Contributed by StartYourRecovery.org
Reviewed by Kim Dennis, MD, CEDS
StartYourRecovery.org (SYR) provides helpful information for people who are dealing with substance use issues — and their family members, friends, and co-workers, too. SYR knows that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges faced by those who misuse alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs, or other substances, and they aim to break through the clutter to help people at any stage of recovery.
You may have a friend or family member with ADHD or narcolepsy whose condition is much better thanks to prescription stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin. However, misuse of these medications can lead to dependence and other harmful effects, and people with eating disorders may face even greater risks from so-called “study drugs.”1
If you or a loved one is experiencing an eating disorder and misusing prescription stimulants, know that help is available and treatment works.
What are Prescription Stimulants?
Prescription stimulants are used to manage various conditions, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). When used as prescribed, these stimulants can increase a person’s alertness and energy and sharpen their attention.2,3
Common prescription stimulants include:4,5
People misuse these medications by taking them without a prescription, at a higher dose than prescribed, or for reasons other than for what they were prescribed. Stimulant misuse can increase the amount of dopamine in the body, producing euphoric effects. However, it can also increase blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar and cause hyperventilation. At high doses, it can cause dangerously elevated body temperature, decreased sleep and appetite, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, and seizures.3,6
For people with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, stimulants can destabilize mood. Repeated stimulant misuse can cause psychosis, anger, or paranoia. When a dose wears off, you may experience painful withdrawal symptoms and strong cravings. Stopping use can cause temporary uneasiness, depression, suicidal thoughts, mood changes, hunger, strange or bad dreams, tiredness, and disrupted motor skills.7 Most withdrawal symptoms go away in about a week.7
If you have become dependent on prescription stimulants, know that recovery is possible.
Link Between Eating Disorders and Prescription Stimulant Misuse
Some people experiencing disordered eating may be drawn to Adderall, Ritalin, and other prescription stimulants, which can decrease appetite.8,9 Taking these drugs repeatedly can lead to stimulant dependence or development of a stimulant use disorder.10
Both eating disorders and stimulant use disorder can be serious and even lethal.11,12,13 Substance misuse may lead to an eating disorder, and an eating disorder may also lead to substance misuse. They often occur together and overlap.
Eating disorders and stimulant use disorders share common risk factors, such as:12,14,15,16
- Family history of these or other mental illnesses.
- Low self-esteem or a susceptibility to social pressures.
- Traumatic life experiences.
- Genetic predispositions.
Help Prevent an Overdose
Have you ever bought or acquired pills somewhere other than a pharmacy? Fake pills may be laced with potentially deadly substances like methamphetamine and fentanyl, which can lead to overdose.17,18,19
Naloxone, known by brand names like Narcan and RiVive, is an over-the-counter medicine that can stop an overdose and save a life.
If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose:
- Call 911.
- Administer naloxone if it’s available.
- Keep the person awake and on their side until first responders arrive.
- Administer CPR if the person does not have a pulse.
Find Treatment and Start Your Recovery
Recovery from eating disorders and substance misuse and dependence is a personal journey, and there’s no single solution that works for everyone.19
Start by finding a trained health care professional to assess your physical and mental health needs. They then can work with you to create a recovery plan.20 Find treatment and support for eating disorders and substance misuse.
- Learn more about the link between substance use and eating disorders.
- Use the National Eating Disorders Association’s screening tool to help you determine whether it’s time to seek treatment for an eating disorder.
- Get free, confidential help for mental health or substance use disorders anytime by calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).