Why You Should Come Off Adderall (and Ritalin) and What to Do Instead
Adderall is frying your brain.
We all know Adderall is prescribed “speed” that is used to help those that have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). There are now many drugs on the market, which have similar effects, including Adderall, Vyvanse1 and Ritalin.2 These drugs have similar chemical structures and have similar effects in your brain, increasing Dopamine and Norepinephrine.1,3
This blog is aimed at those without ADHD, or even those with mild ADHD who may no longer require stimulants to function optimally.
Your Brain on Adderall
Yes, your focus is better; yes, your placings are better and yes you believe you don’t need to sleep. Even if you do need to sleep, eSports are a 24/7 game. You have caffeine, sugar, taurine and guarana, but eSports are a serious pursuit and others always don’t understand the amount of pressure you are under. Some days sleep is not an option and the Adderall helps.
Well, I’ll let you into a little secret. Adderall is frying your brain. If you want to be a serious eSport athlete, you’ll need to stop the Adderall, period. Adderall, Ritalin and other stimulants are banned in professional gaming. So, if you are aiming high, you are better off stopping sooner rather than later. Not only will you no longer be illegally taking prescription medication, but your brain may be sharper in the long-term.
Adderall is probably not helping all that much either. Wait! When you went off the Adderall you felt awful, you couldn’t focus. You need that stuff.
Be aware, when all a substance does is make you feel normal.
How Adderall works
Adderall increases Dopamine and Norepinephrine in the brain.3
Dopamine, the Reward and Motivation Brain Chemical
Your brain comes pre-packaged with a cognitive enhancer, Dopamine.
Dopamine increases motivation, learning and performance.4 Additionally, Dopamine can enhance task-specific neuronal signalling. In other words, Dopamine helps you focus on the task
at hand and supports goal directed behavior when distractions are present.4
Dopamine also encourages the growth of brain cells that it acts on (known as a plasticity effect). It positively reinforces its own effects. You can see how this has the potential for setting up addictive behaviour. This is why, as with most activities, you need a break from constant Dopamine stimulation. This can be seen as similar to constant exercise or constant eating.
Doing one thing often enough ends up having negative effects.
There is less research on Amphetamines and Norepinephrine. However, we all can relate to the “Adrenalin (or Epinephrine) buzz. The increase of Norepinephrine with Amphetamines is associated with hyperactivity, anxiety and possibly addiction.5
Why Pharmaceutical Stimulants are Bad & May Not be Helping
The mechanisms that make you more focussed, also lead to Adderall’s side-effects and it’s potential for addiction.1 Furthermore, amphetamines may affect emotional responses, leading to risky decision making.6
This may all be for nothing. In adults with ADHD, Ritalin was no more effective than placebo with more participants taking Ritalin dropping out of the study due to side-effects.7 Some of the most worrisome side-effects are poor sleep, heart problems and neuro-inflammation. Other side-effects are listed as: Loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps. There is also a concern that these stimulants may precipitate or worsen psychosis, affect vision and cause priapism (a painful erection – not fun).1,2
The most studied side effect of Amphetamines is poor sleep.6 While this may be a reason you would want to take Adderall, the negative effect of poor sleep on brain function is well known,8 leading to less concentration, poor brain function and poorer decision making.
Amphetamines, given their effect on increasing norepinephrine have been associated with heart attacks,9 stroke and irregular heart-beats, even in young adults.6
Inflammation of the brain – AKA: Your brain on fire
Amphetamines….kill off your brain-cells.
Animal studies have indicated that Amphetamines are associated with increased inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain.10 This basically kills off your brain-cells.11 Neuro-inflammation is associated with everything from depression to poor cognition. This is also where the aforementioned side-effect of psychosis may come in.
You don’t want this. It will not help your game.
In fact, a recent study of frequent recreational users of amphetamine observed impairments in mental performance and memory consolidation.12 The higher your use, the worse-off your mental abilities may be.13 Furthermore, the longer you use amphetamines, the more likely you are to suffer long-term depression and loss of joy in life.14
One more consideration: Marketing
Pharmaceutical companies make money by selling drugs and the pharmaceutical stimulant industry is worth over $1 billion, globally.2 They want you to believe that:
- you are sick, you can never be cured, so the only way to live is to take their drug for the rest of your life
- if you need more concentration, focus or memory, you are sick
Think about that.
The increase of Dopamine appears to be mostly responsible for the addictive potential of amphetamines.1
The brain seems to have two responses to addictive stimuli: adaptive (the body adjusts to the stimulus) and synaptic plasticity (association between the stimulus and an activity such as winning a game). This results in both tolerance and sensitivity.15 You can think of Adderall addiction as having two effects on your body:
- Tolerance: over time you may experience less of an effect and need increasingly greater amounts for the same effect. Due to Dopamine being frequently stimulated by Adderall, it no longer “reacts” to other motivations or rewards, leading you to seek out more Adderall.16
- Sensitivity: once you start playing a game, you immediately “need” Adderall.
We know you are careful, but overdoses can happen when you are in the heat of the moment, and you do not recall how many tablets you have taken.
Most commonly, psychiatric symptoms occur with amphetamine overdose. These include agitation, combative behavior, confusion, hallucinations, delirium, anxiety, and paranoia.
Furthermore, movement disorders and seizures may occur which in rare cases may progress to status epilepticus and coma. Less common effects may include bursting of the aorta, brain bleeds and heart attacks.17
While taking pharmaceutical stimulants to improve your cognitive function, may be alluring, scientific studies showed only small benefits, while the risks to health are serious and include dependence, tolerance, and cardiovascular, neurologic, and psychological disorders, with a risk of overdose leading to death.18
How to Stop Adderall and Keep Winning
When considering coming off Adderall, or any medication, consult with your doctor about the best way to do this.
Away from the device
You have heard it before. What you do when not gaming is as, if not more, important than what you are when gaming. And it is true. You want to be perfecting your brain and body for when it counts.
Our bodies get signals from our environment and then act on these. Some signals result in inflammation and oxidation, setting your brain and destroying brain cells. Other signals result in your brain cells being repaired and enhanced. For quick, clear thinking and reaction you want the latter.
While this may look like an overwhelming list of actions to take, even one or two changes can have a positive effect on your performance. Our recommendations:
- EAT real food: Meat, fish, eggs and vegetables. Protein and omega 3 (from fish, not from seeds) are very important for your brain and a lack of these nutrients has been associated with ADHD.19 Move a lot: Humans were made to move, and they function best if they move a lot. Exercise has been studied as a treatment for ADHD. Results indicated that more exercise was associated with better brain function and motor skills.20
- Get SUN: Rays from the sun are vastly different to rays from light bulbs and screens. It is now well accepted that the spectrum of light from artificial sources is harmful to human health, with electric lighting being associated with everything from obesity to poor immunity.21 The effects of sunlight are beneficial (with the obvious caveat of avoiding sunburn) over and above the benefits from Vitamin D.22 In fact, sunlight may make you more clever.23
- SLEEP: You need sleep so that your brain can work. Sleep affects attention, memory and decision making.24
While Working / Gaming
Calm focus and attention is where it is at. If you have too much Epinephrine and / or Dopamine, you will get panicky and not perform at your optimum. If you have too little, your motivation, energy and mood will be negatively affected.
Herbal nootropics have been used for centuries to enhance cognition. In the 1950, the term Adaptogen was applied to compounds that helped the body to adapt to stimulus (e.g. demanding work, stress etc.) and to be safe when used long-term. Many of these mostly plant compounds are herbs that display brain-enhancing effects as part of their adaptogenic effect.25
Furthermore there is a long history of blending herbs to obtain particular effects.26
Nootropic Herbs and compounds
Racetams are a class of pharmaceuticals that were developed in the 1960s. They have been used to decrease the symptoms of dementia, reduce stress and anxiety and improve memory and cognition. The way Racetams work is not full understood. However, it is known that Racetams have no dependency.27 In other words, the chance of getting addicted to the Racetams are trivial.
While clinical trials have not been undertaken, a particular Racetam, Aniracetam, has been suggested as a treatment for the inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity seen in ADHD, as well as the associated anxiety and depression.28 Racetams have been shown to increase attention and vigilance and improve motivation, learning and memory. Furthermore the side-effects of Racetams are very low.
The Last Word
Your brain comes packed with its own nootropics. That is it’s job. Your brain also wants to keep you alive and safe. As such it is having to interpret a huge amount of environmental stimuli. The more enhancing stimuli you put in, the more cognitive performance you will get out.
Except in exceptional circumstances, the risks of amphetamines outweigh the benefits, leaving your brain worse off.
By inputting small steady environmental signals in the form of what you eat, how much you move, the light you expose your skin to and the amount of sleep you get, your brain performance will be significantly improved.
Add to this modern compounds with low side-effects, and ancient herbs to get the most out of your brain, your body and your life.
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