Adderall addiction: Students misuse drug to gain boost while studying


Photo illustration: Blake Lanser/Iowa State Daily

Some students, whose work load is more than they can handle, turn to a drug known as Adderall.  Adderall acts as a third party stimulant that boosts the activity levels in the brain, causing an alert feeling.

Meredith Keeler

The United States is 4 percent of the world’s population but produces 88 percent of the world’s legal amphetamine. Adderall, also known as the “study drug,” is in high demand across the nation and has increasingly become highly abused by college students who claim Adderall is the key to academic success.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Adderall is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine and is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD, and narcolepsy.

The combination of the two drugs increases attention and decreases restlessness in patients who are overactive, cannot concentrate for very long, or are easily distracted and have unstable emotions.

“There has been a huge increase in demand for evaluations for ADHD over the last several years,” said Dr. Carver Nebbe, a medical doctor with a specialty in family medicine and psychology at Thielen Student Health Center.

Nebbe also said there has been a significant increase in accommodations requests at the Student Disability Resources office on campus.

In 2010, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 11.4 percent of young people ages 12 to 25 used prescription drugs nonmedically within the past year. The study also found that full-time college students, between the ages of 18 and 22, were twice as likely to abuse Adderall than those of the same age and not in college.

“Statistics say that 30 to 40 percent of those who have it misuse it or divert the medication at some time,” Nebbe said.

When abused, Adderall can be extremely addictive. The Drug Enforcement Administration  classifies all amphetamines as having a high potential for abuse and limited medical uses.In addition to having the potential of becoming addictive, common side effects of the drug include lack of appetite, increased blood pressure, headache, dry mouth, inability to fall asleep and weight loss. 

For many people, they may not experience significant adverse side effects every time they use it.

“Most people that take the drug and a normal dose just to stay up all night, it probably won’t hurt them all that much, but if someone has an underlying heart condition, whether they know about it or not, taking these drugs could potentially exacerbate that problem,” said Edward Bell, professor of clinical sciences at Drake University College of Pharmacy.

Why students would put themselves at a potential health risk and illegally abuse a prescription drug is baffling to some, but for students, they just want good grades.

The strive for perfectionism in society often leaves students feeling an immense amount of pressure to succeed; with increased competitiveness in the job market, college students feel the pressure to get perfect grades.

In June 2012, The New York Times published an article entitled, “In Their Own Words: ‘Study Drugs.’” The article was compiled of personal stories of high school and college students who abused prescription drugs for academic advantage. In the article, students from across the nation vividly describe their experiences with the so-called “academic steroid.”

Frequent abusers of Adderall described feeling inundated with schoolwork and the intense pressure put on by themselves, family members and educators.

“Something inside of me that sparked the drive to be independently successful died, and I swallowed the pills,” said a female student from Minneapolis to the New York Times.

Adderall is considered by some to be the academic miracle drug to college students today, whether they have ADHD and need it everyday or are just using it to study.

“Almost everyone who takes it will benefit from it,” said Nebbe.

With demanding schedules and rigorous courses, college students take Adderall so they can stay up and be productive for a longer period of time.

An apparel, creative and technical design major at Iowa State who wished to remain anonymous, said she and others in her major use Adderall depending on how much work they have to do.

“A lot of times we have to do all-nighters in order to get our projects done. Each project, on average, can take anywhere between 20 to 70 hours to complete,” the student said.

Most of her projects include sewing, computer design, illustrations or construction. She said it is common for students on campus to use Adderall, even if they are not prescribed.

“I feel like at least half the people I know are prescribed, even if they don’t need it, so they sell it,” the student said.

Nebbe said it is hard to determine if students expressing symptoms of ADHD actually have ADHD.

“ADHD is a clinical diagnosis; there is no set test that determines if a person has or does not have ADHD,” Nebbe said.

There is no fine line that determines the criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD, which leads many to argue that Adderall is overprescribed and too easy for students to get, although Nebbe disagrees.

“Researchers on ADHD will tell us that ADHD is dramatically underdiagnosed and undertreated,” Nebbe said. “The outcomes of those treated are sensationally better than those who are not treated.”

Children who are treated at a young age for ADHD are at a lower risk for drug and alcohol abuse, tobacco use and participation in crime. They also have a higher rate of entrance to college.

Interestingly enough, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2010 found that full-time college students abusing Adderall were three times more likely to have used marijuana in the past year than those of the same age not in college.

The same group was also five times more likely to have used painkillers non-medically and 90 percent were reported binge drinkers while more than 50 percent were reported to be heavy drinkers.

Whether students need it or not, the Adderall craze is fueled by perfectionism, fear of failure and competitiveness that has college students across America obsessed with a tiny, orange capsule.

“I do wonder about it, and I think that there is a fair question whether or not a lot of people are getting the medication who don’t need it,” Nebbe said.