Long-Term Risks Associated with Nonmedical Use of Psychostimulants Like Adderall
New research shows that focus-boosting drugs abused by young adults without ADHD only provide a short-lived attention burst and may negatively impact memory and sleep over time.
August 19, 2019
Nonmedical use of psychostimulants, such as Adderall XR, may have negative long-term impacts on focus, working memory, and quality of sleep. This was the central finding of a new study from researchers at the University of California, Irvine, who published two separate papers: “The impact of psychostimulants on sustained attention over a 24-h period” in Cognition1 and “Morning stimulant administration reduces sleep and overnight working memory improvement” in Behavioural Brain Research.2
The researchers conducted two experiments with 43 to 46 healthy adult participants aged 18-39 without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD): one to determine the effect of psychostimulants on focus and the other to assess the drugs’ effect on sleep and working memory. Memory and attention tests were administered at the beginning of the study to establish baseline measurements for comparison. Participants were administered either a placebo or 20 milligrams of dextroamphetamine, a psychostimulant present in Adderall.
In the 46 participants studied for sleep and working memory, after 24 hours and a night of sleep, those who took the stimulant began performing much worse on working memory tasks than those who took the placebo. Participants who took dextroamphetamine also had less and poorer quality of sleep.
In the 43 participants studied for focus, attentional performance was 4% better in those who received the stimulant at 75 minutes after taking it, but no benefit was experienced 12 and 24 hours after taking it. Co-author of the study, Sara Mednick, says these findings suggest that the “purported enhancement to executive function from psychostimulants in healthy populations may be somewhat exaggerated.”
Researchers concluded that taking a psychostimulant to boost short-term cognitive performance may not be worth the risk.
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1 Whitehurst, Lauren N. et al. “The impact of psychostimulants on sustained attention over a 24-h period.” Cognition (Jul. 2019). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2019.104015
2 Tselha, Tenzin, et al. “Morning stimulant administration reduces sleep and overnight working memory improvement.” Behavioural Brain Research (May 2019). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2019.111940