A is for Adderall

A is for Adderall

Jaclyn Krizanic

This article is part of the Fall 2020 Magazine Issue series. To read the full Fall 2020 issue click: here

There is one common ground that all college students can agree on: stress. Long nights can turn into grueling all-nighters as students struggle to meet mounting deadlines. Yet, where do some students turn in order to keep up in class and continue this vigorous cycle of work? Adderall.

Students with Adderall prescriptions may as well have a target on their back; students bombard, beg and peer-pressure to sell them their prescriptions. “Hey if you have any of your prescription is left over, do you think you could just give me some extras?” is a common question for those seeking easy access for “Addy”.

Adderall is typically prescribed to those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). According to the National Center for Health Research (NCHR), “ADHD is a brain disorder that makes it difficult to concentrate and increases impulsive behavior. Prescription stimulants help to reduce these symptoms. However, many people use these drugs for non-medical purposes and without a prescription.” This is no surprise to those who study and research the usage of Adderall throughout history and into today’s usage rates–specifically looking in on a college campus. This has been occurring for the past two decades according to the NCHR. Students being prescribed or not turn to the study drug.

Adderall seems to be sweeping around college campuses. This has become a silent but well-known fact amongst students. A study done by PSYCOM shows how “Across the U.S., nearly one in six college students now say they’ve used stimulants like Adderall, Ritalin, or Dexedrine–drugs normally prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)–without a prescription, according to a recent, national survey by Ohio State University. Seventy-nine percent used them to study, according to The College Prescription Drug Study of 19,539 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students from 26 institutions across the United States” (PSYCOM). This is only half the struggle with the use of unprescribed Adderall amongst students on campus.

There has been a rise in hospital visits due to the unknown effects of taking this drug unprescribed. Another study, according to John Hopkins University, shows hospital visits have risen over 156 percent that was taken between the years of 2006 to 2011. Many college students think taking their friend’s prescription will cause no harm to themselves Also during this study it was discovered that the actual prescriptions have dropped and the casual usage of Adderall has increased over 67 percent.

In an interview conducted by PSYCOM with Dr. Lian-Yu Chen, Chen says, “The health risks include cardiovascular problems, addiction, and psychiatric comorbidities.” For students taking Adderall illegally unaware of potential side effects, doing personal research could help those who may not know why they are experiencing abnormal symptoms.

In passing, students will talk about their finals week dependence on Adderall. It’s casual. As a student myself, I wonder why no one is truly talking about this. I was able to interview a handful of students who attend MSU about their own experiences with using and selling the drug. All the students wish to remain anonymous and pseudonyms will be used in their place.

The most illuminating conversation I had was with Josh, a MSU junior majoring in Biology, who uses Adderall without a prescription.

“I’ve only been doing it since college… so three years. I only do it during finals week and days that I have exams within 12 hours of each other. Whether that’s exams on the same day or one exam at night and one early in the morning”.

I followed up, asking if they have a routine to prepare. They describe, “to prepare for it, I just make sure I eat a good amount beforehand because it makes me lose my appetite, so I don’t eat much while on it and just make sure I drink lots of water while on it to keep myself hydrated. Also, I try not to drink caffeine if I know I’m going to take Adderall otherwise it makes me even more shaky”.

In order to have the ability to focus on schoolwork, but also trying to juggle their appetite seems to be a switch of priority. Not being able to eat because if they do, nausea sets in and can take a toll on their entire day. All in order to study for an exam the night before, do an assignment due at midnight and try to maintain their sleep schedule. It makes me wonder if all of this is worth it for the outcomes that can arise.

While there are plenty of buyers on MSU’s campus, students prescribed the medication have been profitable in selling it. One junior fitting this description was Allison, who was able to answer another one of my questions.

 “What’s it like having a prescription for Adderall? Do any of your friends try to take advantage of it?”

“Yes, absolutely.  But, it’s part of my routine where I take my meds so not being on it seems very weird or taking them feels weird and I think I feel different. Honestly I feel like shit sometimes when I sell my prescription because I know what I am doing is wrong and my parents would be disappointed but sometimes I need money”.

“How much money do you sell each pill for?”

“Usually, 5 dollars if I know them and they are my friend. But…I have raised the price to double or triple that amount before.”

A New York Times writer, Casey Schwartz, shares her own story of using Adderall in college and how it impacted her and those around her in the article Generation Adderall. Schwartz writes, “Adderall wiped away the question of willpower. Now I could study all night, then run 10 miles, then breeze through that week’s New Yorker, all without pausing to consider whether I might prefer to chat with classmates or go to the movies. It was fantastic. I lost weight. That was nice, too. Though I did snap at friends, abruptly accessing huge depths of fury I wouldn’t have thought I possessed.” Schwartz understands what students face and why they turn to Adderall. Why wouldn’t she want to get everything she needed done in a fraction of the time all while enjoying it and not worrying if other aspects of her life had to suffer? It’s understandable.

However, there was a time during her senior year in college where she was taken to the hospital:

 “I had slept more than a handful of hours, and I was taking more and more pills to compensate. Suddenly, when I looked up from the page, the bright room seemed to dilate around me, as if I weren’t really there but rather stuck in some strange mirage. I seized with panic — what was happening? I tried to breathe, to snap myself back into reality, but I couldn’t. Shakily, I stood and made my way toward the phones. I dialed my friend Dave in his dorm room. “I’m having some kind of problem in the Sci Li,” I told him. My own voice sounded as if it belonged to someone else. An hour later, I was in an ambulance, being taken through the snowstorm to the nearest hospital.”

After her traumatic experience there was a moment where Schwartz decided to try and stop taking adderall. Her struggle of being on and off the pill lasted for a year until she finally was able to detach herself. She had no idea that this recovery period would last as long as it did. But once she managed to regain control of her addiction, she decided to do further looking into what Adderall is. Schwartz studied the side effects, chemical makeup, and the neuroscience of why it can be hard to break the habit.

Tedious research mixed with first-hand experience aids the exploration of any kind of medication. Schwartz’s research that came from how neuroscience breaks down the science behind what Adderall is and how it works in the brain made it easier to understand why this habit is difficult to break. Especially when chemicals such as dopamine and norepinephrine are released while taking these amphetamines. In other ways, these same chemicals are released during sex and while eating ones favorite dessert for other examples. This then begins to generate a chemical release that rushes throughout the brain which helps with motivation and focus. The recipient of the drug makes them want to continue those ‘feel good’ symptoms around.

Although when trying to detach from this arousal the dopamine receptors vanish.  This makes it harder each time someone tries to stop. However, this explains the horrid feelings of withdrawal after discontinuing the use of Adderall – or anything with dopamine. This often leads to questions if the brain ever returns to normal – as in releases these chemicals naturally on its own – after quitting. 

Although school can be challenging to manage at all times, even with keeping to an in-depth schedule, Adderall seems to still show up in more than this generalization of a study enhancer. Adderall has a handful of side effects that usually most people endure while taking this medication regardless if they are prescribed or not. One symptom in particular seems to draw people’s attention: the suppression of one’s appetite.  Some who take this prescription do not only want it to help them concentrate and get hours-on-hours of work done in half the time or less, but they take this stimulant to lose weight. Kelly, a student at MSU, speaks about not only her addiction she has now obtained through her unprescribed usage of Adderall, but how she has become more enticed to take this medication daily due to her weight loss she has noticed.

“I can’t not take Adderall…especially when I wake up. If I don’t my whole day feels out of the norm. I can see that maybe it’s not the best idea but what’s wrong with it? I’m not the only one here who takes Adderall unprescribed.  I feel as if this drug has become so normalized that why should anyone be worried to take it? Everyone’s doing it. It’s not a big deal”, she exclaims to me after I ask her “why do you take Adderall?”.

She continues to dive into her struggle with the usage of her Adderall and how her addiction caused significant weight-loss results. What may have started off as a way to increase her GPA seems to have grown into something negative.

“I’ve been taking an unprescribed Adderall for over a few months now because I noticed my other friends and even my boyfriend all take it. But now after using it for some time, I feel nauseous. It depends at times, but usually it can happen even on the onset of seeing food in front of me after I take it. Even if I go over a day without it the symptoms don’t fade. I feel as if my appetite will never be the same as it used to be, but that’s okay. I am actually not seeing a problem here. I have found something that has not only helped increase my academic performance but also causes me to just not eat and the result is weight-loss without the extra trying aspect to it. Sure, I still workout but I only do it because I know I’m not eating as much so I know weight will come off faster”.

Though, she is not alone. Numerous students, male and female, have reached for this drug in order to lose weight. But those who are prescribed to this are feeling the impact of sudden weight-loss through a significant loss of appetite.

The Addiction Center’s website would be a first step to visit if you, a friend or family member seems to be struggling with any type of addiction. However, the use of Adderall mixed with other substances, such as alcohol, can lead to a risk of a fatal overdose. Something that should be known amongst college students especially at a Big Ten University where going out to the bars and partying seems to hold a certain societal value at MSU.

Understandably, not everyone who takes Adderall will conclude into an addiction to it. But it is something that should be monitored seriously and carefully. Usually those who become addicted to Adderall according to The Addiction Center tend to care and put their taking of Adderall before all else and feel they cannot function without it. This includes ignoring important obligations to family and friends. Relationships can suffer and so can physical health. For those using a prescription don’t be alarmed, addiction and worse effects cannot develop if taking the dose recommended by your doctor. However, the focus on Adderall addiction mainly stems from those who take it illegally and misuse the dose amount. Everyone is different. Therefore, not everyone will react to the same amount taken as others.

It is important and useful to understand some of the background before diving into any waters. It can be difficult to focus nowadays with all different technologies that can grab our attention away from learning. Classes shifting to online platforms in the spring of 2020 certainly didn’t help. This adds to the competition to where a student needs to pay attention. Looking at the PowerPoint in-class lectures that are projected all over the class or on your laptop that have the ability to open up multiple tabs at once and try to multitask. To say that students are capable of paying full attention during any kind of lecture over an hour would be hard to believe. This creates a certain need for medications to help with concentration. Students remain unbothered by the illegality of such a decision. This has been happening for quite some time now.

Having access to a stimulant that can help steer focus makes sense for college students to use even if it comes with a price beyond financial—death. Yet, what is the cost? Students who have this ability to take Adderall and aid their attention, is it fair for those who don’t use Adderall? Could these enhancement drugs, that are used illegally, be creating a curve in grading? If universities understand the mental strain that is now hitting each new wave of students throughout generations due to the increase in use, shouldn’t there be a greater discussion over mental health and if students should be able to incorporate mental health days into submission of assignments or to miss classes without penalty. At the end of it all, was the “A” worth it?

Jaclyn Krizanic is a junior studying Professional Writing and minoring in Graphic Design. Jaclyn plans to apply her knowledge and skill sets she has gained from her major into her current, future and professional work. Jaclyn loves to write poetry and inspires to publish a book of poems and short stories upon her graduation.