Demystifying Adderall, ‘The Study Drug’ Students Take For a Better Grade

Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a collection of articles relating to student life during finals week that appear in the Dec. 2 print issue. 

When multiple deadlines are approaching and stress levels are rising, many college students turn to Adderall, the prescription drug that is often referred to as the ‘study drug.’ The common belief is that the drug helps students focus with relatively few side effects which has led to high levels of Adderall abuse across the country and abuse on campus.

What is Adderall?

Medline, a website operated by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Heath states that Adderall is a combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine and it is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder.

It states that “the combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine is in a class of medications called central nervous system stimulants. It works by changing the amounts of certain natural substances in the brain”.

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s publication Drugs of Abuse states that “amphetamines can look like pills or powder. Common prescription amphetamines include methylphenidate (Ritalin or Ritalin SR), amphetamine and dextroamphetamine (Adderall) and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)”.

How Widely is Adderall Abused?

There are not any specific statistics for illicit Adderall usage regarding Manhattan College Students. But, national studies find that abuse is rampant on college campuses across the country. A study titled Nonmedical Use of Prescription Stimulants During College: Four-Year Trends in Exposure Opportunity, Use, Motives, and Sources was published in the Journal of American College Health in 2012. The study states that “almost two-thirds  (61.8%) were offered prescription stimulants for nonmedical use by Year 4, and (31.0%) used”.

Why Do College Students Use Adderall?

Many students use Adderall because they believe it will allow them to study longer, focus more and improve their overall performance in their classes.

Manhattan College associate professor of psychology Arno Kolz, Ph.D., requires students in one of his classes to write a paper on and debate about a controversial topic in psychology. Many students have written about Adderall and other stimulant drugs. He said that he has learned a lot about the matter over the years.

“The motivation is that these are drugs designed to help people focus more and pay attention to help people with ADD and ADHD and so the belief is that it’ll help even quote-unquote normal people who don’t have those things focus, stay up, study more,” Kolz said. “The drugs are stimulants so the idea is that it helps you pull the all-nighter.”

Junior biology major Giancarlo Schillaci said he has noticed an increase in student demand for the drug during finals.

“There is definitely a spike in demand and usage during finals,” Schillaci said.

“Junior year is time when students are working towards not just Manhattan College tests but also graduate school tests like LSATS and MCATS,” he said. “Students worry about their grades and some will do some shady things to help them with what they want to do in their future.”

Where Do College Students Get Adderall? 

The results from research conducted by the University of Kentucky prove that it can be very easy for students to receive a prescription for Adderall.

“With ADHD information readily accessible on the Internet, today’s students are likely to be symptom educated prior to evaluation. This may result in false-positive diagnoses, particularly when students are motivated to convey symptoms,” its abstract reads.

Kolz said he thinks there is a problem as well.

“The problem, of course, is when there are too many doctors out there who the second somebody shows up and says ‘I’m having a little trouble studying and concentrating’, they just write the prescription right away,” Kolz said. “They don’t properly go through all the diagnostic tests and criteria. Some of these kids really don’t have it or are just using it to sell the drug.”

Manhattan College associate professor of psychology, Nuwan Jayawickreme, Ph.D., offered another perspective.

“One of the dangers of pretty much a number of these psychological disorders is that you can see it if you want to see it,” Jayawickreme said. “I think when we talk about these prescription rates, if one possibility is that some doctors are trigger happy, right? Even at the smallest mention, they’ll say OK take the drug. But, for other doctors, they may legitimately think ‘I’m seeing these symptoms’,” Jayawickreme said.

Another report titled Nonmedical Use of Prescription Stimulants prepared by The University of Maryland School of Public Health states that “one study found that 5.3% of college students were currently prescribed ADHD medications,” and that “diversion includes the illicit sharing, selling, and trading of prescription medications. In one study, 61.7% of college students diagnosed with ADHD reported diverting their prescription stimulants.”

Schillaci does not believe that this illegal use of the drug is fair to other students.

“I know people that use Adderall not just at MC, but also other colleges and that there are students that have a prescription for them and people that don’t. […] Students that aren’t prescribed it and use it anyway are cheating the system. In my opinion, using Adderall without a prescription is equivalent to an athlete using steroids,” Schillaci said.

What Are the Health Effects of Using Adderall?                     

The Food and Drug Administration website has a Medication Guide for Adderall. It states that there are health-related problems, mental problems and circulation problems associated with the stimulant medicine.

Furthermore, a recent New York Times article stated that the “abuse of prescription stimulants can lead to depression and mood swings (from sleep deprivation), heart irregularities and acute exhaustion or psychosis during withdrawal, doctors say.”

What Are the Legal Ramifications of Illicit Adderall Use?

Schillaci said that he has noticed that many students are not scared of the legal consequences associated with taking the drug.

 “I feel that most students are not afraid to get caught having Adderall without a script,” Schillaci said. “Like most illicit drugs and alcohol, for minors it is relatively easy to get away with. It’s a false sense of immunity and there’s a certain amount of confidence that they won’t get in trouble for it.”

But, the legal ramifications for taking Adderall without a prescription or distribution of Adderall are severe.  The Manhattan College Community Standards and Student Code of Conduct states that “the use of prescription drugs without a prescription or inconsistent with the prescribed dosage is prohibited. The College will cooperate with law enforcement agencies in apprehending specific individuals whose activities the authorities have good reason to suspect.”

The minimum sanction can include expulsion from the college.

The Drug Enforcement Agency lists Amphetamine as a Schedule II drug. The agency’s website states that drugs are placed in the Schedule II category because “substances in this schedule have a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.” Other Schedule II stimulants are methamphetamine, Desoxyn, and methylphenidate, Ritalin. Other commonly known drugs ranked as Schedule II are cocaine, methamphetamine and oxycodone.

“These are prescription medications. They [students] should not take them unless they have a prescription,” Kolz said.