Study Aid(derall)

Students and staff reflect on increased use of Adderall as a study aid on campus

In high school, every student seeks out shortcuts; the secrets learned over time that provides the small aid needed to ensure our confidence and a decent grade. For some, it’s practicing religiously with flashcards until the moment of the test. For others, it could be the 10-minute passing period allowing for a quick, refreshing nap. However, some take a more unconventional route, in the form of drugs.

Adderall, otherwise known as pep pills, uppers, or speed, is a stimulant used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. First created in 1887, the drug has only grown in popularity, now being used as a booster for athletic performance, memory, and concentration.

“High school and college students start to gain more independence, so they can freely decide when or how much medicine they take. They start getting involved in their own medication management, and that’s where some of the risks really come in where they’re not taking it the way it’s prescribed,” school psychologist Holly Hunt said.

Based on a 2015 census by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 42 percent of people 12 and older using Adderall or products similar to it were doing so without a prescription. Another paper published by Johns Hopkins University in 2016 found that over half of people taking Adderall recreationally were between 18 and 25 years of age – meaning college students.

A lot of people do drugs, drink, or smoke as a result of school and uses [substances] as an escape, but Adderall, in this case, is a result of pressure, and feel it will get them closer to their goals in school,” Marie Major.

The drug is renowned as a “study drug,” as well as fairly easily accessible to students whenever needed; according to Jane Doe, a student asking around for a pill or two in the morning is almost guaranteed to get them before the end of the day.

“I would say a good amount of students take Adderall, and a lot more students who haven’t done it yet are definitely willing to take it, which I think is just as bad as actually taking it. I don’t have a prescription to Adderall, but you can get almost any drug from anywhere if you know the right people,” Jane Doe said. “Everyone I know uses the drug because they want to focus and do better, not because of the effect or the feeling it gives them.”

Adderall controls behavior and focus by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the body’s reaction to internal and external factors. This allows the user to slow down and ignore any distractions, thus helping kids focus on studying their school material.

“It’s not directly from teachers or anything, but there’s a lot of pressure to do well and to succeed, especially with so much competition in the education system. I did [adderall] a lot around the end of sophomore year especially, just because I had so many people telling me it was time to really focus on school and colleges and what I wanted to do,” Jane Doe said.

Despite the use of Adderall in schools nationwide for the sake of passing exams and classes, the drug is also sometimes used for accelerated weight loss and can lead to serious health risks that users aren’t always aware of.

“I don’t know all of the effects of Adderall, but it’s not harmful in the long run, so people who are constantly, desperately looking for easy alternatives in their schoolwork see it as a good option,” Major said.

However, based on rankings by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Adderall is considered to have “high potential for abuse,” and can cause severe dependence on the drug both physically and psychologically.

“Frequently, there are kids who see Adderall as helpful, and once they’ve navigated and figured out their own strategies for work in the classroom, they attribute that improvement to the Adderall and not themselves,” Hunt said. “So my reluctance for telling parents to go for medication usually has to do with the risk of them thinking that this medication is fixing everything, rather than providing a little help.”

This reliance on Adderall as study assistance can lead to its being mixed with other substances that are taken by kids solely for recreation, such as alcohol or marijuana. Such combinations in the body can have dangerous effects such as increased temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure, as well as extremely lowering inhibitions, which can lead to cardiac arrest, seizures, and strokes.

“I took it because I was just bored and interested, and it just felt horrible, like being on a lot of cocaine. It has a placebo effect too because people think it’s making everything better so they keep taking it, but there’s really not much difference,” John Doe said. “People will take anything to just experience it, but they think Adderall addictions can be justified by the fact that they take it during school.”

With the available drug supply from peers at school, as well as the belief that the drug is genuinely improving their performance, students are prone to taking the medicine in uneven or excessive amounts, yet fail to inform their parents or doctors that they are taking anything.

“The risk factor comes more when parents or kids are trying to give the medication in a way that fits into their schedule and what they think is best, and discounting what the doctor knows. And high school students probably aren’t divulging all of their medical experimentation to their physicians, so when a professional is seriously asking if they take anything else and they say no, they’re ignoring how important it is for us to know and be able to keep them safe,” Hunt said.

A national survey of 1,000 teens by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse in 2012 found that 60 percent or more of the subjects reported the distribution or use of drugs on their campus, and 52 percent said there was a location close to or on school grounds that students would go to during the day to abuse substances. The numbers have remained in that range for the past 6 years.

“If someone is struggling with drug abuse, I would really encourage them to find someone to talk to,” Hunt said. “Maybe it’s a parent, a counselor, someone from church, or a teammate for a sports team, but anytime you’re talking about coming off of a drug of any sort, it can be a frightening thing with further consequences we don’t know about, especially if there are other drugs involved.”

Hunt also emphasized that students with genuine concerns about their health and wellbeing, in or outside of school, should not have to worry about school punishment when contemplating whether or not to come forward and seek out help.

“As educators, it is important that we reward honesty, and we have rules of confidentiality for students that are afraid to share what is happening to them. If kids come in and talk about drugs, the first thing I talk to them about is the risks involved, the safety, and where they’re even getting the drugs,” Hunt said. “There are a lot of things that are concerning to me that are much worse than Adderall; if they’re stealing money, if they’re doing something sexual to get drugs, or if they’re spending time with kids that are a lot older than them, I’m thinking with a safety perspective and discussing those issues, because the actual Adderall-taking isn’t what I need to address at that point.”

If any students are seeking help with alcohol or drug addictions, 1-800-662-HELP is the free, confidential national hotline for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“No parent wants to think about their child going through the struggle of school being so overwhelming, and now there’s a drug problem on top of it,” Hunt said. “And maybe the school needs to think about resources that can be posted, because I don’t have really good guidance for exactly how to quit drugs, but other places do, so these external organizations can help comfort the student anonymously and make them realize that quitting the drug isn’t as impossible as they expected.”