Many of us assume prescription drugs are safer than street drugs because they are regulated by the government and prescribed by doctors. This is true to a certain degree: prescription drugs are manufactured consistently so they don’t contain any surprise ingredients or variation in potency. However, the ubiquity of prescription drugs combined with our inherent trust in them makes them just as dangerous as — if not more dangerous than — any drug sold on the streets today.
Most people tend to associate meth with hard-core drug users living on the streets, while a drug like Adderall is often thought of as a harmless pick-me-up for ambitious students and hardworking professionals who have too much work and not enough time. This distinction is false and dangerous: both meth and Adderall are highly addictive stimulants that can compromise health and ruin lives if addiction treatment isn’t received.
Prescription drugs and their misuse can be traced back to the early 1900s when new over-the-counter (OTC) drugs began to be rapidly developed and introduced. In the year 1900 you could stroll into a pharmacy and obtain heroin, cocaine or opium for medicinal use. Pharmacology tended to advance more rapidly than drug laws, and the tension between them continues to exist to this day. New drugs were introduced, and only later did governments take steps to regulate them or remove them from the market after witnessing the widespread damage they did to patients.
The advent of the FDA in 1938 in the US — the equivalent of the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia — has improved the vetting process of drugs, but almost any prescription drug can be dangerous if misused, and these agencies must balance patient need with potential for misuse. For instance, even in the wake of the opioid crisis, the FDA recently approved a drug ten times more powerful than fentanyl, arguing that it would help soldiers on the battlefield and patients in acute pain.
Currently prescription drugs are the leading cause of drug-induced deaths in Australia, with prescription painkillers alone causing 30 percent of all drug-related deaths in 2016. Prescription drug misuse is on the rise, and an estimated that 1 million Australians misused prescription drugs in 2017.
To put a face to the danger of prescription drugs, all one has to do is look back on the many talented artists lost over the years to prescription drug abuse. Elvis Presley, Heath Ledger, Prince, Michael Jackson, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Keith Moon and Brittany Murphy all died as a result of prescription drug misuse, and yet the lethal effects these drugs can have are still widely underestimated.
Adderall is a combination of two stimulants, amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, and was approved for use in the US in 1960. It’s most commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults and children, and can also be used to treat narcolepsy. Adderall is a nervous system stimulant, and increases dopamine levels in the brain. For someone struggling with ADHD, this is positive: ADHD is partially characterised by a lack of dopamine. However, for people who already have normal dopamine levels, a sharp increase can cause anxiety and irritability.
Adderall can be an effective tool for patients suffering from ADHD. However, in recent years there’s been a rise in both the prescription of Adderall and the tendency to misuse it. This trend started in 2000, when 5 million prescriptions were written four years after Adderall was first introduced. By 2012, 16 million Adderall prescriptions were written for Americans in the 20-39 age bracket alone.
In 2016 1.7 million Americans misused Adderall, and the highest concentration of misuse was among young adults aged 18 to 25. Researchers pointed to the high-stress environment in colleges as a possible reason for misuse among young adults: Adderall is gaining traction as an easy way for overloaded students to get an instant hit of energy and focus. But the benefits are negligible: experts agree that Adderall provides only a minimal boost in performance and concentration for people who don’t suffer from ADHD.
The minimal effects that Adderall has on productivity come at a steep cost. Adderall can have cardiovascular effects such as increased heart rate, high blood pressure and even risk of heart attack or stroke. Adderall is also highly addictive, and users can become physically and psychologically dependent on the drug, leading to heart failure, hazardously high body temperature and seizures.
Adderall and meth may not seem anything alike at first glance, but they’re much more alike than we’ve been told. Public health campaigns have portrayed meth as a ruinous drug, showing pictures of scabbed skin and dramatic tooth decay to drive home the point. Adderall, on the other hand, is seen among students and young professionals as a harmless way to increase productivity.
Despite their contrasting public images, the chemical structures of meth and Adderall are almost identical. Studies have shown that regular users are not even able to distinguish between the two drugs, leading researchers to hypothesise that meth’s devastating impact on addicts has more to do with the method of ingestion than with the drug itself.
After reviewing all the evidence, in 2016 drug researcher Carl Hart famously proclaimed that “the Adderall that you or your loved one takes each day is essentially the same drug as meth.” Hart was making a point about showing more compassion to meth addicts, but this statement should give recreational users of Adderall pause: we’ve seen how meth can destroy lives, but we now know that abusing Adderall can also have similar effects.
And indeed, the short- and long-term effects of meth and Adderall are strikingly similar. In the short-term, Adderall increases the heart rate, suppresses appetite and makes it hard to sleep. It can prompt feelings of confidence, euphoria and a boost in energy and concentration. Meth also induces a rapid heart rate, suppresses the appetite and eliminates the urge to sleep. The euphoria, confidence and energy that Adderall users experience are also common to meth users – the main difference between these two drugs is the intensity of their effects. While Adderall’s effects are usually relatively mild, meth users can more easily devolve into psychosis or aggressive behaviour.
The long-term effects of Adderall abuse include paranoia, heart problems, erratic behaviour and tremors. Meth users will experience the same symptoms after prolonged abuse of the drug, in addition to damage to blood vessels, visible signs of aging and hallucinations.
In extreme cases, patients who start out taking legally prescribed Adderall transition to using meth exclusively when they can’t obtain enough Adderall to maintain their addiction. This highlights the similarity between the two drugs and points to a need for more caution when prescribing stimulants.
Addiction to Adderall can be tough to spot, especially for the user who starts out taking legally prescribed Adderall, or the casual user who sees it as a productivity tool. If you think you might be addicted, ask yourself if you have any of these symptoms of Adderall addiction:
Prescription drug addiction is so often not treated with the urgency it warrants, and those who express concerns about their prescription drug use are sometimes not taken seriously by family and friends. At Siam Rehab, we take your concerns seriously, and we’ll work with you to develop a personalised to get sustainably sober and get your life back on track.
Siam Rehab is affordable and friendly, and its beautiful location in Chiang Rai, Thailand will provide a welcome break from your stressful everyday environment until you learn the skills necessary to live a life free of drugs. Your treatment will include one-on-one and group counselling, cognitive-behavioural therapy, mindfulness meditation, equine-assisted therapy and physical fitness training to ensure that you leave feeling mentally and physically stronger than when you arrived.
If you’re ready to start living your best life, contact us now to find out how we can help.