It’s not uncommon to see college students at 10:30 on a Wednesday night at their school’s library, up to their necks in homework, with papers due Friday, midterms on Monday, dozens of flashcards to mull over, chapters of reading to do and Facebook windows open on their MacBook Pros. When 11:45 p.m. rolls around, exhaustion sets in at just the wrong time.
Instead of grabbing a coffee or an energy drink, what if there were something more effective and faster acting, almost as cheap and nearly as accessible? That “something” is called Adderall, a prescription drug used by a growing number of college students as a study aid. The drug’s use among college students today goes almost unnoticed, but its popularity on college campuses presents an interesting look at the psyche of today’s sleep-starved student.
Adderall is, according to Glen Hanson, a University of Utah pharmacy professor, prescribed to those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to help them focus in a classroom or work setting. For those who don’t have ADHD, though, Adderall provides hours of energy and stamina. College students who use it claim it’s a miracle drug.
“I get very productive, jittery and feel kind of hopped up and energetic,” says Tim Norwich (not his real name), a 19-year-old sophomore at the U of U, describing how Adderall affects him.
His roommate, Mitch Goddard (also a pseudonym), who’s the same age and school year, agrees. “It puts me in a state of pure and total concentration.” Both Norwich and Goddard say that they take Adderall to prepare for tests and finals and typically don’t take it for homework unless it’s a larger-than-normal load. Norwich explains he could get through tests and finals without Adderall, but he and Goddard both use the drug because, as Norwich says, “It makes you more efficient.” Neither Norwich nor Goddard have to look far in their attempt to purchase Adderall, as both have friends who sell the drug.
U of U student Jonathan Shepard (also a pseudonym), 19, sells 20mg Adderall pills for $5 a pop and 30mg pills for $8. For Shepard, the drug deal is a casual encounter: Meet up with a stranger (who’s been referred to Shepard by a friend) on the U of U campus, do a quick money/pill exchange, and then both seller and buyer go on about their business. Like many who sell Adderall, Shepard has a prescription and rations out how many pills he wants to take for his ADHD and how many he’d like to sell to energy-hungry college students.
Obtaining a prescription for Adderall isn’t difficult. Some say they researched the symptoms of ADHD and relayed that information verbatim to a doctor, resulting in a prescription. Paul Marshall, a neuropsychologist with the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, spent five years studying flawed ADHD diagnoses. His research found that 22 percent of adults evaluated for ADHD lied or exaggerated their symptoms in order to obtain a prescription for Adderall.
The mentality behind taking Adderall is obvious: It’s an inexpensive and accessible study aid that gives students a stronger competitive edge. Students do, though, need to be aware of the risks involved with using Adderall.
Because Adderall is an amphetamine, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration warns it has a “high potential for abuse” and the “misuse of an amphetamine may cause sudden death and serious cardiovascular adverse events.” Hanson says Adderall use “can definitely cause addiction” and dependency, which, over time, will change the brain’s chemistry.
Hanson explains that because Adderall is an amphetamine compound, Adderall is simply a legal, lower dose of methamphetamine that one would see being abused on the streets. Hanson also notes that because drug abuse is defined as “using a drug in a manner in which it’s not medically prescribed,” using Adderall without a prescription is illegal and abusive.
Skeptical of Adderall’s reputation as a “miracle drug,” Hanson sees Adderall as a temporary crutch that suppresses fatigue so students can stay on tasks for longer periods of time. The drug keeps an individual awake to help him or her study longer, but does not improve how one studies. “You’ll crash eventually, physiologically,” he says. “Amphetamine is not a source of energy; energy comes from nutrients.”
Energy may come from nutrients, but nutrients take time to kick in. Adderall, users say, when taken orally, kicks in within a half hour, or immediately when snorted.
Adderall possession without a prescription is illegal, but that doesn’t deter some students from taking it—on the contrary, it only enhances Adderall’s appeal. Taking a pharmaceutical drug, which has a high that some college students say is similar to cocaine’s, helps students blast through homework, keeps them awake longer on weekends and even can be used as an appetite suppressant, is the epitome of cool. Adderall usage makes students unstoppable.
When finals season arrives this December, the U of U library will be swarmed with sleep-deprived students with a list of things to accomplish that appears endless—so endless it justifies hunting down someone willing to sell some of his or her Adderall, however dire the warnings and illegalities of illicit use may be.