In recent years, a number of drugs have been put on the market to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and similar conditions. Because they are based on compounds that affect the dopamine pathway in the brain, among others, these drugs can cause a euphoric “high,” and as a result, they can be highly addictive.
List of Prescription Stimulants
Prescription stimulants that are most often abused are those prescribed to manage ADHD and similar disorders; the action of these drugs can help to increase levels of focus and concentration, as well as alertness. They are also often used to treat narcolepsy, a condition that results in excessive sleepiness and can cause people to fall asleep suddenly at any time of day, and even binge eating disorder, among other mental health and physical disorders. Because of these benefits, prescription stimulants are medically useful. Nevertheless, they have a high potential for addiction and are therefore categorized as Schedule II controlled substances.
These drugs, as described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), are usually types of amphetamines or methylphenidate compounds.
These drugs and their addictive potential are described in further detail below.
Ritalin is a formulation of a substance called methylphenidate. This substance has a wide variety of uses, according to an article from the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, which include treating ADHD, as well as:
- Brain injury
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
Ritalin has been used for medical purposes since the mid 20th century. Still, the main use of this drug in modern times is treating ADHD, a role for which it is very well known.
Like many drugs that affect the dopamine system, it was quickly discovered that methylphenidate is a potentially addictive substance. Young people and college students have misused or abused the drug by taking it in larger doses or without a prescription, either to improve academic performance or to experience the euphoric high that the drug can create. Those who use it to improve performance have sometimes inadvertently become dependent on the drug or even addicted to it. Others, who use it specifically to get high, are even more likely to develop addiction due to repeated abuse.
As described by Healthline, the main difference between Ritalin and Concerta is that Concerta lasts longer. The two drugs are based on the same nervous system stimulant medication, methylphenidate. While the longest-lasting version of Ritalin only lasts up to about six hours, Concerta lasts up to 12 hours. Along with its use in treating ADHD, Concerta can be used to treat narcolepsy.
Concerta is popular for drug abuse because the pills can be crushed or dissolved in liquid, and the capsules can be opened; the contents can then be snorted or injected, bringing on a faster, more intense high. Even without following these processes, however, a person who takes a large amount of this drug can experience a surge of dopamine that results in euphoria – and that, as with Ritalin – can lead to addiction with continued abuse.
Unlike Ritalin and Concerta, Adderall does not contain methylphenidate. Instead, Adderall is a blend of two stimulant drugs called amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Nevertheless, its action in the body is generally the same. As described by Live Science, Adderall increases the availability of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain by preventing them from being reabsorbed. This, in turn, increases synaptic activity, resulting in heightened alertness, focus, and concentration, as well as agitation, increased heart rate, and dilated pupils.
Many people who abuse Adderall try crushing it to snort or inject it. However, this has the opposite effect from what is desired. When taken orally, Adderall is more efficiently absorbed into the bloodstream and creates a stronger effect. This is also part of what makes Adderall desirable for abuse: It doesn’t require extreme methods to experience a euphoric high.
Dextrostat is a simple version of dextroamphetamine. As a result, it also has abuse potential similar to Adderall. In addition, similar to other ADHD drugs, Dextrostat can also be used to treat narcolepsy.
Dextrostat, like other stimulant medications, may be crushed or dissolved in water for injection into the bloodstream in an attempt to get a quicker high. However, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are often larger, insoluble particles in the pills that can inadvertently block smaller veins, leading to damage to the circulatory system.
Along with its usefulness in treating ADHD, Vyvanse is indicated as a potential treatment for binge eating disorder. Stimulants often have a side effect of suppressing appetite, which can help people break compulsive eating habits.
According to Mental Health Daily, the compound of note in Vyvanse is lisdexamfetamine, which in itself is not an active substance. It requires metabolism by the body to break down into a component – dextroamphetamine – that is the active ingredient. Because of this, Vyvanse may not be as popular with those who are looking for a quick high; without actually digesting it, Vyvanse won’t make a person high at all.
Still, those who take large doses of this drug can expect a high to occur within a couple hours and last for quite some time. This is what accounts for the abuse of Vyvanse.
Desoxyn is an ADHD drug formulated with methamphetamine; illicit forms of methamphetamine, or meth, are some of the most potent, dangerously addictive drugs on the street. Formulated at a prescription-grade level, this drug is nevertheless highly addictive and only rarely prescribed, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Like other prescription stimulants, Desoxyn is listed as a Schedule II controlled substance, and any prescription for it cannot be automatically refilled.
Abuse of this drug by regularly using high doses can very quickly lead to addiction and cause multiple other health issues, including oral problems like loose or damaged teeth, heart problems, extreme weight loss or malnutrition, and hallucinations, including the sensation of insects crawling under the skin; this can lead an individual to repeatedly pick at and wound the areas of the sensation. These physical manifestations can be the most reliable sign that someone is abusing or addicted to Desoxyn.
ADHD Treatment Lacking Abuse Potential: Strattera
A note about Strattera: A number of people seeking a stimulant for recreational purposes may look at Strattera and assume it will provide a high like other ADHD treatments. This is incorrect, because this ADHD treatment is different from the stimulant medications listed above.
The journal Psychopharmacology demonstrates that, unlike nervous system stimulants, Strattera does not affect the dopamine system, and it is therefore considered to have little to no abuse risk. Instead, it focuses specifically on preventing reuptake of norepinephrine, a stress hormone, to help the individual improve focus and concentration. This alternative can provide a relevant option for people who are concerned about addiction risk.
All stimulants, when abused, can have dangerous side effects, including the potential for damage to the heart or circulatory system and the possibility of developing psychosis. Because of these and other long-term health risks, it can be important to pay attention if an individual is suspected of abusing these drugs. Getting help through a reputable addiction treatment program can set the individual on the path to recovery from substance abuse and lower the chances of future issues, illnesses, or risks due to the dangers of addiction to prescription stimulants.