Vyvanse nearly ruined my life

Hello everyone! I am not sure under what category I should post this, but I think it is worth sharing. Also maybe anyone can relate.

About me; I am from Switzerland but moved to London four years ago for university. I am currently doing my MA in international relations. I have been diagnosed with ADHD as a child, but it was never really treated until I was 13.

After trying Ritaline, and Concerta my doctor suggested to try Vyvanse in 2015 after it got approved in Switzerland. Since my dose of Concerta was 54mg plus 20 mg Ritaline, he put me on Vyvanse 70 mg. Also worth mentioning is that at that point I was already taking 100 mg of Sertraline (Zoloft). Since I was so out of touch with my body, in pain daily, messed up digestion, still battling with the consequences of Anorexia, I was in survival mode anyway and I failed to notice that it was only getting worse. I frequently had high blood pressure, a racing heartbeat, diarrhoea, stomach pain and was shaking. A year in I started having severe panic attacks (which led to a Xanax prescription), which led me to completely isolate myself. At this point I was unable to not suffer withdrawal in case I did not take Vyvanse. I was so anxious that I developed a co dependency on alcohol, as alcohol was the only thing that calmed me down. So every time I would leave the house I had to drink.

I realized that something was wrong when I had a nervous breakdown during my dissertation, and that was the first time I actually ‘abused’ Vyvanse. In order to perform I took another 70 mg in the evening to work through the night, plus lots of Redbull, no food, Ritaline and Xanax. Three days passed like minutes and the disso was not done. I completely lost it and was hallucinating and about to jump out of the window with my laptop. I don’t remember all of this but this is what my flatmates told me. After this, I slept for 15 hours straight. After that I knew that something needed to change and that I could not keep on living like that.

After seven years, May 16 was the last time I ever took Sertraline. Furthermore, I decided to see another psychiatrist to finally get off Vyvanse. I thought I could just change to Concerta again. The psychiatrist was shocked about the high dose and told me that the dosage was way too high and you could ‘drug a horse’ with that. Also she told me that Vyvanse has a drug interaction with Sertraline. My body is dependent so therefore it is dangerous to just quit the Vyvanse cold turkey. I was so heartbroken and felt like I was in shackles of meds. I had to do so many tests, EKG, blood, organ functions to check if there were any organ damages. I promised myself to sue my former psychiatrist for negligence if there was any long term damage. Luckily it seemed like everything was fine. Therefore, I started to taper down in September. Now in Jan 2020, I am on 40 mg. On one hand it is very hard because my concentration is very different and I actually feel things, not just fog and emptiness. I spoke to many doctors and psychiatrists in Switzerland and the UK and, everybody told me that it is not possible to get dependent on Vyvanse, which was very hurtful as I knew how I felt when I did not take it. I think it is because both countries are not too experienced with Vyvanse and it is not a common problem (yet).

Moral of the story is now with 22 years, seven years on Sertraline and five on Vyvanse left me with no ‘healthy’ coping strategies, a worse state than when I started, with anxiety, damaged teeth from the teeth grinding and a lot of unnecessary pain. But more importantly, it made me realize how much of a fighter I am that despite it all, I managed to complete a degree and I am still here.

I am not saying that medications are a bad thing, not at all, but sometimes I wished that I listened to my body and questioned my prescriptions. Medications have a black label for a reason and just because some lazy shrink thinks it is the best option for you, does not mean that this is the truth. I still have a long way to go but I cannot wait to not wake up with ‘hangover’ until I took my meds, because this is what I believe is how freedom will feel like.

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Those doses are insane. I take 20mg of Vyvanse and it was too much. I went down to 15mg. There is something very wrong going on here. 70mg would kill me. I end up taking 15 of Vyvanse but I also have anxiety. When it spikes I’ll take a little CBD paste and it goes away. I also try and walk every day.

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I take 70 mg of Vyvanse and it seems to be the optimal dose for me. So far I’ve noticed no major side effects, and no withdrawal when I’ve missed the medicine. I do notice that my symptoms come back when I miss the medication, so it’s like before I was diagnosed on those days. In general I’ve been fortunate to have no real issues. I did have some irritability and tension when I was on 60 mg, but we got up to 70 and it’s been fine.

Sorry that it’s been such a nightmare for you. Hopefully things do improve.

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Ouch! Sounds like you were on a bad mix of prescriptions.

I’ve recently been able to quit taking Venlafaxine (75mg), an SNRI but no that dissimilar to your Zoloft. I’d been wanting to quit the stuff for years, but the withdrawal symptoms from Venlafaxine are absolutely brutal. Luckily for me, it seems that the Vyvanse I now take is able to offset some of the withdrawals, which has made quitting the Venlafaxine possible. It’s been, what, three weeks now since my final antidepressant, and I’m still getting the tiniest moments of headspins when I get tired or stressed.

Anyway, I digress. When I started taking Vyvanse a couple of months ago, my psychiatrist recommended that I stay on the Venlafaxine because he was concerned that I might start suffering from anxiety attacks due to the stimulant medication. And I stuck with that until I did a bit of digging around and found that it is strongly advised not to take Venlafaxine and Vyvanse due to a high risk of negative interactions between the two, particularly the risk of developing seratonin syndrome. I think that’s because both drugs affect seratonin production and uptake, and there’s a real risk that they might start bouncing off one another, so to speak.

I certainly feel a whole lot better since getting off the Venlafaxine and just taking the Vyvanse, and now I only have to worry about one drug and not two.

Compared to your situation, well, there are a lot more different drugs banging around there. I’m genuinely a bit shocked that the doctors had you on such a cocktail - no wonder you had a rough time! I’m also surprised that you were told that you can’t develop a dependency on Vyvanse - it’s a form of amphetamine, and there really is a risk of dependency that’s been listed in the big psychiatric manuals since at least the DSM-IV.

It sounds like that last doctor you mention gave the matter a bit more thought than the rest. Definitely see if you can stay in touch with that one - she sounds like she has her head screwed on right.

Good news is, as you say, you’ve pulled through and demonstrated that you’re as tough as a lump of cured ironwood! You might not have had the chance to develop any healthy coping strategies until now (although you might have more than you think) but at least now you have the chance to start building them.

And one other thing: I reckon you’re bloody amazing being able to do your masters in international relations! That was the field of my first degree, and it can lead to all sorts of unexpected opportunities, but trying to simply muscle through (I didn’t know I had ADHD at the time) damn near killed me. The fact that you’re powering on through a masters tells me that you’re tough, smart and determined.

Best of luck with it all!

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Huh, I keep hearing about serotonin syndrome. What is it exactly?

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Serotonin syndrome is essentially an overdose of serotonin. It triggers a range of unpleasant symptoms, including mental and physical effects, such as shivering, trembling, confusion, agitation, and so on. I’ve never actually suffered from it, but I from what I’ve been told if feels like a really horrible anxiety attack combined with nausea, headaches and trembling.

So, as you probably know, serotonin is one of several important neurotransmitters. It is popularly thought of as being responsible for happiness, but in reality it’s responsible for a complex range of biological functions, several of which are involved in regulating our emotions. It sits alongside a bunch of other neurotransmitters, including dopamine, melatonin, noradrenaline (AKA norepinephrine) and several others, possibly including some that haven’t been discovered yet. Pretty much all of them are targeted by one or other of the antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs.

Two of the most commonly used types of antidepressants, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) have the effect, as far as I understand it, of preventing the body from re-absorbing serotonin with the effect of leaving more of it free in the system to do what it does. We know that people with depression and anxiety often have low levels of serotonin in their systems, so it’s assumed (with a fair degree of evidence behind that assumption) that having more serotonin in the system will alleviate depression.

Depression (anxiety seems to be the same thing manifesting in a different way) could be caused by a system uptaking too much serotonin, or perhaps by a system being less sensitive to the serotonin that it already has, or it could triggered by something completely different, maybe something not even biological in nature.

Trouble is, there are a lot of factors at play in any mental condition, and even regular biology is complicated to begin with. Scientists are pretty sure they know what these neurotransmitters are doing most of the time, but because the biology in question is so complex there is always a fair degree of uncertainty around exactly what is happening in any given situation. An abundance or deficiency of neurotransmitters also seem to affect different people in different ways, and possibly in different ways under different circumstances.

Complicating things further is that people react differently to different medications. It might be that a person responds particularly well or particularly poorly to a given medication. When prescribing Venlafaxine, for example, it’s common practice to stage up to the desired level - a month at 37.5mg, a month at 75mg, and so on, until the level is reached - because to jump straight to a high dose, say 225mg, risks causing one of these serotonin overdoses. A close friend of mine was given a prescription to go straight to 150mg with no introductory doses and went into serotonin shock - however, the same dose for another person may not have had the same effect.

Serotonin syndrome might also be triggered by an unexpected interaction between two drugs that affect serotonin in different ways, including ADHD medication, some powerful painkillers, and different classes of antidepressants. So there’s always a degree of caution involved with prescribing these drugs, and it’s the reason patients are encouraged to inform their doctors as soon as they start feeling a bit peculiar when starting a new medication, or even changing their dosage.

Anyways, that’s my ridiculously long brain dump on serotonin syndrome. I’m pretty sure everything I’ve said there is accurate, but as always, I’m not a doctor (merely a long-winded know-all), so run anything I’ve said past an actual professional. In short, serotonin syndrome is caused by having too much serotonin in your system and it feels like a horrible version of a panic attack.

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The thing which grabbed my attention, in the initial post, was, “dissertation … nervous breakdown …”. Oh yeah, BTDT, very sorry to hear about it. I think self-medication, especially of stimulants, and especially when it involves high-stress endeavors like dissertation deadlines, is often a recipe for problems, regardless of whether it’s Vyvanse or sugar or caffeine that you’re administering to yourself. And I think the solo, unsupervised, lonely nature of dissertation writing, is even more of a hazard than many other work or study situations might be, because you’re out there on your own where nobody else really knows whether you’re remaining balanced or not.

As to the Vyvanse dosage, different amounts for different people are appropriate (or, inappropriate). When I started, I too was given 70 mg of Vyvanse as the initial dosage. The doctor stated, when choosing this amount, that the number was roughly analogous to the strength of prescription that I was taking in another drug. So, we started at 70 and worked from there. Currently I seem to want to move downwards, and am at 40 mg per day right now. But maybe it’s not working? So, I’m not sure if I want to go back upwards or continue where I am or even try going downwards.

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