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Adderall Abuse and Psychosis

I overheard a concerned mother ranting into her iPhone about her youngest daughter. Not terribly uncommon— mother’s love to complain about their children. I don’t consider myself an eavesdropper, but the topic piqued my interest and six people stood between me and the register. She said psychosis and I turned my head.

The woman dressed stylishly, sporting Micheal Kors on her shades and purse. Diamonds sparkled from ear to ear as she shifted her phone from one hand to the other. 

She asked about drug abuse treatment. Her daughter is addicted to Adderall, or so she said. She questioned the validity of the anti-psychotics the psychiatrist prescribed. Amber, the daughter, is a junior in an out-of-state college. She is “incredibly bright, always the top of her class.” 

Addiction Warning Signs

Following a diagnosis of ADHD in her sophomore year of high school, Amber began taking Adderall for her focus issues. “Everything was fine” until Amber started skipping class in order to catch up on sleep. The daughter began expressing intense paranoia over the giggling sorority girls who sat toward the back of her sociology lecture. 

“They’re obsessed they spend the whole class gossiping about me. And the guys on campus are all pervs. They follow me back from class and turn down random hallways when I stare them down.”

The mother questioned how she knew the girls were talking about her. She wondered how every boy on campus could be stalking her daughter. Amber admitted to never speaking to them or facing any confrontation. I just know, Mom. It’s a feeling. And none of the guys have ever approached me but it’s only a matter of time. The mother was worried her daughter never felt insecure or bothered by drama.

Adderall Induced Paranoia 

Amber ran out of her Adderall prescription two weeks early in October. She called her mother sobbing because she was certain that she would fail her chemistry exam the following week if she couldn’t get an early refill. She screamed and hung up the phone when the mother explained that she would try to contact the psychiatrist, but couldn’t make any promises. Two days later, when she called Amber to relay the psychiatrist’s instructions, Amber complained of a migraine but told her not to worry about the Adderall anymore. 

In December, the mother received a call from Shannon, Amber’s roommate and friend from back home. 

“I think you should come to get Amber. She’s not doing well.”

When Amber’s mother arrived at the dorm two days later, Amber was lying motionless in the fetal position under a pile of blankets. She started sobbing and inconsolable. Everyone was out to get her. Amber couldn’t leave her bed or something terrible would happen. She couldn’t sleep because people were moving in the shadows. There were voices coming from the dresser drawers so she hadn’t changed her clothes in a week. 

The mother was terrified for her daughter and called Amber’s primary care physician and psychiatrist in hopes of finding a solution. Amber’s psychiatrist removed Adderall from Amber’s medications and prescribed her Zyprexa, or olanzapine. When the mother googled the drug, she gasped at the word antipsychotic. Panicked, she researched the disorders related to the drug, finding bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

The mother was calling rehabs while getting the two of them coffee before returning home.

Adderall Psychosis Explained

Adderall, amphetamine/dextroamphetamine, is a stimulant prescription medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The medication increases attention span, focus, and decreases verbal and physical behavioral problems. Unfortunately, like most medications, Adderall has the potential to cause unwanted side effects. Taking Adderall can be extremely dangerous because of the possibility of psychosis. 

Psychosis is a severe mental condition that presents as disordered thinking and a detachment from reality. Commonly, psychosis can lead to paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions. Furthermore, the typical side effects of Adderall are anxiety, headaches, and insomnia. Medical professionals believe that these minor symptoms can compound to the point where the patient is so anxious, irritable, and sleep-deprived that their mental state wavers into a psychotic episode.

Due note this, psychosis can occur when taking the prescribed dosage. However, the risk of psychosis substantially increases upon taking more than your prescribed dose, abusing the drug. Adderall abuse typically occurs when a person has used the medication for an extended period of time. Over the course of several years, your body can grow accustomed to Adderall, or gain tolerance, lowering the strength of its effects. In that case, many Adderall users will increase the dose to acquire the same level of intensity.

Taking Adderall in any way other than prescribed is drug abuse, plain and simple.  In addition, it’s incredibly dangerous. While Adderall psychosis typically passes after the discontinuation of use, the lingering effects on the brain can be permanent. That is not to say everyone who goes through Adderall psychosis continues to suffer from life-long brain damage. 

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