by Andy Fry
Imagine (it shouldn’t be too hard) that it is two in the morning before a big assignment is due. You’re tired, and while your grade depends on the completion of your work, you can’t quite seem to get through it. You power through for what seems like an eternity, turn in your paper the next day, and - despite your efforts - the drowsy, unfocused state of mind you were in when completing the assignment affects its quality, and so you get a bad grade.
For some students, this is all too familiar - the meticulous nature of college homework is unbearably tedious for them, the subject matter drives them to distraction, important work is left uncompleted and grades suffer. To combat these troubles, many students turn to stimulants in order to improve their performance. The most famous and prolific of all late night study aides, caffeine, has been used by college students for decades. But recently students have been turning to a new substance to aid them in their studies: Adderall.
Adderall, a medication normally prescribed for ADD/ADHD, works by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine flow in the brain. When combined with the drug’s stimulating effects, this enables those suffering from ADD/ADHD to have a “normal” attention span. However, the medication provides users without ADD with a larger-than-normal attention span and alertness, enabling them to pull all night study sessions with relative ease.
“It’s incredible.” said one Ithaca College student who wished to remain anonymous. “It’s like ‘Wow! I have never found this stuff so interesting in my life!’”
A study performed by the National Institute for Drug Abuse places Adderall abuse among students as high as 5.9% in highly competitive schools. This statistic is disturbing, and while Adderall may seem harmless enough, no drug is completely innocuous. It begs the question - is Adderall harming students?
Dr. David Newman, Director of the Hammond Health Center at Ithaca College says that prescription medicines are prescribed for a reason; taking them without consultation from a doctor is never a good idea.
“There are risks to [prescription medication] use and there are indications for their use that really are a good idea to follow, so I don’t think it’s a great idea for people to abuse stimulants in order to over perform.”
As Adderall is in the same class of chemicals as Crystal Meth and speed, potential problems include heart rhythm abnormalities and psychiatric problems, occurrence of these symptoms increases with use. Excessive doses of Adderall can even result in formication, where users hallucinate that they are covered in bugs, a condition made famous by cocaine users.
Newman believes that, at least in some cases, students who feel they have to use Adderall to study may in fact have untreated ADD.
“There are many individuals who reach college who clearly have ADD or ADHD,” said Newman. “A reasonably intelligent person can get through up to college level with unrecognized ADD because the challenges are just not that steep or they have parents who are structuring their lives and making sure that they do their homework.”
While students would “clearly benefit from appropriate treatment,” ADD is difficult to diagnose properly.
“It’s one of those diagnoses, like many psychiatric diagnoses, where we don’t really have any good tests for most psychiatric or physiologic disorders, or the tests that we have are awkward to schedule or expensive or both,” said Newman. “I’m sure that there are people, kids in the community and college students, who get labeled as having ADD who probably don’t.”
Though Newman has never seen or had to treat students who have had adverse reactions to Adderall, that’s not to say that there is no risk associated with its use. Clinical studies on the effectiveness of Adderall in children with ADD/ADHD have not exceeded three weeks, and studies on adults have not exceeded four weeks. Despite the lack of closely controlled tests on humans, there’s still potential for harm with any substance, especially when used to excess.
Andy Fry is a freshman English major. And no, he has no idea where you can score some Adderall. Email him at email@example.com.