The serious side effects of amphetamines such as Adderall, which are used to treat attention deficit disorders, are forcing college students to question whether the drugs are worth the benefits.
While some students use them to help with inattention and hyperactivity, others take prescription learning stimulants periodically to binge study. However, what people aren’t talking about is the toll these drugs take on people’s lives if used regularly.
The popularity of these "study drugs" has been on the rise for decades now. The production quota for the sale of amphetamines has more than doubled in the past 10 years, according to the Drug Enforcement Association. Because the use of these drugs have skyrocketed only recently, it is still too early to know the drugs’ long term effects.
At ASU, almost 7 percent of students reported using Adderall-type medications without a prescription in the past year, according to the National College Health Assessment.
The increasing number of users is beginning to reveal the stories of how drugs like Adderall can slowly take over one’s life.
Katie Devlin, a junior studying business at ASU, has had a prescription to Adderall for a little over a year and continues to take it through the school week.
“I’m socially withdrawn when I’m on it," Devlin said. "I don’t really like to be around people."
She said that though she is much more productive and focused on the drug, it makes her not want to eat and messes with her sleep cycle.
“I don’t take my full prescription," she said. "If I were to take what they wanted me to take, I would be a zombie."
Devlin said she doesn’t take her full prescription because she doesn’t want to be on it all the time. She generally uses it throughout the school week, when she really needs it.
“I’m only on it four days a week for maybe seven hours each day just so I can get my homework done, and then I don’t take it besides that,” Devlin said. “I don’t like being on it. It’s not fun for me.”
Devlin got her prescription through ASU Health Services.
Karen Moses, the director of ASU Wellness, said there is specific procedure for students who receive a prescription to Adderall through the University. The student must participate in a screening test, sign a controlled substance agreement and an evaluation administered by counseling.
“A previously filled pill bottle in their name is not enough to demonstrate that they need that medicine," Moses said. "A screening test by a pediatrician or a family physician is also not enough. They have to have the testing done by a licensed psychologist."
Health Services follows up with the patient one month after they begin taking the medication and then every three months if everything is going well.
Nicole Bacon, a senior studying social and behavioral sciences at UA, said she was prescribed the drug her senior year of high school to help her get schoolwork done and have energy to exercise, claiming that it made her feel like she could do anything.
“I became so incredibly dependent on it that I would literally have to take my pill just to get out of bed,” Bacon said.
She began taking the drug regularly again during her junior year of college, but stopped when she felt she was addicted — and that’s when she began experiencing serious issues, she said.
Blurry vision, suicidal thoughts and anxiety that caused her not to be able to leave her room for weeks are just some of the side effects she experienced after trying to stop using the drug, Bacon said.
Bacon is now off of Adderall permanently, but she said she believes her nervous system is forever ruined.
“I promise you don’t need a drug like Adderall to help you study, be better at school, or to be skinny,” Bacon said. “It’s all a mindset.”
Counselor and author Jane Fendelman has been studying behavior and the alternatives for these drugs for over two decades and thinks she knows the answer.
“It’s a quick easy fix for doctors that don’t know any better and for parents who are desperate,” Fendelman said.
Fendelman has sessions with families and children to help reverse attention disorders and believes that the disorder can be cured through counseling, not prescriptions.
“After they’ve done sessions and seen differences in their kid’s behavior parents are embarrassed to say they’ve drugged their children,” Fendelman said.
Those who are aware of the effects of these medications are seeking other ways to help solve their attention issues and improve their work ethic.
Naturopathic doctors have found various methods to help with the symptoms of ADD and ADHD. A plant-based diet with Omega 3 fatty acids and physical methods such as yoga and exercise can help to manage symptoms, Oskin said.
He said that daily practice of meditation and mindfulness also greatly improves cognition.
He said college students don’t have a lot of access to healthy food, which is why prescription medications is often an easier fix.
Though these solutions may not be as quick of a fix as popping a pill, they are risk free and improve long-term brain activity, Fendelman said.
“We have to see if we can start a movement about the drugging of children,” Fendelman said.