Adderall abuse can cause serious long-term damage

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Students across the country are abusing a prescription drug typically used to treat ADHD. It's the so-called "smart drug" also known as a "study buddy" called Adderall. Experts say one in 10 people use it without a prescription.

Warning of misuse or abuse:
Misuse or abuse of amphetamine may result in serious (possibly fatal) heart and blood pressure problems. Amphetamine-type medications can be habit-forming. Use only as directed. With prolonged use, drug dependence may occur, and withdrawal symptoms may occur after stopping the drug.

"If it was like before finals or something and you'd get these messages on our campus messaging system," said John McIntosh, a graduate student at the University of Utah College of Pharmacy. "Everybody would get them. People either requesting or selling Adderall Ritalin, stuff like that."

That was McIntosh's experience as an undergrad at a New York University. Here in Utah, the abuse continues.

"I had a few friends my freshman year use Adderall, primarily to study but sometimes they'd also use it for recreation," said a student who didn't want to reveal his identity.

He explained that he noticed Adderall helped his friends study, and that's actually the problem: Doctors say that when taking Adderall under a doctor's care, people usually do well. However, when used without a prescription, people can begin the downward spiral of addiction.

"Then it starts to pervade other facets of life. And they really like it, and then it becomes a habit," explained Dr. Glen Hanson with the University of Utah College of Pharmacy. "They become dependent on it, and then it begins to change the brain chemistry, the brain biology."

Hanson explained that abusing Adderall is every bit as addictive as methamphetamine because it's basically the same thing.

Eventually it can distort reality and you become psychotic.

"They develop paranoia, and so they think people are out to get them, out to hurt them," explained Hanson. "And it's not unusual to find heavy users actually look like a schizophrenic."

In fact, Hanson said mental health experts such as psychiatrists or psychologists couldn't distinguish between an amphetamine-induced schizophrenia and a naturally-occurring schizophrenia. "It looks just the same," he said.

Which is why Hanson said he and medical professionals are concerned with young college or even high school kids abusing Adderall. Long-term abuse can cause permanent neurological damage in a brain that's still developing.

"We're starting to see people who have seriously abused the amphetamines, and whether they get Parkinson's disease later on as they get older," explained Hanson.

Hanson explained that while young college kids use this drug to help them study, the effects may not be immediately obvious. However, it may already be too late.

"The brain's already taken one step forward in that process that could show up when you're 40, 50, 60 years old," explained Hanson. "And you have a disease that you would not have had if you hadn't been playing around with these drugs when you were a teenager or in your early 20s."


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