Students increase Adderall abuse

by Emma Secker

ThinkStock

“College candy,” “Ivy League crack,” “smart pills” — the list goes on and on. What all of these pseudonyms have in common is the bittersweet drug they represent. A perceived panacea for overwhelmed college students who are short on time, heavy on the hips or in need of a performance boost, many have turned to Adderall with hopes to rectify all of these issues. However, what many students may not realize about this so-called solution are the unseen problems that underlie the drug.

With midterms underway and finals looming the not-so-distant horizon, students who have not yet felt the buzz of this prescription drug have likely heard about it. Adderall is an amphetamine stimulant designed to medicate students who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

One website about drug addiction treatment defines the drug as a “psychostimulant that is reported to increase alertness, concentration and overall cognitive performance while also decreasing fatigue.”

So what is the problem with this medically approved drug when taken by non-prescribed users? Aside from the illegalities, Adderall affects those afflicted with ADHD differently than those not afflicted. In non-ADHD patients, Adderall leads normally functioning neurotransmitters to release high levels of adrenaline and dopamine, which supercharge an otherwise sufficiently working nervous system.

This deceptively euphoric high experienced by nonmedical users comes with unpleasant side effects, including insomnia, high blood pressure, nervousness, hallucinations and depression, to list a few.

When mixed with other substances such as alcohol, Adderall can even be deadly. According to Dr. Emily Kensington, when the two substances interact, Adderall temporarily masks the effects of alcohol. This often leads users to believe they are drinking safely when, in reality, the alcohol they consume is wreaking havoc on their brains. Partakers of both drugs walk — or stagger — on a dangerously fine line.

“Some report they do not feel any effects of alcohol, and some use it as a way to keep the party going,” Kensington said. “This approach could easily result in alcohol poisoning.”

According to a recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health report, nearly 90 percent of full-time college students who used Adderall non-medically in the past year also engaged in recent binge drinking, many of whom were heavy alcohol users.

The common denominator of both of these instances of substance abuse is dependency. One of the reasons Adderall abuse is becoming increasingly targeted by policymakers is its potential for abuse and dependence. As a result, this drug also presents the greatest risk for those who are not using it for its rightful purpose.

So why take the risk? A student interview in a 2005 New York Times article, “The Adderall Advantage,” reveals a common sentiment among students.

“The environment here is incredibly competitive,” John, a Columbia student who kept his last name anonymous, said. “If you don’t take them, you’ll be at a disadvantage to everyone else.”

According to Columbia clinical psychiatrist Dr. Laurence Greenhill, Adderall only increases a student’s diligence, and does not actually affect users’ intelligence. This means the drug allows time-pressed and overworked students the ability to stay awake a few more hours to finish an essay or study session. Because blood tests can’t verify if a patient truly has ADHD, physicians can only hope students who seek the drug are truly in need. Unfortunately, the current flimsy system of regulation and widespread accessibility of Adderall means the spread of the drug will most likely not slow down any time soon. Prescribed student users of Adderall often don’t understand the drug’s side effects, sharing it with their friends and contributing to its widespread non-medical usage. In the last few years, students who understand the health concerns of pill-pushing have been encouraged to make the decision for themselves to push away this particular drug. Many critics believe that, beside obvious health risks, Adderall gives an unfair advantage to students who use it for weight loss or for performance-enhancing purposes. But it’s potentially a vicious cycle — users who take the pill illegally can place the bar unreasonably high for other students, who in turn feel pressured to pursue the pill just to keep up with their peers.