Renowned Sports Psychologist Explains Effects of Adderall
By: The Football Girl | Posted: November 27, 2012
Take a quick glance at the NFL’s Banned Substance list. I bet Adderall is one of a few drugs that sticks out like a sore thumb. On the surface the amphetamine, which is commonly used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), does not seem like it belongs in the same company with anabolic steroids and THG. But it is there, clear as day, and yet is the drug that got Bucs-turned Patriots CB Aqib Talib, Bucs-stayed Bucs CB Eric Wright, Patriots DE Jermaine Cunningham, and Falcons OL Joe Hawley all suspended for four games this season. Seattle CBs Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are also facing suspension for testing positive. They are appealing.
Every time a new suspension for Adderall use is handed down, there is a unanimous media side effect -- questions. Lots of questions. Why is Adderall on the banned substance list? What are its effects? Why exactly does it give athletes a competitive edge? For more insight, I posed these questions to renowned sports psychologist Dr. Leah Lagos. Dr. Lagos works with private patients and sports leagues including the NFL, with whom she participates in psychological evaluations at the NFL’s Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. In other words, she is quite familiar with the league’s Adderall epidemic..
Dr. Lagos emphatically believes Adderall belongs on the banned substance list.
“It is a medication that alters the brain, the mood, the body,” she said. “If you don’t have ADHD, people call Adderall the ‘smart drug’ or ‘superman drug.’ It makes everything tighter in terms of focus and helps you do things more quickly. It’s almost like you’ve taken 100 cups of coffee and you’re just rifling along and able to perform things.”
For a person with ADHD, Adderall can work to calm them down and achieve a mental equilibrium. In fact, the NFL allows players to legally use it if an exemption is filed. But if you don’t have ADHD the drug can have an opposite effect. “It tends to amp you up, makes you a lot more focused, even hyper-focused. It’s very difficult to stop,” said Dr. Lagos.
Lagos suggests that heightened focus is the number one side effect of Adderall, even more so than energy. Perhaps it is no coincidence that most of the recent suspensions for Adderall-use are among cornerbacks, a position requiring some of the most intense concentration in football.
Competitive advantage in-season is one reason players take Adderall, but Dr. Lagos believes usage is more commonplace during training camp.
“They’re weary, exhausted, not getting sleep, and partaking in long workouts every day for long periods of time,” Dr. Lagos says. “The natural reaction is the body deteriorates a bit and they lose focus.”
The speed-like effects of Adderall are of concern, but the graver issue is substance abuse. Dr. Lagos says people will take it and like its effects, so therefore they must have more. Players rely on it for improved sharpness in their play, much in the same way college students rely on it for improved sharpness in their studying. (According to a recent study by the Suffolk Medical News Daily, 34.5% of college kids admitted Adderall use last year.)
Without medical supervision the effects of Adderall can be disastrous. Dr. Lagos counsels patients prescribed with ADHD to ensure proper dosage because it is such an addictive substance.
“Overuse of Adderall can result in a schizophrenic break, what looks like a paranoid hallucination of people talking, or of ants crawling under the skin,” Dr. Lagos said. “It is a scary episode, one that requires immediate medical attention. It can also result in long-term brain damage.”
Maybe Adderall isn’t such a “soft” member of the banned substance list after all.