Strattera is a drug that has been talked about for its nonstimulant, low-addictive treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, teenagers, and adults. It might present as safer than some of the other ADHD drugs available, but there is always the possibility of Strattera abuse. There are various symptoms of misuse and unpleasant side effects that may require treatment.
Strattera is the brand name for the generic medication atomoxetine. It is prescribed to treat ADHD in children and adults.
Strattera is a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger) that is produced by the brain to regulate anxiety, focus, sleep, energy, and mood. It is usually released during the “fight-or-flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system.
As a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, Strattera prevents the reabsorption (or the reuptake) of norepinephrine in the brain, thus leaving more of the neurotransmitter available to help patients with their focus and attention.
In 2013, the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology found that atomoxetine was successfully used in children from the ages of 10 to 16 who had difficulty in concentrating and paying attention. Researchers also noted that atomoxetine also showed promise in treating sluggish cognitive tempo, a condition where children are unusually inactive or underactive for their age.
Strattera and Adderall are sometimes compared since they are both prescribed to treat ADHD. Both medications can improve attention spans and reduce instances of hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.
However, Strattera and Adderall are very different drugs. Adderall is a psychostimulant medication, which has led to it being abused, while Strattera is a nonstimulant. In 2002, it became the first nonstimulant medication to receive approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for ADHD treatment.
Notwithstanding this key difference, Strattera increases the amount and production of the dopamine neurotransmitter in the brain, which creates feelings of reward, pleasure, and anticipation. This is a key mechanic in the development of a substance abuse problem, especially the abuse of prescription medication.
If a patient takes an unprescribed amount of Strattera (either because of a desire to self-medicate their ADHD symptoms or because they want the dopamine release), they will experience side effects, which include:
More serious side effects of Strattera overuse include an irregular heartbeat, difficult urination, and brief losses of consciousness. A patient who is experiencing some or most of these effects should contact their doctor immediately.
In very rare cases, Strattera has been linked to an increase in thoughts of suicide in children and teenagers. Psycom writes of a clinical study that found that 4 in 1,000 patients receiving Strattera experienced such thoughts “with no suicides occurring.”
The Mayo Clinic writes that in most cases, the medication’s side effects will go away after a short period and that their arrival should not cause alarm. A doctor should inform patients about the possible side effects and that they should not cause any undue worry. However, if the side effects persist or lead to other problems, this would be a reason to consult with a doctor. It is important not to increase, decrease, stop, or otherwise change the frequency or dosage of Strattera consumption without checking with a doctor first.
Improper use of Strattera can lead to such levels of psychological dependence that a patient persists in their consumption of the medication even as they experience the side effects listed above. An unwillingness or compulsive inability to discontinue Strattera use would meet the basic criteria for drug abuse.
However, it is important that a patient in this situation not simply discontinue their Strattera use. If their use of the medication has progressed to this point, they will have built up enough of a need for Strattera that their brain and central nervous system cannot properly function without it. This state of distress is known as drug withdrawal.
The good news is that because Strattera specifically targets the norepinephrine neurotransmitter, the sudden termination of the medication will not cause the vastly destabilizing and debilitating symptoms that going cold turkey on a drug like Adderall would. While most drugs cause painful physical and psychological drug withdrawal symptoms, Strattera has fewer such symptoms for a relatively shorter period.
Even if a patient has been using Strattera for a considerable time, the symptoms of withdrawal “are pretty minimal compared to other medications.” There have been no clinically researched and established discontinuation effects from Strattera abuse.
It is still possible, however, for people who have been using Strattera at high doses to develop an unhealthy dependence on the medication. There is also the concern that they might mix their Strattera with other substances.
Because atomoxetine is not a substance with a high potential of abuse, most doctors will recommend that patients seek an outpatient rehabilitation program instead of a more intensive inpatient program, which would be necessary if the Strattera abuse was life-threatening.
With an outpatient program, a person who is overusing Strattera can receive help in lowering their doses back to the standard amounts while receiving therapy to give them the coping mechanisms and skills necessary to improve their focus and attention without relying on Strattera too much.
This combination will help those at risk of abusing Strattera to uncouple overuse of the medication with their legitimate need for treatment for their ADHD. In effect, it will make them less dependent on the medication and simultaneously teach them how they can use it more responsibly and carefully.
Many people who abuse Strattera have a legitimate diagnosis of ADHD, so it is important that they receive treatment and therapy for that condition while also working to reduce their Strattera consumption. On that point, the American Journal of Addictions notes that “ADHD and [substance use disorders] frequently co-occur.”
A treatment center that offers dual diagnosis treatment will help clients control their Strattera use while working with them to get their ADHD under control. This might entail going to regular meetings with other clients who share the same experiences. This form of group therapy can act as a powerful motivator to better manage Strattera consumption and also as an accountability resource.
In an era of intense awareness of the health risks of prescription drugs, Strattera does not rank very high on the list of dangerous medications. The Psychopharmacology journal notes that many studies have “predicted and supported a lack of abuse potential of atomoxetine,” so much so that Strattera is not considered a controlled substance.
Doctors can call a prescription for atomoxetine into a pharmacy and give refills, unlike prescription opioids and other stimulants that require a new prescription on a monthly basis. Some pediatricians might even have Strattera samples for a child to try so that parents can have an idea of how their child will react to the medicine before receiving a full dose.
For these reasons, Strattera is not considered a drug of abuse in the same way that prescription opioids and other treatments for ADHD, such as stimulants like Adderall, are. However, as a form of medication, there is still the possibility of Strattera abuse and unhealthy dependence. If a person has pre-existing health conditions, a risk of suicide, or takes Strattera with other substances, what is otherwise a relatively safe medication can still become a cause for concern.
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