Student Adderall abuse on the rise
GVL / Anya Zentmeyer
As the semester winds down students resort to using Adderall and similar prescription pills to finish all of their work.
Zumberge Library and campus study halls are quickly filling up as exams week draws near at Grand Valley State University. With many students staying up late and pulling all-nighters in an attempt to conquer their workload and maximize study time, studies show an increasing number of college students are illegally purchasing prescription medications like Adderall to help them study.
Although originally developed to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, Adderall has also gained a reputation as the “study drug,” since it reportedly enhances a user’s ability to concentrate, focus and stay awake. Adderall is a methamphetamine salts-based medication and is legal only in the U.S. and Canada. Like other prescription stimulants, Adderall directly affects the mesolimbic pathway of the brain, also known as the “reward pathway.”
Since Adderall is classified as a controlled substance, it has a higher risk of becoming habit-forming. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency classifies Adderall as a Schedule II drug, which according to the DEA guidelines means it has “a high potential for abuse” and that “abuse of the drug may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.” Other Schedule II drugs include cocaine, methadone and morphine. Adderall is banned in several countries, including Japan and South Korea, and the NCAA does not allow its collegiate athletes to use the drug without a legitimate prescription and adequate medical records indicating the student has been diagnosed with ADHD.
Prescription medication abuse is a growing problem nationwide, particularly among people under the age of 25. The American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment from the spring of 2011 found that 7.8 percent of college students were using stimulants not prescribed to them, an increase from 7 percent in the spring of 2010 and from 6.8 percent in the spring of 2009.
In addition, a 2009 study by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services administration discovered that among people 18 to 22 years old, full-time college students are twice as likely to use stimulants for non-medical reasons compared to non-students or part-time students. The same study found that these students were almost three times as likely as those who had not used Adderall non-medically to have used marijuana in the past year, eight times more likely to have used cocaine or be non-medical users of prescription tranquilizers and five times more likely to have been non-medical users of prescription pain relievers. More than 50 percent were also heavy alcohol users or binge drinkers.
Alcohol Campus Education Services director and licensed clinical psychologist Eric Klingensmith said many assume that because medications like Adderall have legitimate clinical uses, that makes them “safe.”
“The first thing to remember is that drugs like Adderall, Ritalin and others like them are just that, drugs,” Klingensmith said. “In fact they are prescription medications which means that a doctor needs to evaluate their use based on the individual they are prescribing to after an evaluation and assessment. Many people believe that since it is ‘medicine’ it must not be that dangerous, however this not the case.”
Adverse physical effects from short-term Adderall use include nausea, vomiting, heart palpitations, headache, chest pain, dizziness, insomnia, fever and changes in vision. Psychological effects of long and short-term use include paranoia, severe depression upon withdrawal, paranoia, psychotic episodes, anxiety, mania, hallucinations and aggressive or hostile behavior.
“They might produce euphoria, they might temporarily make it easier, but in the long run there are significant problems both in terms of thinking, mood problems, maybe even functionality,” said ACES graduate assistant Alecia Smith.
Klingensmith added that while medications like Adderall can benefit those with disorders like ADHD, users need to have their usage and dosage evaluated and prescribed by a doctor.
“There are definitely a legitimate need and use for Ritalin, Adderall and other medication prescribed for attention issues,” he said. “If a student believes they are someone who needs to be on this type of medication then they need to see their own physician or psychiatrist for a proper evaluation and prescription versus borrowing, being given or stealing someone else’s prescribed medications … Because of the attraction for this medication to help people study and focus, those who are prescribed the medication should make sure they keep their medications in a safe place and accounted for.”
Capt. Brandon DeHaan, assistant director of the Grand Valley Police Department, said GVSU is not immune to the statistical rise nationwide of prescription medication abuse.
“We are seeing an increase in those possessing prescribed medication not prescribed to them,” DeHaan said.
DeHaan added that the unauthorized sale and use of prescription medication is a criminal offense. Since Adderall is classified as a controlled substance, potential legal consequences include prison time. The unauthorized possession of prescription medication is a four-year felony, while unauthorized distribution is a seven-year felony.
One anonymous GVSU student said they turned to Adderall for the first time when they had a lot of homework leading up to exams this semester and worried they wouldn’t be able to complete it on time. After looking up the side effects and drug interactions of Adderall, the student decided to purchase a single Adderall tablet from a classmate. The student then split the tablet and consumed each half on two separate days.
“I was able to ignore any distractions,” the student said of the pill’s effects. “… I was just honed in on my paper and able to clearly think about my paper.”
The student said he or she would be willing to take Adderall again if overwhelmed by academic workload, but would not do so “very often” because he or she is wary of addiction and dependency.
Smith suggested several alternate study strategies for students looking to ease the stress of finals and manage their workloads.
“Some of the safer ways to focus during exam week are to get enough sleep, eat a healthy and balanced diet, use meditation to help concentrate or distress and exercise,” she said. “Some brain foods are dark chocolate, fish, nuts, beans, and orange vegetables. Make sure to take a short break every hour or so while studying.”
For more information, visit the ACES table in Kirkhof Center on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.