The 10mg study buddy

As the responsibilities pile on, some students reach for the pills. Is Adderall a secret helper or the next red bull?

10-08-08 Cover Story
Published On:
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
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Why students are using Adderral to boost their GPAs.

What do a kid with attention-defecit disorder and an ASU student have in common? Well, pretty much everything. They are both loud, hyper, inattentive and impulsive. Only difference is, one has a medical condition, the other is simply submerged in energy drinks, alcohol and newfound freedom. The problem is that when those energy drinks wear off ASU students are stuck in the reality of homework piling up and a bright future depending on getting a 4.0. Luckily those frenzied ADHD kids have pills to share with the entire campus.

Adderall is one of ASU’s favorite study buddies, but the pill is only prescribed to people diagnosed with ADHD.

Intended Usage

“How Ritalin Works In Brain to Boost Cognition, Focus Attention,” an article published in the Science Daily in June 2008, explains, “a behavioral disorder marked by hyperactivity, impulsivity and the inability to concentrate, ADHD has been treated for more than a half-century with Ritalin, Adderall and other stimulant drugs.”

These drugs “fine-tune the functioning of neurons in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) - a brain region involved in attention, decision-making and impulse control - while having few effects outside it.” The drug was never intended to be used as a performance enhancer by people without ADHD, so scientists know little about severe side effects when it is taken in small doses. From the little research that has been done, “the results support the idea that today’s ADHD drugs may be safer than people think.” Many ASU students are taking advantage of the benefits that Adderall provides.

The Study Drug

BIS alum Sarah Sabour used to balance school while working full time at a local restaurant. She was often exhausted after work and had a hard time getting homework done. Sabour has many friends who are prescribed Adderall to help with ADHD, and they are willing to sell a few pills out of the bottle to help with Sabour’s studies. “Adderall made me feel like super woman,” Sabour says, “I felt like I could do anything, clean my room, do all my laundry, write a paper faster. I could make a study guide in 30 minutes instead of procrastinating.”

K’dee Pigg, human resource management alum, says that while in college she did a lot of procrastinating. When it came time to take a test, she would cram a few weeks of studying into just a few days. “I would stay up all night and all day before a test with Adderral,” she says, “I wouldn’t want to stop studying.”

Amy Sherber* is a psychology senior who uses Adderall a few times a semester to make sure she gets high grades on her tests. “It makes me get straight A’s,” Sherber says. She explains what it feels like when she uses Adderall: “It makes me focused,” she says.“It makes me feel motivated and energized. It’s not good for creative things, like writing papers. It’s good for memorization and straight up answers.”

It sometimes makes her feel jittery or jumpy, but usually she just feels awake and productive. Sherber has many friends, including three out of her four other roommates that use the drug for school.

If so many students are joining in on the pharmaceutical fad, it might not be long before doctors are allowed to prescribe for various reasons outside the usual ADHD. All three students claim to buy the pills from friends who are diagnosed with ADHD. They also claim to have plenty of other friends that are doing the same thing. But at five to ten dollars a pill as the going price, this habit could get expensive. To Sabour, the price is worth it. “If I didn’t have Adderall in my life it would have been a mess,” she says.

Although Sabour, as well as the other girls will take the pill to feel more awake, they don’t use it for partying. Sabour even noted that whenever she drank while taking Adderall she became drunk slower than usual. It didn’t give her any sort of high.

College Schedules and Stress

Part of the reasons students are turning to Adderall is because of the busy lives they lead. While Sabour was in college she worked full time at a restaurant located on Mill Avenue. She was often there from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. in the morning. She also was involved with Delta Gamma and was a member of the Hunger and Homeless Committee. Sabour explains that she barely had time to get her homework done with such a hectic schedule, and she often exhausted from working late. “I would take it while I was still in bed to help me get up,” she says.
Sherber has a hard time balancing school and a social life. She lives with four other girls and often finds it difficult to get all her homework done with so many distractions. Using Adderall helps her get her homework done quicker so she has more time for fun. When she finally does get it finished, Sherber says she will sometimes take an Adderall, “if I am really tired but I want to go out all night.”

Pigg first heard about the drug from a roommate who was buying it from another student, but soon found out that tons of her friends used the drug to study. To her, it was the answer to her major procrastinating problem. “I cram with Adderall,” she says. Pigg uses the drug at least 16 times a semester, usually for every big test. She explains that if she didn’t procrastinate, she wouldn’t need to use the drug.

The Effects

According to another Science Daily article “Stress May Lead Students to Stimulants”, “Recent studies show that a growing number of high school and college students are turning to stimulants like ADHD drugs and energy drinks to help them through their stress.” Students want to do well in school, but trying to balance work, clubs and any extra curricular that looks good on a resume can be daunting. But Adderall might not be the best answer. According to the article, “misuse of stimulants can lead to depression, irritability, stomachaches and headaches. Serious abuse of these drugs can lead to very dangerous side effects, including hypertension and stroke.” It can also be addictive.

David Bower, who works for the ASU health center, says, “the user can suffer from drastic side effects the following day.” Sherber notes that she become agitated when the drug starts to wear off, “I get snippy,” and also feels extremely tired the next day.

Sabour had similar experiences. She says, “if I took it for too long, it gave me a crackhead feeling. I would get grouchy.” After an Adderall binge Sabour will sleep all day to avoid any “emotional freak outs.”

Pigg has had extreme emotional side effects from excess use of the drug. “If I used it two or three days in a row and I wasn’t getting any sleep,” she says. “I would pretty much have an emotional break down. It made me really sad.”

When coming off Adderall binges, students can experience, “mental depression, dependence, tolerance, hyperactivity, tachycardia, high blood pressure, dry mouth, stomach ache and difficulty falling asleep,” says Bower. Sabour has so much trouble falling asleep after using Adderall that she also buys Ambien from friends who have been prescribed it for insomnia.

Integrity and Ethics

Both Pigg and Sherber said that they were often using Adderall because they had procrastinated and let homework and studies pile up. Bower suggests there are other ways to cope with college life. He proposes, “prioritizing, time management, and finding a balance between school, work and leisure time.”

Doctors and students debate whether it’s acceptable to use Adderall for studying and focusing, becoming a moral and scientific debate. The drug is usually prescribed only for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sometimes narcolepsy, but Bower admits that, “Adderall is reportedly used today as a ‘study drug’ at many universities.”

Benedict Carey, writer for the New York Times, published an article in March of this year analyzing the moral and ethical problems with using Adderall. In “Brain Enhancement is Wrong, Right?,” Carey writes, “an era of doping may be looming in academia, and it has ignited a debate about policy and ethics that in some ways echoes the national controversy over performance enhancement accusations against elite athletes like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.” However, Carey concludes that although drug use in academics is becoming more common, it is not a major problem until it becomes mainstream.

For now, there are plenty of ASU students getting their studies done without the use of drugs. Science Daily suggests “keeping up with regular exercise, eating a balanced diet and getting proper rest.” It’s also important to get work done at a steady pace, instead of at the last minute. ASU students might be hyperactive and impulsive, but it takes more than bad study habits to get an ADHD diagnosis and a bottle full of performance-enhancing pills.

Legal Study Buddies

Although Adderall is working for some students, others might want to take a legal, less drug-induced approach to finding a study aid. There are plenty of other options besides finding a friend with ADHD.

Good Ol’ Fashion Cup of Joe
An 8 ounce cup of brewed coffee contains 105.7 milligrams of caffeine, which is more than soda or Red Bull. It also an antioxidant and a diuretic so it can help students stay awake, focused and cancer and constipation free.

Energy Drinks
Most energy drinks contain caffeine, gaurana, Taurine, and a few vitamins. While caffeine is a familiar friend, the words gaurana and Taurine sound like insults in a forgotten ancient language. Gaurana is a large, dense bean found in South America. It’s a step up from regular caffeine, and is supposed to help people focus. Taurine is actually produced in the body, but when people are stressed it’s believed that their bodies don’t create as much. Energy drinks give a little supplement. The combination of all four ingredients provides the ultimate energy high.

The Natural Path
There are many different herbal supplements that can help adults stay focused. They often contain Tyrosine or Phosphatidylcholine, which both help the brain stay focused. If students don’t want to put a ton of caffeine in their bodies, they can stay natural and stress free with a variety of different herbal supplements.

Real Live Person
If all else fails then why not grab a real person? Find some one who is naturally focused and motivated and set up a study date. Having a study friend can help keep students on track and motivated. When the studying is done, that study friend may even transform into a enjoyable companion for a party or bar.

For more information on caffeine and energy drinks check out www.energyfiend.com.

Americas Drug Use

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health is an annual, nationwide poll that surveys 70,000 randomly chosen Americans that are over the age of 12. The latest survey provided some interesting results:

Females over the age of 12 who have used marijuana in their lifetime: 36.2%
Females over the age of 12 who have used cocaine in their lifetime: 11.3%
Females over the age of 12 who have used pain relievers in their lifetime: 11.7%
Females over the age of 12 who have used stimulants in their lifetime: 7.6%

Males over the age of 12 who have used marijuana in their lifetime: 45.2%
Males over the age of 12 who have used cocaine in their lifetime: 17.8%
Males over the age of 12 who have used pain relievers in their lifetime: 15%
Males over the age of 12 who have used stimulants in their lifetime: 9.9%

Men and Women 18-25 who have used Illicit drugs other than marijuana in their lifetime in their lifetime: 33.7%

For more stats on drug abuse check out www.oas.samhsa.gov/nhsda.htm.

*Name changed

Reach the reporter at kahavens@asu.edu.