It was finals time at the end of spring semester, and Caroline was running on a little less than four hours of sleep as she attempted to study for her exam, which would take place the next day.
A current College sophomore who requested that her real name be withheld for reasons of privacy, Caroline found it difficult to focus on anything, let alone her textbook.
After struggling to learn the material with her classmate and study partner, who also could not concentrate, the latter found a seemingly perfect solution: Adderall.
One quick phone call later, Caroline’s classmate had obtained two Adderall pills from a known dealer. She crushed the pills into powder before snorting the substance so that she could feel the drug’s effects faster and be “drug free” before taking her exam the next afternoon. This entire process – calling the dealer as well as buying and taking the pills – took a mere fifteen minutes.
Adderall, an amphetamine prescribed for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), has become increasingly popular as a “study drug” among students on college and high school campuses across the country. Many take the drug in order to help them boost their academic performances.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people who have been prescribed stimulants like Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin and other similar drugs in the past two decades.
This has also led to widespread availability of these drugs for those who do not actually have prescriptions.
Caroline had never seen anything like that before and was initially shocked as she watched her classmate take the drugs. Now, however, she explained that she is not surprised that people resort to such measures.
“I did not know that using Adderall as a study aid was such a normal occurrence in college before, but I can see why people think it’s okay,” explained Caroline. “It looks like a quick and easy fix to academic pressures with no obvious consequences.”
Willie Bannister, the substance abuse counselor and health educator at Emory’s Student Health and Counseling Service, has seen students who have admitted to using ADHD medications as cognitive enhancers.
He remarked, however, that they always seem to use these drugs in situations that also involve alcohol or marijuana. Bannister noted that, during the past six years, he has never counseled a student for Adderall abuse.
“Clearly, Emory is a very competitive environment, filled with high achieving students who have even higher expectations for their futures,” Bannister said. “I think many students resort to off label stimulant use in the hopes that in these highly competitive spaces, it will gain them some advantage over their peers.”
According to Bannister, highly competitive academic cultures can foster community norms that support what he calls “win at all cost” behaviors. Though illegal stimulant use falls within that category, some students may not fully recognize the consequences of their actions.
“Despite the clear illegality of this abuse, many students do tend to fold prescription stimulant use into a different category of misbehavior, despite the risks that are inherent in such abuse,” said Bannister.
NIDA explains that although many of the long term health consequences for young people who use Adderall are unknown, there is evidence that abuse of prescription stimulants can lead to several withdrawal symptoms such as depression, mood swings from sleep deprivation, heart irregularities or psychosis.
Henry, a College senior who also requested that the Wheel not publish his real name, says that he occasionally takes Adderall because it helps him get more work done during times of stress.
“For me it helped with my studies a little bit, but not because it calmed me down, but because it put me in a good and productive mood,” he said.
However, Henry says that even though he uses prescription drugs in times of high stress, he does not recommend taking the study drug on a frequent basis.
“I use it occasionally to study but I am actually really scared of getting hooked because it is definitely addictive,” said Henry. “Because of that, I am really careful about not doing it often.”
The NIDA website states that frequent use of prescriptive stimulants does in fact lead to increased dependence and addiction, increasing the possibility of abuse for other substances.
According to the 2011 National College Health Assessment, a survey conducted at Emory last fall, 5.7 percent of Emory respondents indicated that they had engaged in the use of prescription stimulants without a prescription at least once during the prior 12 months.
This indicated an increase from the 4.5 percent reported by the 2008 respondent group.
The survey also noted national increases, showing that 6.5 percent of respondents in 2011 indicated nonprescription stimulant use within the last 12 months whereas 5.6 percent of respondents did in 2008.
However, the survey did not attribute this increase in stimulant use to any specific reasons – which could include self-medication for ADHD, recreational use, or use as a study drug.
On the other hand, some Emory students believe that using drugs like Adderall to study is unethical, unnecessary, and unfair.
College junior, Hannah, who also asked that the Wheel withhold her real name, believes taking Adderall as a study aid delegitimizes those who actually have ADHD and need the medication to reduce symptoms of the disorder.
“Abuse of any drug should not be condoned – particularly Adderall in academic settings because it alters how the students perform and could put them at an advantage over those who do not use it,” said Hannah.
Emory Student Health and Counseling Services discontinued treating students for ADHD/ADD disorders during the fall of 2005 as a result of the increasing volume of patients who requested evaluation and care for the disorders, according to the website for Student Health.
The website noted that Student Health stopped providing care for people with ADHD/ADD because it hindered them from caring for more crucial and immediate mental health needs.
Bannister further explained that administrators made this decision partly because Student Health did want to accidentally and unintentionally support an illicit market for these drugs.
However, the Emory Clinic will be establishing an ADHD clinic in conjunction with the Department of Psychiatry, according to Bannister.
Emory students will be able to receive both evaluation and medication support at the new clinic. Students covered by the Emory student health plan would only need a referral from the Student Health Clinic or the Counseling and Psychological Services to use of this service.
– By Mallika Manyapu