Adderall is a central nervous system stimulant prescribed for the treatment of Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy and depression. This amphetamine helps improve focus. It also increases the levels of neurotransmitters that affect hunger, including serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. But what most people don’t know is that there is a potentially dangerous connection between Adderall and eating disorders.
“When used as prescribed, Adderall has known side effects of appetite loss, insomnia, irritability, anxiety, headaches, nausea, spikes in blood pressure and changes in heart rate,” says Brandon Erdos, MD and Medical Director of Telemedicine at The Renfrew Center. He tells Parentology, “Adderall, like all stimulants, carries a risk of appetite suppression. Use of Adderall and other stimulants with an eating disorder can lead to further appetite reduction and further weight loss or difficulties restoring or maintaining weight.”
He adds, “Given that weight restoration and weight maintenance is a major focus of treatment in eating disorders, the use of Adderall and other stimulants presents a major concern.”
Eating disorders are a form of addiction, making patients more vulnerable to other addictions through a process called cross-addiction.
Addictions stimulate the reward center of the brain. If someone is susceptible to one addiction, they’re more likely to suffer from another. Adderall abuse and eating disorders are among the most common cross-addictions, especially in young women.
“The problem with taking Adderall is that it is an appetite suppressant and takes away a person’s ability to recognize if they are feeling true physical hunger,” explains Robyn L. Goldberg, RDN, CEDRD-S, Nutrition Therapist, and author of The Eating Disorder Trap. She tells Parentology that she sees individuals in her practice who have sporadic and unbalanced meals often times skipping or having a “snack” as a meal due to not feeling hunger.
“This cycle can become a reoccurring pattern which can turn into something bigger other than managing ADHD,” she says. “This can result in restricting due to having a suboptimal intake of fuel and also for people that are chronic dieters they perceive they have found their answer. Taking these stimulant medications can result in becoming physically and emotionally dependent on them if the individual is seeing a physical transformation too as a by-product.”
Recreational Adderall Use
Many people have been able to obtain Adderall without a prescription. In fact, the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent published a study on the non-medical use of stimulants. Self-reported rates were as high as 58.7%.
Take, for example, Wesleyan University senior Lucy Leventhorpe. She attended an elite boarding high school, and when faced with high academic pressure, she sought out an Adderall prescription, which she tells Parentology was easy to get. Leventhorpe admits that she was already inclined towards a negative body image and began to “lean in” to the appetite suppression Adderall provided.
“You can literally not be hungry for an entire day,” she says, noting that while she’d previously recognized her problems with food and body image, she hadn’t acted on these urges. She believes that Adderall gave her an excuse to do so. If someone asked her why she wasn’t eating, she responded, “It’s my medication — I’m just not hungry.”
When her eating disorder became more visible, she was asked to take a leave of absence from school. “Because girls who look emaciated were bad for the school’s reputation during tours and official visits,” she explains.
Awareness Fights Addiction
Awareness is necessary to stop stories like Leventhorpe’s from continuing to happen. It’s important to know that if Adderall is prescribed for your child or someone you know, that it has a high addiction risk. And people with an eating disorder may be at a higher risk of developing an Adderall addiction.
If you or someone you know is struggling with Adderall use and an eating disorder, there are treatment centers available to help. Call the National Eating Disorder Association Help Line at 1-800-931-2237.