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Stimulants’ Side Effects on the Brain

A portrait of a successful young businessman standing with his arms crossed outside his office.
Stimulants can lure you in, but there are no shortcuts to success.


Studies have found that one out of every five Ivy League students have used drugs like Adderall or Ritalin to help them focus and study harder. These so-called “study drugs” are also making their way into the business world, as well, where they give a perceived competitive edge.

So what’s the harm?

First of all, the jury is still out on whether these drugs actually help people who don’t have attention deficit disorder or narcolepsy (which they are commonly prescribed to treat). Some studies have indicated that the smarter you are, the less of a boost you’ll get. Others have shown a significant placebo effect. There is also a theory that the drugs can boost focus, but harm creativity.

What’s more, there are unanswered questions about the long-term effects of stimulants on your health when used off-label. Stimulant abuse can lead to high blood pressure, which can put you at risk of stroke or heart attack. It can also cause rapid weight loss, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies.

The Slippery Slope to Addiction

But perhaps the biggest risk of drugs like Adderall and Ritalin is their potential for addiction.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the prescription painkiller epidemic, it’s that even drugs that come in neat little bottles with labels can be dangerous. In fact, Adderall and Ritalin are both in the same class of drugs as cocaine.

Just like prescription painkillers, Adderall and Ritalin can be used safely when prescribed by a doctor for a specific condition.

But you venture into dangerous territory when you start taking them off-label, whether your goal is to study better, lose weight or have a fun night out. This is especially true if you crush or snort them—or combine them with alcohol or other drugs.

If you use Adderall or Ritalin long enough, the brain’s natural dopamine levels will be reduced. So when you try to stop taking them, you’ll experience low moods and possibly even depression. There is also evidence that long-term use can cause anxiety and panic attacks.

These changes can be reversed. But, just like with any addiction, it will take abstinence, time and effort to heal your brain’s natural reward pathway.

Hope at The Raleigh House

The long-term effects of Ritalin and Adderall can be significant. The Raleigh House is a residential treatment center located in Denver with expertise in treating stimulant addiction. We do that by not just treating the addiction, but by addressing the whole person, including mind, body and spirit. Fill out our form or contact us today to learn more about our Adderall and Ritalin addiction treatment program.

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