The uses and abuses of Adderall

Robin Withall

In the beginning of August, as thousands of kids were preparing to return to school, MTV aired “True Life: I’m on Adderall,” a program that said would allow viewers to “see how three young people with ADHD are experiencing the pros and cons of this prescription pill with side effects similar to that of speed or cocaine.”

One girl on the show became so dependent on Adderall that when she was no longer prescribed the drug, she began abusing crystal meth to get some of the same effects.

Though she was drug-free by the conclusion of the program, an update found that she had dropped out of college, saying she was unable to continue without her Adderall. Did the program do justice to the medicine or to the 3-7 percent of college students currently afflicted with ADHD? Most users of Adderall say no. Says a Villanova junior who is prescribed Adderall, “I think that whoever made the MTV show was just trying to scare kids away from abusing it.”

According to Shire (the company that produces and distributes the medication), “Adderall contains a mixture of different amphetamine salts. It is thought to act as a dopamine/norepinephrine modulating agent, which means it helps restore a balance of these chemicals (called neurotransmitters) in those areas of the brain that control our ability to focus and pay attention to tasks.”

For college students with ADHD who are prescribed Adderall, using the drug significantly increases their ability to focus in classes as well as their ability to complete outside assignments.

One sophomore who was prescribed the drug before beginning college notes, “My grades are the same now as they were in high school. But since the work in college is so much harder and requires much more from me as a student, my work would probably be suffering if I didn’t have the Adderall.”

For him, the benefits of the medication far outweigh the unpleasant side effects that he experiences, including loss of sleep and appetite. “Adderall gives me the motivation to take advantage of opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise,” he says. “Yes, I’ve changed, but I certainly haven’t changed for the worse.”

Despite laws designed to deter students from illegally distributing and/or consuming Adderall and other prescription stimulants, instances of abuse are skyrocketing on college campus across the country, and Villanova is no exception.

The most common reason that kids without a prescription take the drug is because they say that it helps them study. “I always try and use Adderall before a big exam or during finals week,” says a sophomore.

“There are some classes where there is just so much information to learn, and taking the medicine makes me want to focus. Instead of letting myself get distracted by things like AIM, I’m able to concentrate only on my work and learn a lot more because of it.”

With accounts of such positive effects it’s no wonder people are seeking out “the miracle pill,” as some ‘Novans call it.

And finding a pill, it seems, is not very difficult. “If you’re not on Adderall, you know somebody who is or somebody who is selling it” says a student. “I can usually get it from one of my friends who has a prescription,” says another, “and if she doesn’t have any to spare I can just ask someone from my dorm. Basically, if I need it, it isn’t hard to find with a little research.”

For some, using Adderall has nothing to do with academics. In fact, Adderall could have an effect that would make it impossible to study. For many who abuse it, Adderall has the same effect on the body and mind as crystal meth, depending on the amount a person takes and how it is administered. Adderall is a stimulant and for those who do not have ADHD, it works as such.

Does this mean that those who take it without a prescription and concentrate actually have ADHD? Without an extensive evaluation by a qualified doctor, there is no way to be sure. Those who use it don’t seem to care either way. “I don’t know why it works, but it does, and that’s all I care about,” said one.

It seems that plenty of kids on campus are aware of the fact that Adderall can have the other effects mentioned. “Oh no way could I take Adderall before I study,” says one sophomore. “That stuff makes me crazy. I get some from a friend and take it if I want to be all crazy.”

A junior says, “It’s really good to take before I go out drinking because I can drink a lot and not get tired.”

Serious complications arise from mixing stimulant medication with alcohol, and stimulants also inhibit students’ abilitiy to assess how drunk they are, which could lead to alcohol poisoning. As if that isn’t bad enough, some kids have taken to crushing the pill up and snorting it. “It feels the exact same as taking speed, except it’s much easier to get,” said one sophomore.

Adderall is classified as a Schedule 2 controlled substance. This category includes narcotic drugs with a high potential for abuse but with currently accepted medical use in treatment. This means that Adderall is not available without a prescription, and prescriptions must be refilled by a medical doctor each time one is necessary. Someone who is caught in possession of Adderall without a prescription can face serious legal issues, and for someone caught selling the drug, the consequences could be even worse.

To many, Adderall really is “the miracle pill.” But even to those prescribed the drug, it’s not without side effects and risks, including insomnia, tremors, loss of appetite and addiction. Those risks are significantly increased for those who abuse the medication. Since it’s apparent that the legal threat looming over those buying or selling Adderall (provided they even know that one exists) have had no effect on the drug’s popularity, whether or not to use it is going to have to be up to each individual. To those who use Adderall without a prescription, I ask: is it really worth it?