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Smart Drugs: College Students Using Adderall to Study

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The problem of drugs on campus is nothing new. Most college students drink, but others choose to “party hearty” regardless of the damage they’re knowingly causing their bodies.

A new drug has become prevalent on college campuses, though, but students aren’t taking it to get high—they’re taking it to study.

Smart Drugs are Popular on College Campuses

Adderall is a brand of amphetamine-dextroamphetamine, a prescription medication normally given to children with attention deficit disorder, a vast range of behavioral disorders that typically include symptoms such as poor concentration, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. It’s a powerful stimulant drug, not unlike meth or cocaine. Because it directly affects a pathway in the brain, Adderall has fairly high potential for abuse or addiction.

When it’s prescribed by a doctor and taken as instructed, Adderall can help increase attention span and focus by boosting dopamine levels in the brain. Often referred to by nicknames such as “smart drugs,” “study buddies” and “smart pills,” it has also become one of the most popular drugs on college campuses across the country.

A May 17, 2011 NBC Today Show investigation found that college students are becoming addicted to Adderall in increasing numbers because the drug helps them focus while they study and makes it easier to pull all-nighters before exams. It’s also easy to get on campus: an undercover Today Show intern was able to locate a student selling Adderall in a college library within minutes.

College Students Confess Their Experiences with Adderall

One college student confessed to NBC News’ Amy Robach that Adderall allows her to “forget about everything around her” when she’s looking at her textbooks. The student justified her actions by asking, “I figured if everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I get the advantage?” during the report that aired on the Today Show.

Another student, who went by the pseudonym Mike, revealed that Adderall has given him a boost to work nonstop for 10 hours a day.

Side Effects of Adderall

Adderall is generally considered safe when it’s taken as prescribed by a doctor, but medical experts warn that it can be very addictive.

One freshman honor student named Aly told Ann Robach that she first took a “smart pill” offered by a friend when she was struggling to keep up with schoolwork. Aly soon became addicted to Adderall, buying several pills every single day. The pills’ side effects came quickly, too. Aly was initially able to concentrate and study, but she soon began suffering from mood swings, insomnia, panic attacks and depression. Ironically, her grades spiraled downward and she was asked to withdraw from her university.

Eventually, Adderall can distort reality and cause users to become psychotic. “They develop paranoia, and so they think people are out to get them, out to hurt them,” Dr. Glen Hanson of the University of Utah College of Pharmacy explained to Utah’s KSL.com. “And it’s not unusual to find heavy users actually look like a schizophrenic.”

“It’s a highly addictive substance and when you play with addictive substances, you ultimately get burned,” Stephen Odom, a drug abuse counselor at Sober Living by the Sea, said during the Today Show report. “For all intents and purposes, Adderall is speed. You’re putting something in your body that’s gonna make you think you’re OK when you’re not. And the next thing you know, you’re gonna be spinning out of control.”

Other Consequences of Study Drugs

Getting your hands on Adderall without a prescription may have become easy and common on college campuses, but it’s also a serious crime. Many students simply buy pills off of another student that has a valid legitimate prescription. Other students visit their doctor, complain of ADD symptoms that they read about on the internet, and get their own prescription—even though they only want the pills to study better. Rochester, New York’s WHEC 10 News reports that purchasing Adderall without a prescription is a felony.

Quitting Adderall once you’ve become addicted can be very difficult. According to William Dawson, peer advisor for the Campus Alcohol and Drug Education Center at the California State University Chico, withdrawal symptoms may vary depending on the amount previously used. “Inability to sleep and loss of appetite are the most common symptoms for the withdrawal from the drug,” he told student newspaper The Orion.

Adderall’s Manufacturer Responds

Shire, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures Adderall, issued a statement in response to the Today Show’s May 17, 2011 report about college students abusing the drug study purposes:

Shire supports the appropriate use of its medications approved for the treatment of ADHD and does not support abuse, misuse, diversion, or unapproved indication of these medicines. All prescription medications should be used only as prescribed and only under careful medical supervision.

Shire’s full statement can be read here.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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