Why Adderall Abuse in Women Is on the Rise

By Janet Taylor, MD, MPH

Posted on | By Janet Taylor, MD, MPH

Women are constantly faced with the real pressure of running households and boardrooms, organizing their kids at home and school, and even caring for aging parents. In addition, the added pressure of having to look like a supermodel while performing like a superwoman can be overwhelming. It’s no wonder so many women report being absolutely stressed out and completely exhausted.

For some, relief is thought to come in the form of a pill prescribed for the treatment of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – the stimulant Adderall. Recent reports indicate that women who are looking for a quick fix are abusing Adderall.

It is no secret that more and more children and teens are being diagnosed with ADHD or ADD. But ADD/ADHD is also being newly diagnosed in adults. In the United States, almost 4.4% of adults will have symptoms of hyperactivity, disorganization, impulsivity and inattention resulting in the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD. The hallmark for adults is a disruption or difficulty with home or work life. Adults with ADD/ADHD have higher rates of academic or work failures, higher rates of car accidents, increased rates of divorce, and higher rates of anxiety, depression or drug abuse.

One common and effective treatment for ADD/ADHD is Adderall. It is thought to work by increasing the concentration of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. The end result for individuals with ADD/ADHD can be an improvement in focus and concentration, which is a welcome relief. Potential side effects such as hypertension, increased heart rate, anorexia, weight loss, headaches and mood changes (i.e. anxiety and depression) may be higher in people who do not have ADD/ADHD and take Adderall.

The problem is not with the treatment. The danger lies with the 16 million Americans who will take a prescription drug for a reason other than why it was prescribed. That’s abuse. Stimulant use by women between the ages of 20-44 has increased by 264% over the past 10 years. Increased access to stimulants like Adderall can increase the potential for abuse or misuse. As women, we share information, resources, and what works for us, which may happen to include prescription medications.

Some women are abusing Adderall to have more energy, lose weight, and improve their concentration and focus. They are stealing it from their kids, faking symptoms to their health-care providers, or are given prescriptions in the absence of the correct diagnosis by their providers.

Here’s the bottom line: Adult ADD/ADHD is a brain disorder that can be treated effectively. If you are frazzled or stressed-out, fight the temptation to just “take a pill” by asking yourself these questions:

  • How often do I have trouble with the final details of a project?
  • How often do I have difficulty organizing?
  • How often do I have trouble remembering appointments?
  • How often do I delay or avoid challenging tasks?
  • How often do I fidget?
  • How often do I feel like a motor is driving me?

If the answer to one or more of these is extremely often, take an inventory of your symptoms and talk to your health care provider.

The pressures of everyday life are very real and should be managed in a healthy, safe and productive way. Here are a few strategies to help you cope:

Regular Exercise

By exercising 30 minutes a day, mental clarity, focus and well-being are enhanced. A good workout releases dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.

Eat Nutritious and Healthy Foods

A diet rich in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables is beneficial, and will give you energy and decrease cravings. Avoid overindulging in caffeine and sugary products.

Utilize Your Resources

If you are frazzled and overwhelmed, ask for help. Organize your day and be sure to include at least 15 minutes of “me-time”.

Practice Healthy Sleep Habits

Keep your techno gadgets out of your bedroom. Make your bedroom a place of rest and calm. Sleep deprivation leads to irritability, anxiety and depression.

Practice Healthy Coping Skills

Life can be stressful. Aim for balance by exercising, rewarding yourself with a positive attitude, and a good support system. Avoid using alcohol as a reward for a trying day.

Maintain a Positive Attitude

Reframe difficult situations by reflecting on past experiences and a will to change. Be clear about what you want and take actionable steps to make it happen.

References

Prescription Drug Use, Risk Factors (MayoClinic.com)

Medco, Report, America’s State of Mind (2012)

NIDA, 2011

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