Good Health: The dangers of misusing ADHD drug Adderall

Some students abuse drug to improve focus

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DETROIT – Adderall can be life-changing for people who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

It is an amphetamine that stimulates the brain, helping focus and concentration.

Because of this, the medication is often misused and has been referred to as a “study drug.” Experts say a growing number of high school and college students use Adderall to help them pull all-nighters to study, do homework and accomplish other tasks.

“All of them (amphetamines) have the ability to activate an area of the brain called the reward pathway,” said Dr. Alberto Augsten, a toxicologist.

Altering that reward pathway can be dangerous, though.

Dylan Schopp’s parents believe his Adderall abuse may have contributed to his suicide four years ago.

Schopp started using Adderall as a college freshman who was balancing school and fraternity life. After he began taking the drug, he started showing signs of what is known as Adderall psychosis.

Schopp’s family said he suddenly became paranoid, anxious and withdrawn.

“Psychosis presents with an individual being disorganized, maybe seeing things that aren’t there, hearing things that aren’t there, a manifestation of too much dopamine in that area of the brain,” Augsten said.

Schopp returned home from college and stopped using Adderall, but his parents believe the damage to his brain was already done. They intervened and he was treated for depression, but he died by suicide at 21.

While doctors say Adderall psychosis is rare, it’s not rare for the drug to be abused. Parents are advised to discuss the risks of misusing Adderall with their children.

Before a doctor prescribes Adderall, the person who will be taking the drug normally undergoes a physical exam and mental health screening to check for issues that could be worsened or triggered by it. Also, doctors monitor the progress of patients on the medication and watch for possible side effects.

About the Authors:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.