Adderall: A poor man's cocaine
Use of "study meds" increases during exams
It’s 2 a.m. You scramble to finish a project before your morning deadline. You slam back liquid caffeine to push the sleep from your eyes as you try desperately to focus on your work.
There’s one pill left. You can get more tomorrow though. You swallow it. Just 30 minutes later, you’re cranking out the last paragraph. Maybe you’ll do some laundry, too.
Faced with stress from every direction, students find many ways to cope. Some turn to prescription pills, such as Adderall, to help them deal with the workload.
“The excessive abuse of Adderall is probably a major problem for college campuses across the country,” said Wayne Kinzie, associate director at the Counseling and Career Development Center at Grand Valley State University.
Adderall is an amphetamine prescribed to combat the symptoms of ADHD, but the drug’s effects also make it popular for those without the disorder.
It’s similar to having a cup of coffee in the morning, said Eric Klingensmith, the coordinator of Crisis Intervention at GVSU. Adderall is popular because it calms the brain and helps it focus, he said, but the effects are so powerful that the risk of addiction and abuse are high.
The use of “study aid meds” spikes during midterms and exams, Klingensmith added.
“I take (Adderall) during finals so I can stay up later and study harder,” said a student at GVSU who requested to remain anonymous. “It keeps me more in tune and in focus.”
The boost in focus may be the main draw, but there is another reason Adderall is so popular among students: it’s accessible. Kinzie said students will claim they have ADHD to get prescriptions for Adderall and other drugs. These legal medications then often get passed to other students. As a result, psychiatrists are very hesitant to write these prescriptions, potentially putting them out of reach of students who really need them.
“Everyone has prescriptions,” the student said. “You can just get it for free from people who have it or buy a pill for a few bucks. I know I could get it from a doctor just by answering a few questions right.”
There is a clinical process to diagnose ADHD. However, an inability to focus isn’t always caused by ADHD. Stress, anxiety and depression are also factors, Klingensmith said.
He recommends that students who can’t focus get the proper tests and evaluations rather than self medicate. As a controlled substance, taking or sharing Adderall is a felony, Klingensmith said.
Although it is difficult for police to track sales of drugs between two people, they often find the substances in the course of other investigations, said Capt. Brandon DeHaan, assistant director of GVSU’s Department of Public Safety. He said occasionally police will receive tips about people using prescriptions that are not theirs. They also find controlled substances during vehicle stops.
“We support students engaging in healthy lifestyles,” DeHaan said, adding that abusing medication does not promote that lifestyle. “One needs to be very careful about what one puts inside their body.”
The student agreed. “You see people that take (Adderall) so often that they can’t even function without it. They think they need it every day.”
In addition to using Adderall as a “study pill,” students are also taking it for recreational purposes. Often this goes hand in hand with increased alcohol use, Klingensmith said.
“I take it during finals week and also on the weekends a few times a month to party,” the student said. “If you (snort it) it goes straight into the bloodstream. It’s like a poor man’s cocaine.”
Mixing prescription pills with alcohol can have unknown and dangerous side effects, Klingensmith said. This is especially true if the pills are a prescription tailored to someone else’s weight and gender.
“That’s what’s dangerous about kids taking it is they don’t really know how their body is going to react to it,” the student said. “They could take 30 milligrams when they should really only be processing five to 10 milligrams.”
Rather than turning to medication for stress relief, Klingensmith recommends good study practices. Start early, keep up on work, get a tutor if needed and get plenty of rest.
“Too many students preparing for exams deny themselves sleep,” Kinzie said. “That’s exactly the wrong thing to do.”
He also said that, while studying is important, too much can actually be detrimental, and students should be mindful of diminishing returns.
“Whatever your situation, stress is an inherent part of being a student,” Kinzie said. “What is important is to deal with it in a healthy way, and if students are not sure what that is then it is time to seek help.”