Study pill becomes health risk

Tedd Anderson

Tedd Anderson

By Yuri Ozeki

“Early evening, you’d take a nap and then take it . You’d stay up all night cramming . (take) your exam, then come home, crash and fall asleep. It was almost like having super powers, which last about 12 hours.”

Emily, sophomore in ACES who requested to be referred to by her first name to protect her privacy, credited these “super” all-night study powers to Adderall, a pharmaceutical amphetamine prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly known as ADHD. As a freshman, Emily frequently used Adderall to concentrate and to fight drowsiness, but has only taken it once this year.

“Freshman year, you could get however many you wanted,” Emily said. “People would just hand it to you for free. During finals, it was available almost every day.”

With easy access and desirable symptoms, taking Adderall was easy, Emily said.

“I didn’t have to study a lot,” she said. “I could just cram it in one night and still do okay.”

Illene Harned, University counseling center’s alcohol and other drug office coordinator, has read about Adderall and its popularity as a study aid on college campuses.

“What Adderall does with a person that has (ADHD) is slow them down and help them focus,” Harned said. “For people that don’t have that type of disorder or problem, it actually speeds things up.”

The reason behind the “paradoxical effect” of Adderall on people is still unknown said Josh Gulley, assistant professor of Psychology.

The hypothesis is that individuals with ADHD generally have reduced levels of the neurotransmitter called catecholamine.

“(Adderall) increases and stabilizes (catecholamine) levels having positive effects,” Gulley said. “In individuals who don’t have the disorder, you’re increasing neurotransmitter levels, especially dopamine, causing increased movement, excitability, agitation.”

A freshman in LAS, who wished to remain anonymous, was introduced to Adderall as a junior in high school.

“My friend who does have ADD, she was talking about it and how it makes her focus,” she said. “So she gave them to me to help me focus. I don’t take it too frequently, maybe like ten times a year before huge exams.”

With the desired symptoms of increased concentration, Adderall also causes some negative side effects.

“People have the opposite effect when the medication wears off, having trouble staying awake and having concentration issues,” Harned said.

Emily agreed about the side effects of the drug.

“You feel completely drained and exhausted,” Emily said. “It’s one of those things that you have to plan a recovery period if you were going to do anything else. It’s just very intense.”

The anonymous source agreed.

“Sometimes it makes me nervous and I get jittery and I feel really hot,” she said. “I pretty much don’t eat the entire day. When I come back from an exam, I’m just really drained, tired and exhausted.”

As with most drugs, a danger exists in developing a tolerance for Adderall. Dependency, abuse and other possible side effects may occur with increased dosages.

“It can suppress appetite so people aren’t eating on a normal basis,” Harned said. “As people use it heavily over time, trying to get back on a normal sleeping routine after sleep deprivation can be difficult, so we see insomnia. People may have digestive problems also.”

Cases of cardiovascular problems, strokes and death have been related to Adderall use, Harned said.

“There is also an increased concern about heart problems, high blood pressure, strokes, and heart and blood vessel disease,” Harned said.

Neurological problems may occur from long-term use. There is scientific information showing that these drugs have neurotoxic effects and can kill neurons in the brain, Gulley said. Such effects usually occur with high doses and long-term use. With increased doses Adderall’s side effects can actually prevent concentration, Gulley said.

“At the expense of not being fatigued, you start to feel agitated and irritable,” Gulley said. “They’re actually less able to sit there and study something because although they’re awake, they can’t study and concentrate.”

Emily also voiced concerns about the actual effectiveness of Adderall.

“It almost seemed like you were doing better in school, but in actuality you really weren’t,” Emily said about long-term retention of the information. “You might be able to cram for an exam better but you don’t remember any of it at all.”

Weighing the side effects with her recreational use, the anonymous source continues to take Adderall.

“I know I’m going to continue to take it,” she said.

After utilizing Adderall frequently during her freshman year, Emily no longer depends upon it.

“I’ve found I do better if I don’t do that one big cram,” Emily said. “It’s almost easier just to study a little bit and you feel like you’ve actually accomplished something instead of just copping out, trying to take a pill, and doing it in one night.”