It seems like everyone knows someone with a prescription to Adderall, an amphetamine salt that is commonly used to treat those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Less known, are the consequences of prolonged use of amphetamines.

While it is beneficial for those who need it for concentration, research suggests that the risks involved in its use are dangerous, and the abuse of amphetamines is on the rise.

The use of amphetamines falls under the hallmarks of dependence, which include changes in the body that produce intense physical symptoms when the drug-taking is stopped, and a decrease in the effects of a drug resulting from repeated use.

Amphetamines are a psychostimulant, a drug that enhances the functioning of the sympathetic nervous system and the reticular formation. “Amphetamine” is a collective term for psychostimulant drugs used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and sleep disorders.

When taken, a person experiences greater energy, a decreased need to sleep, reduced appetite, and positive affect.

Amphetamines are central nervous system stimulants.

Before going into the negative consequences of amphetamine use it is helpful to understand anti-hyperactivity medication, and how it works.

How do stimulants reduce hyperactivity when dopamine is known to enhance motor activity?

According to one study “the enhanced output of dopamine by low doses of stimulant drugs reduces the impulse-associated rise of dopamine, relative to the baseline,” that is, “the relative rise of dopamine during the impulse is lowered because of this elevated baseline” (Seeman and Madras, 1998, p. 390).

It works by increasing norepinephrine and dopamine release from the presynaptic membrane and blocks the reuptake of both neurotransmitters.

Psychotic symptoms are a side effect of amphetamine use. One recent study concluded that methamphetamine users “who have a pre-existing proneness to psychosis are at particularly high risk of experiencing symptoms of psychosis” (McKetin, McLaren, Lubman, & Hides, 2006, p. 1473).

The significance of the findings was that the prevalence was high among methamphetamine users who had no known history of schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders.

In other words, excessive use can cause a paranoid psychosis that may be indistinguishable from schizophrenia!

That said, regular use—not just abuse—or prescription amphetamines can cause damage, as well. Research suggests that long-term amphetamine dependence has been linked to “substantial risk of brain injury in frontal and subcortical regions” and “metabolic abnormalities…including a reduction in dopamine transporters in the striatum and prefrontal cortex” (Lawyer, Bjerkan, Hammarberg, Jayaram-Lindstrom, Franck, & Agartz, 2010, p.1).

Furthermore, previous studies found poor memory and evidence of neuropsychological impairment among heavy amphetamine users (Trites, Suh, Offord, Nieman, & Preston, 1976, p.14).

Before you decide to prescribe your child or teenager Adderall so they can focus, try alternative methods instead.

Even if you or your loved one manage to use amphetamines as prescribed, there is still a serious risk of cognitive impairment.

Try alternative remedies to treat ADD and ADHD before deciding to take amphetamines. Evidence-based alternatives include mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, nature walks, dietary supplements, and exercise. Ensure that your doctor has ruled out any food allergens, which can cause symptoms very similar to ADD and ADHD.

Get with your doctor to rule out any physiological factors; too often psychiatrists ignore sleep patterns and trauma history when diagnosing ADD and ADHD.

Sleep disturbances cause cognitive impairment, and symptoms of trauma mimic those of ADHD.

Lawyer, G., Bjerkan, P., Hammarberg, A., Jayaram-Lindstrom, N., Franck, J., & Agartz, I. (2010). Amphetamine dependence and co-morbid alcohol abuse: associations to brain cortical thickness. BMC Pharmacology, 10(5). Retrieved from

McKetin, R., Mattick, R. (1998). Attention and memory in illicit amphetamine users: comparison with non-drug using controls. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 50, 181-184.

McKetin, R., McLaren, J., Lubman, D., & Hides, L. (2006). The prevalence of psychotic symptoms among methamphetamine users. Society for the Study of Addiction, 101, 1473-1478. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2006.01496.x

Seeman, P., & Madras, B. (1998). Anti-hyperactivity medication: methylphenidate and amphetamine. Molecular Psychiatry, 3, 386-396.

Trites, R.L., Suh, M., Offord, D., Nieman, G., & Preston, D. (1976). Neuropsychologic and psychosocial antecedents and chronic weffects of prolonged use of solvents and methamphetamine. Psyciatr. J. Univ. Ott. 1, 14-20.