Adderall: The Academic Steroid

Finals week has finally come and you are stressed. You have five finals and finding time to study for all of them seems impossible. However, you still manage to drudge down to the library to start pulling an all-nighter. Four hours and two cups of coffee later you are dead tired. You still don’t feel fully prepared for your final the next day but you are just can’t concentrate. You arrive home and explain to your roommate that you were just too tired to study and are probably going to bomb your test the next day. That’s when your roommate suggests you take an Adderall pill. He explains that just one pill will help you concentrate and keep you awake all night. You think about it for a little and finally agree. You are awake, alert, and able to concentrate on your studies the rest of the night. As a result you do well on your exam. Now that you know there is an easy way to study and concentrate why would you stop using it?

Adderall Use on the Rise

This story is becoming all too common among college students today. Non-prescribed Adderall use has been on a steady incline among college students around the country. In an interview with The Independent, Patrick Kilcarr, Director of Georgetown’s Center for Personal Development, cited that sales of Adderall for the treatment of ADHD have grown by as much as 30% in recent years equating to sales of over five hundred million dollars each year. The large growth of Adderall consumption is primarily due to the fact that ADHD diagnosis has seen great strides in recent times. However, the legal-use growth has been paralleled by an expansive growth of the drug on the illegal market, particularly among students. (1)

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, full-time college students aged 18-22 were twice as likely as their counterparts who were not full time college students to have used Adderall non-medically in 2006 and 2007. (6.4% vs. 3.0%). Other schools, such as Purdue have done more recent studies into the subject and uncovered unsettling results. That article states: “In 2007 and 2008, between 4.8 to 5.7 percent of students who took the survey claimed to have used Adderall, a prescription medication for Attention Deficit Disorder, illegally. In 2009, that number doubled to 11.3 percent. These surveys were conducted in early March, during most students’ midterm season.” (NSDUH Report)

Explanations for the Trend

One reason contributing to this trend is the competitive environment facing college students today. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1997 and 2007, enrollment increased at a faster rate (26 percent), from 14.5 million to 18.2 million. This increase in students directly related to more competition. Many students have also compared the effects of Adderall to those of steroids. “You take steroids to perform better in athletics, and you take Adderall to perform better in academics.” This is because of Adderall’s effects of increased concentration and alertness which create the perfect mood to pull all-nighters, read hundreds of pages at a time, and write pages and pages of that final paper states Joshua Foer, a journalist who, after consulting many doctors, decided to try Adderall for himself. He further stated, “I didn’t feel like I was becoming smarter or even like I was thinking more clearly. I just felt more directed, less distracted by rogue thoughts, less day-dreamy.” “I felt like I was clearing away underbrush that had been obscuring my true capabilities” (1).

However, this growing competitive environment is far from the only factor fueling this trend. Adderall has become increasingly easy to obtain, especially for college students. The main sources for the drugs are students who have prescriptions for Adderall. As stated earlier, sales of Adderall has grown by over 30% in recent years. This means that the amount of people with Adderall prescriptions, the source of the problem, is on the rise. Furthermore, many of these students with Adderall prescriptions don’t take as much as they are prescribed and have many pills left over. One such student stated that he has been on Adderall for his ADD since high school. Now a college senior, he’s still getting his prescription for 60 pills a month. He’s supposed to take two pills a day but says he doesn’t like the medicine unless he has to pull an all-nighter. This leaves him with a large excess of pills to distribute to other students. (Michelle Trudeu 1)

The final reason for this trend is the perceived safety of the drug by college students. Many students view Adderall as being safe because other students have prescriptions. They believe that if so many people are being prescribed the drug then it can’t be dangerous. Also, the amount of students taking Adderall without a prescription just reinforces this notion even more. When you combine this perceived safety with the competitive college environment and the ease at which Adderall can be obtained you get an ever increasing portion of college students relying on the drug to do well in school.

The reality is that there are in fact dangers and adverse side effects associated with taking Adderall, especially if it is not dosed or taken properly. In an interview with The Independent, Patrick Kilcarr, Director of Georgetown’s Center for Personal Development, cited that Adderall has had and can have drastically more severe side effects including paranoia, delusions and strokes. Users who inhale or consume the drug illegally tend to exhaust much larger quantities of the drug than those who are taking the drug with a prescription. This heightened effect creates more of a dependency, and also creates a stimulated state of risk accompanied by a harder crash. When Adderall is snorted it carries its most serious consequences. While chemically different from snorted cocaine, both are stimulants that are not entirely divergent in their effects. Kilcarr said, “This [snorting] automatically moves the medication to drug status and the rush from snorting creates an intense reinforcement mechanism which demands further use. (1)

There is no debating that there is indeed a steep upward trend in Adderall use among college students due to the competitive college environment, the ease of which Adderall can be obtained, and its perceived safety. Though there are indeed addictive and harmful properties associated with its use there is also the question of “Is Adderall use academically honest?” There is no question that its affects can lead to more productive study sessions and higher grades. This gives Adderall users a leg up on students who refuse or are unable to take the drug which only further tempts non-users to begin to use. If something is not done to combat this trend will all students someday need to take Adderall to keep up with the competition?

Cited Sources

1. “Adderall Use Among College Students.” College Binge Drinking. 2009. Web. 21 Mar. 2011.

2. “Fast Facts.” National Center for Education Statistics. 2009. Web. 21 Mar. 2011.

3. “Nonmedical Use of Adderall® among Full-Time College Students.” The NSDUH Report. 7 Apr. 2009. Web. 21 Mar. 2011

4. Shinaver, Charles. “Purdue University Students Increasing Adderall Abuse or Adderall Use?” Clarity4Health. 19 Sept. 2009. Web. 21 Mar. 2011

5. Truedeau, Michelle. “More Students Turning Illegally To ‘Smart’ Drugs : NPR.” NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR. 5 Feb. 2009. Web. 21 Mar. 2011.

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