Attention deficit disorder, or ADD, is a neurologically based behavioral condition that affects both children and adults. Some of the prescription medications used to treat this disorder have gained attention and controversy due to the unwanted effects and potential for abuse of these powerful drugs. One such medication is Adderall, which, like most pharmaceuticals, has both pros and cons 1.
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Adderall is a brand-name medication that contains amphetamine and dextroamphetamine and is prescribed to treat attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), hyperactive conditions and narcolepsy 1. Drugs.com advises that when taken as prescribed by correctly diagnosed patients, Adderall can help control symptoms of ADD and related conditions 12.
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Symptoms of ADD, often interchangeably referred to as ADHD, vary in range and severity among individuals. RxList.com notes that this disorder is generally characterized by hyperactivity, impulsive or erratic actions and an inability to stay focused and pay attention for normal durations 2.
Diagnosis of ADD is largely based on chronic symptoms and in some cases by brain scans. Some children are diagnosed because they are unable to sit still or stay calm for normal periods of time. ADD has been a popular diagnosis among high school and university students, some of whom self-diagnose and insist that they are suffering from the symptoms. As Bryn Mawr University notes, however, many individuals are incorrectly diagnosed with ADD and prescribed medications such as Adderall 1.
- Diagnosis of ADD is largely based on chronic symptoms and in some cases by brain scans.
- ADD has been a popular diagnosis among high school and university students, some of whom self-diagnose and insist that they are suffering from the symptoms.
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Bryn Mawr University adds that doctors are not certain about all the complex causes of neurological disorders such as ADD. Brain imaging scans reveal that individuals with ADD may have malfunctions in the frontal cortex of the brain. This area is primarily involved in reasoning, problem solving, planning and focusing tasks, and a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger call dopamine is thought to relay the needed signals between brain nerves. Thus, if concentrations of dopamine are too low, ADD symptoms can occur.
- Bryn Mawr University adds that doctors are not certain about all the complex causes of neurological disorders such as ADD.
- Brain imaging scans reveal that individuals with ADD may have malfunctions in the frontal cortex of the brain.
The active ingredients in Adderall include amphetamine salts 1. According to Bryn Mawr University, the chemical amphetamine helps to treat ADD and related disorders by blocking the reuptake of the chemical messenger dopamine from certain neural synapses while increasing the uptake into subsequent neurons or nerves in the brain. The increased levels of dopamine in the brain are thought to reduce attention deficit and hyperactivity, thereby treating conditions such as ADD. However, a primary controversy concerns the powerful stimulatory effects of Adderall on individuals that do not actually have a deficiency of this neurotransmitter 1.
Adderall can lead to side effects, particularly in individuals who may not require this medication 1. RxList.com lists several side effects of Adderall, including fainting, irregular heart beat, increased blood pressure, tremors, insomnia, loss of appetite, impotence, low libido, diarrhea and constipation 12. Drugs.com warns that Adderall is also considered highly addictive due to its active ingredient, amphetamine 12. As with other stimulant drugs, it causes an increase of adrenaline and stress hormones in the body causing a ‘high’ feeling that can become addictive.
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- Drugs.com: Adderall
- RxList.com: Adderall
- Bryn Mawr: Serendip: Adderall: College Students' Best Friend—Or Worst Enemy?
- Felt BT, Biermann B, Christner JG, Kochhar P, Harrison RV. Diagnosis and management of ADHD in children. Am Fam Physician. 2014;90(7):456-64.
- National Institute of Mental Health. Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Updated September 2019.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Updated January 29, 2020.
- Wolraich ML, Hagan JF, Allan C, et al. Clinical practice guideline for the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2019;144(4). doi:10.1542/peds.2019-2528
- Bhattarai J, Sumerall S. Current and future treatment options for narcolepsy: a Review. Sleep Sci. 2017;10(1):19-27. doi:10.5935/1984-0063.20170004
- Martinez-Raga J, Knecht C, Szerman N, Martinez MI. Risk of serious cardiovascular problems with medications for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. CNS Drugs. 2013;27(1):15-30. doi:10.1007/s40263-012-0019-9
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Label for Adderall.
- Clavenna A, Bonati M. Pediatric pharmacoepidemiology - safety and effectiveness of medicines for ADHD. Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2017;16(12):1335-1345. doi:10.1080/14740338.2017.1389894
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Information about medications used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Noreen Kassem is a hospital doctor and a medical writer. Her articles have been featured in "Women's Health," "Nutrition News," "Check Up" and "Alive Magazine." Kassem also covers travel, books, fitness, nutrition, cooking and green living.