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Adderall for TBI: Analyzing the Potential Benefits and Drawbacks

man sitting at kitchen table reading label of Adderall for TBI

Can Adderall help TBI patients control their cognitive impairments?

You’re about to learn the potential benefits and drawbacks of using Adderall for TBI. We’ll also discuss whether the amphetamines contained in Adderall can be harmful for TBI survivors.

What is Adderall?

Adderall is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. It works in the same way that Ritalin does, by increasing the availability of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. This helps speed up brain activity.

Doctors mainly prescribe Adderall to treat symptoms of ADHD, which include:

Since brain injury shares these issues with ADHD, doctors will also often prescribe Adderall to their TBI patients.

Benefits of Adderall for TBI Patients

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Neuroscientists refer to dopamine as the “feel-good” chemical because it boosts mood, concentration, and motivation. Unfortunately, brain injury causes patients to lose most of their dopamine receptors.

Because Adderall increases the amount of dopamine available though, it can allow TBI patients to use more of it. This, in turn, can increase a person’s motivation and concentration.

In fact, according to researchers from Brown University, Adderall enables individuals to focus on the benefits of work, not the cost.

This has huge implications for TBI survivors. It means Adderall can help motivate them to continue with their therapy at home, something many patients struggle with. 

Besides boosting motivation, Adderall has also been shown to improve memory and processing speeds in TBI patients.

Finally, Adderall can stimulate the frontal lobe to help keep TBI survivors alert. This can be especially helpful for patients with cognitive fatigue.

Side Effects of Adderall

Adderall offers many benefits for TBI patients, but it can also trigger some serious side effects.

The most common side effects of Adderall include:

  • Anxiety
  • Stomach pain
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite

In addition, because Adderall is a stimulant, it can be highly addictive for some people. That is why you should always follow the exact instructions of your doctor. And never take more than your prescribed dose.

Comparing Ritalin and Adderall: Which is Better?

teenage boy reading label of Adderall for TBI

Both Ritalin and Adderall use the same mechanisms and offer almost the exact same benefits to TBI patients. This prompts the question: is one better than the other?

As far as effectiveness goes, the answer is no. While there are more studies available on Ritalin for TBI patients, both can improve concentration and motivation after TBI. Adderall also seems to help with impulsiveness.

The main difference between the two is Ritalin acts faster and reaches peak performance earlier than Adderall. It also stays in the body for less time. For instance, Ritalin stays in the body for about three hours, where Adderall lasts for about six.

This makes Ritalin ideal for TBI patients who need fast, predictable cognitive boosts. For those who need longer-lasting, more steady increases in concentration, Adderall is the better option.

Are the Amphetamines in Adderall Dangerous?

The other difference between Ritalin and Adderall lies in their ingredients. Adderall contains a mixture of amphetamine salts, which can be addictive. Ritalin, on the other hand, does not.

Fortunately, pharmacists carefully mix the amphetamines in Adderall with other substances to reduce their strength. That means it is much safer than illegal forms of drugs with similar ingredients.

With that said, Adderall can still be addicting for some, especially for people with a history of substance abuse.

This makes Adderall potentially more dangerous than Ritalin. Still, with the proper dosage and oversight of a physician, both are considered safe and effective treatments.

How to Use Adderall for TBI

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Adderall can help improve many of the symptoms of TBI. However, it should not replace other forms of treatment.

The only way to truly recover from a brain injury is to maximize the effects of neuroplasticity. This will allow your brain to reorganize itself and recover function.

To activate neuroplasticity, you must use massed practice exercises. The more repetitions you perform, the more your brain will strengthen its new neural pathways and improve function. For example, to improve your memory skills, therapists recommend you practice cognitive rehab exercises every day.

Therefore, you can use Adderall as a boost to help you continue with therapy. It may even help reduce fatigue and other problems preventing you from improving. But it cannot cure you.

Adderall for Brain Injury: Can It Help?

Adderall helps TBI patients improve cognitive function by increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain.

Unlike Ritalin, Adderall has a more sustained effect on the brain. This makes it ideal for persons with serious concentration impairments. However, it is also more addictive.

As a result, patients should only take Adderall under the strict guidance of their doctor.  

While Adderall can help improve brain function, consistent therapy is the only sure way to reverse the cognitive effects of TBI. That is why the best option is to combine Adderall with some form of cognitive therapy.

We hope this article helps you better understand the benefits and drawbacks of using Adderall for TBI. Good luck!

Featured Image: iStock/Antonio_Diaz

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