to take the medication for extended periods of time without experiencing any long-term problems.
Does the Medication Increase Addiction Risks?
You may wonder if the continued use of powerful stimulants has any impact on the chances of developing problems with stimulant addiction. If patients take the medication as prescribed by their doctors, research indicates that the answer to this question is no. However, the situation changes in people who consume excessive amounts of Adderall or take the medication in any amount without a prescription. Individuals in both of these groups significantly increase their chances of developing a diagnosable condition called ‘stimulant use disorder’, which includes both stimulant abuse and stimulant addiction.
“Dextroamphetamine and Amphetamine” – MedlinePlus: U.S. National Library of Medicine
“Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” – National Institute of Mental Health
“Will ADHD Medication Change My Child’s Brain?” – Child Mind Institute