Is Adderall really the same as Meth? The answer is no, but their similarities may surprise you. It’s these similarities that scientists and psychiatrists have been discussing and led to catchy headlines. That doesn’t mean that millions of children taking Adderall are really on Meth. Before we get into the crucial differences, it’s important to understand what Adderall and Meth are and how they affect the body.
What Is Adderall and How Does it Affect the Brain?
Adderall is a brand name drug that combines two stimulants: amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. It is used to treat hyperactivity, distractability, inattention, and/or impulsivity, as well as any other symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD). The drug is a central nervous stimulant which works by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that plays a key role in concentration and focus, which is Adderall is sometimes referred to as a “study drug”.
Individuals with ADHD or ADD are thought to have a deficiency when it comes to regulating these two chemicals. The brain is made up of millions of neurons. These neurons communicate with each other through neurotransmitters. One neuron will release a neurotransmitter, which travels to the next neuron where it is absorbed, and then that neuron can communicate with the next neuron (and so on). As a neurotransmitter is released, parts are reabsorbed by the neuron. It’s thought some of the individuals with ADHD reabsorb these parts too quickly which reduces how quickly and efficiently signals are transmitted in the brain. Amphetamines (which Adderall is) slow down how quickly these chemicals are reabsorbed. In individuals with ADHD, at the appropriate dosage, this can help balance the brain to what people may consider “normal” (more on how Adderall helps ADHD can be found here). Studies show Adderall can improved symptoms in 70% of adults with ADHD or ADD and 70% to 80% of children shortly after starting treatment.
What is Meth and How Does it Affect the Brain?
Meth is also a central nervous stimulant, and chemically very similar in structure to Adderall. Amphetamines are also known as alpha-Methylphenylethylamine. Methamphetamine has more of what’s referred to as methyl, which does affect how the drug interacts with the body and brain. Meth also affects dopamine in the brain in a similar way to Adderall – by suppressing the re-absorption of neurotransmitters to increase brain activity. This creates the “high” or euphoria experienced by users. Over time, the brain adapts to the presence of the drug which can cause long-term damage once off the drug. The brain continues to produce a deficient amount of dopamine which can lead to depression and paranoia.
Meth Versus Adderall
Yes, Meth and Adderall are both amphetamines. They both affect the body in a similar way, although the differences are crucial. The additional methyl in Meth allows the drug to more quickly cross the blood-brain barrier. This means the effects are felt more quickly creating a more intense and immediate “high”. The greater euphoria can more easily lead to addiction. This contrasts with the 2001 Shire Pharmaceuticals release of Adderall XR, an extended release pill to provide a steady dose over the course of the day. In other words, while chemically very similar, Adderall is designed to treat a medical condition whereas Meth is designed to get “high”. Additionally, Meth may contain a number of contaminants that adversely affect the liver and rest of the body.
Adderall a Greater Threat Than Meth?
We think it’s clear – Meth is a more dangerous drug than Adderall. It has a greater propensity for addiction, can contain unknown chemicals and toxins, and is designed to create a greater “high” which can strain the cardiovascular system and lead to long-term brain damage. However, today Adderall presents a greater threat than Meth. One study found that by a student’s sophomore year in college, about 50% of their classmates will have been offered Adderall. More shocking was a National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report that found nearly 90% of college students that abused Adderall were past month binge drinkers. And surveys found that Adderall abuse is more common than Meth abuse in 2018, at least among high school students. Meth use in the last year among twelfth graders has declined from 0.6% in 2016 to 0.5% in 2018. While Adderall misuse in the last year among twelfth graders declined from 6.2% to 4.6% – more than nine times higher.
Adderall today presents a significant risk to teens and college students and can lead to the abuse of other drugs including alcohol and hard substances. Given that it’s use is so much more common and become a national problem, it’s easy to relate to Meth. While there’s a lot of focus and emphasis on educating youth on the dangers of Meth, there isn’t the same social stigma associated with Adderall. For that reason, the comparisons of Meth and Adderall may not be a bad thing, after all, they aren’t as different as they are the same.