Adderall—Controversial Medicine, Addictive Drug, and Twin Brother to Methamphetamine

Meth drug and adderall

The pharmaceutical industry cranks out millions and millions of pills every year, offering prescription “remedies” for just about everything. In the course of permeating the medical arena with as many different types of pharmaceuticals as possible, it was only a matter of time before Big Pharma cranked out prescription drugs that were almost identical to illegal street drugs that already existed on the black market.

The truth about opioid pain reliever drugs and their stark similarities to heroin and other illegal street opioids is more than well known. But what about the common amphetamine drug Adderall? Did you know that chemically speaking and in the way that it affects people, Adderall is almost the same drug as methamphetamine?

What is Adderall?

Adderall pill

WebMD defines Adderall as a medicine which treats attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Adderall is a stimulant drug. It works by changing the amount of certain natural substances within the brain itself. Adderall comes from the amphetamine family. The drug causes increased attention, increased focus, and a boost of energy. Adderall is also designed to help people with narcolepsy, a sleep disorder.

Adderall is not without its adverse side effects. Stomach aches, dry mouth, vomiting, nausea, weight loss, pain, diarrhea, dizziness, nervousness, headaches, trouble sleeping, all of these are potential side-effects of taking Adderall, even when one takes it exactly as prescribed.

Adderall Addiction Stats

What the medical experts will not likely tell you about Adderall is that this drug is addictive. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health performed an extensive study on the addiction risks of Adderall, particularly as pertains to young people who were taking it.

When we hear about Adderall’s side effects, we usually hear about the increased risk for a mental health crisis, increased depression, aggressive and even hostile behavior, sleeping problems, cardiovascular risks, risks for stroke, and all of the other black-box warnings on that drug. But very rarely do we hear about the addiction risk.

According to the Johns Hopkins study, the misuse of Adderall by individuals aged eighteen to twenty-five increased by more than sixty-seven percent between 2006 and 2011. And as the misuse of the drug increased, so did the prevalence of Adderall in emergency room visits. Between 2006 and 2011, Adderall-associated ER visits increased by one-hundred and fifty-six percent.

What was particularly concerning about the above information was the fact that, from 2006 to 2011, the prescribing of Adderall did not increase significantly. Certainly, the prescribing trends did not increase enough to warrant a sixty-seven percent increase in misuse and a one-hundred and fifty-six percent increase in hospital visits associated with the drug.

In the John Hopkins study, author Dr. Lian-Yu Chen stated that the rise in ER visits without a rise in prescriptions “suggests that the main driver of misuse and emergency room visits related to the drug is the result of diversion – people taking medication that is legitimately prescribed to someone else. Physicians need to be much more aware of what is happening and take steps to prevent it from continuing.”

Another author of the study, Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, backed up Dr. Chen, saying that the medical industry needs to treat Adderall like they treat prescription painkillers and that doctors need to enter the drug into Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs every time it is prescribed. Dr. Mojtabai also said that young people need to be more wary of Adderall and not treat it like a harmless drug.

Adderall pills prescription.

Similarities Between Adderall and Methamphetamine

The addiction side to Adderall is just the beginning. Another thing that medical experts will not likely tell you about Adderall is that this drug is almost identical to methamphetamine. Dr. Carl Hart is a medical expert at Columbia University who was able to show that Adderall and meth are almost exactly identical, even down to a chemical level. In fact, Adderall is just one methyl group away from being meth, according to Dr. Hart’s article at Medium. (A methyl group is simply a common structural unit upon which organic compounds are built).

Dr. Hart conducted a study, utilizing the help of thirteen men who regularly used methamphetamine. In the study, Dr. Hart gave the men meth and d-amphetamine, (also called dextroamphetamine, which is the primary compound that makes up Adderall pills). Dr. Hart monitored the results, and found the following similarities, among others:

  • Both the d-amphetamine and the meth caused an increase in energy.
  • Both the d-amphetamine and the meth caused an enhanced ability to focus and concentrate.
  • Both the d-amphetamine and the meth reduced subjective feelings of tiredness.
  • Both the d-amphetamine and the meth caused a reduction in cognitive disruptions.
  • Both the d-amphetamine and the meth caused increases in blood pressure.
  • When the thirteen men were offered their choice in which drug they could have (they were not told which one was which), the men did not have a preference.

What this study tells us is that regular methamphetamine users could not distinguish the difference between taking meth or taking d-amphetamine.

The Brutal Truth About Adderall

The significance of this study is shattering. On the one hand, it shows that an ADHD drug which we give to millions of children and young adults in the U.S. is essentially identical to an illegal substance that is associated with terribleconsequences of its use. Currently, more than three and a half million American children are taking Adderall, a five-hundred percent increase since 1990. If hardened meth users can’t tell the difference when they’re taking Adderall versus meth, should we really be giving Adderall drugs to our kids?

“I can only hope that you don’t require as much time and scientific activity in order to understand that the Adderall that you or your loved one takes each day is essentially the same drug as meth.”

In the article in Medium, Dr. Hart stated: It took me nearly 20 years and dozens of scientific publications in the area of drug use to recognize my own biases around methamphetamine. I can only hope that you don’t require as much time and scientific activity in order to understand that the Adderall that you or your loved one takes each day is essentially the same drug as meth. And I hope that this knowledge engenders less judgment of people who use meth, and greater empathy.

His message is one that we can all get behind. We need to think twice before we blindly buy into whatever our doctors or the pharmaceutical industry is trying to sell us. These drugs were not necessarily made with the publics’ best interests at heart, and it is long past time that we realized that.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, LADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.