Adderall: Has drug become addictive to many?

Wednesday , June 17, 2015 - 8:48 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

OGDEN – Many Adderall users describe the sensation the same way, “Have you ever seen that show Limitless? That’s what it feels like.”

In a nutshell the movie is described as “A copywriter discovers a top-secret drug which bestows him with super human abilities.”

But just how close to that “limitless” feeling does Adderall get an abuser? Are there any side effects from using the drug? And how are so many students getting it?

Adderall is a prescription drug used to treat attention deficit disorders (ADD). The drug increases a patient’s ability to focus and accomplish menial tasks.

Jordan Hunsaker, a senior at Utah Valley University, from Layton has used the drug, as prescribed by his doctor, for six months. “The biggest effect for me has been my grades,” he said.

Hunsaker went from a 2.7 GPA to a 3.4 in one semester. “I’m more motivated when I’m on it. I’m ready to get things done, even just little things like cleaning my room,” he said.

Hunsaker described his concentration issues, especially in school, as rooted from his inability to sit in a closed learning environment. Many college students in Utah have started using the drug, both with and without a prescription, to increase their focus.

Deborah Judd has been a professor at Weber State University for 11 years. She also works for the Department of Health in the health clinics of Utah. She is a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), and a certified family nurse practitioner (FNP/C). She feels prescription drug abuse in Utah is a real issue.

“In Utah we have a 6 percent illicit drug use. The national average is 8 percent,” Judd said. “But Utah has the highest average stimulant drug use deaths, including meth and prescription drugs, in the country.”

Judd referenced a study about prescription drug abuse in Utah. She reported Adderall was the most commonly abused prescription drug. She also noted that college-age students tend to be the ones abusing Adderall.

“Full-time college students are twice as likely to take Adderall,” Judd said.

Both Hunsaker and Judd suspect most students who get the drug illegally either buy it from someone with a prescription or find a friend who is willing to share their doctor prescribed Adderall.

David Tensmeyer, a family physician at Layton Intermountain Health Clinic, explained Adderall is not significantly different from other Methylphenidates used to treat ADD.

“The drug works on the dopamine receptors in the brain. It especially helps those who have trouble focusing,” Tensmeyer said.

He believes the drug is “absolutely effective.” He recognized that the drug does improve focus for everyone, however, to receive a prescription patients must meet certain criteria. Doctors use a mental health screening form to determine if a patient needs Adderall.

“It’s estimated that between 5 and 10 percent of the population would qualify to take an ADD medicine,” Tensmeyer said.

He sees the difference as “night and day” for patients. He also explained prescription guidelines for getting access to the drug.

“We don’t refill it if the prescription has been lost. People who abuse or who would sell the drug, tend to give the same lies,” Tensmeyer said.

Spencer Carver, a previous Adderall user, said he recalls his doctor assuring him his Adderall prescription was “completely non-addictive and safe.” Carver, however, could feel how the drug worked, saying “there was no way it wasn’t addictive.”

Carver used the drug for almost two years without any issue. “In the third year I started to have to up the dose. I could tell I was becoming addicted to it,” Carver said. “I would always ask myself, ‘What’s worse, making money and being productive or not relying on this drug and not having that success?’”

He described how the physical addiction was not difficult to overcome, but rather it was the psychological addiction. “It was just tough knowing I could go pop a pill and double my productivity,” Carver said.

Dustin Hawkins, author of Workout Addiction Recovery (W.A.R.): A Revolutionary Approach to Conquering Addiction, currently operates a W.A.R. clinic in Ogden. He explained his own struggle with Adderall beginning at 8 years old.

“I started associating it with the euphoria that I felt on the walk to school, then looking forward to lunch when I could take my pill again,” Hawkins said. He remembers his mom noticed the effects and stopped the prescription.

Hawkins also used Adderall to “increase his focus” playing professional baseball. “I thought it was making me a better athlete, but it was taking something from me on the back end,” Hawkins said.

He believes patients don’t actually learn on it. He feels the drug allows you to study and perform, but it’s not long-lasting. “They say it cures ADD, but in my opinion it makes it worse. Once you are off of it, your mind is just fried,” Hawkins said.

At his addiction recovery treatment center Hawkins deals with several Adderall addicts working through his program. He feels these addicts have a more difficult time adjusting to real life than recovering heroin or cocaine addicts.

“Adderall makes everything so euphoric. It’s not real and you can’t maintain that,” Hawkins said. From personal experience and observing at his treatment center, he credits the difficulty in recovering from the addiction to the euphoric effect the drug has on the mind.

Both Hawkins and Carver openly admit not everyone will get addicted to Adderall. However, both experienced an addiction they feel they were never warned about. “It doesn’t feel like it’s against any law, because it’s not,” Carver said. “I’m getting this from a doctor.”

Judd cautioned about the abuse of the drug. “Generally I believe Adderall is an effective drug if used correctly. (Patients) tend to perform better in their school and work,” Judd said.

However she has seen those who take it without an attention deficit perform worse over time. Students taking the drug for a “one-time use” to pass a final or improve on a test tend to under-perform while believing they are being more productive.

“There is a great need to provide the medications for ADHD patients, but unfortunately our society believes if they can get a quick fix they will,” Judd said.

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