Recent years show a boom in students turning to the prescription drug Adderall for exams, writing papers and long study sessions. With another round of final exams on the horizon, the College is no exception to this phenomenon.
“I took it for the first time sophomore year,” admitted a junior elementary education major at the College, whose name has been omitted for legal protection. “I had a portfolio to write that I left until last minute. I had no other option but handing it in late, so I stayed up for 12 hours and wrote instead. I didn’t have a prescription. I got an A- on it, and my professor asked to keep it to use as an example because it was ‘really well thought out.’”
Adderall, a combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine, is a stimulant used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and narcolepsy. While the drug itself is not illegal, the National Drug Intelligence Center states on its website, “It is illegal to use prescription drugs without a valid prescription or to distribute them.” It is also against the law to take a drug in a manner that is not directed, so even someone with an Adderall prescription could break the law if they inhale it or take it for recreational purposes (several students told The Signal that snorting Adderall before drinking intensified their experience and kept them awake longer).
It also can come with various side effects.
“If you take too much your hands get clammy. I have taken too many and I’ve vomited,” said the aforementioned junior. “Your heart can race, sometimes you can’t fall asleep.”
David L. Nathan, a psychiatrist in nearby Princeton, said stimulants like Adderall increase blood pressure and put those who use it improperly at risk of heart attacks. “That’s rare, but what happens commonly is that students who take Adderall and other stimulants become addicted to them,” Nathan said in an email interview. “That can be a physical addiction, where you get a ‘crash’ whenever you try to stop the medication. More typically, students become psychologically addicted, and find that they can’t study effectively without continuing to take the medication.”
Adderall usually hits the campus via students with prescriptions. One College senior studying engineering — who distributes Adderall and takes it to do work — said he currently gets it from someone in his fraternity who gets it prescribed by his doctor.
“(The first time) I took it at 10 a.m. and studied until (2 a.m.), and that’s when I knew — this was the drug for me,” he said in a cheerful but honest tone. He went on to talk about people constantly bothering him for some pills. “A lot of people hit me up for Adderall. In the last week I got like four texts.”
Nevertheless, some see Adderall as ethically controversial.
“Since I have a strong aversion to drugs and I witnessed someone crushing it and snorting it kind of like cocaine, I was taken aback,” said a senior sociology major, who also preferred her name not be included. “I guess that’s one way to get your work done but I’m opposed to it and think it’s an unhealthy option.”
Nathan emphasized that Adderall is dangerous and “rightly or wrongly,” taking it without a prescription is a federal crime. “I understand the attraction of improving one’s short-term academic performance by taking a pill, especially if your friends and fellow classmates are doing it,” Nathan said. “But even insofar as it works in the short-term, the cost is potentially high in terms of one’s health and personal integrity. Do you really want to be a drugged rat on a wheel? As Lily Tomlin once said, ‘The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.’”
Other students feel differently. “I don’t think it’s cheating because it’s still me doing all my work and taking every test. All the knowledge is still in my head,” said a College senior who asked that her major be omitted. The senior said the first time she used Adderall was because she had minimal time to study.
Louisiana State University’s student newspaper reported last June that the average time spent on homework has risen 51 percent since 1981. Additionally, the 2011 National Survey of Student Engagement shows students are also balancing part-time jobs and co-curricular activities with preparing for class.
Still, it is unclear if there would be any academic consequences for using Adderall as a study aid, and using “study drugs” is not listed as a form of cheating on the College’s Academic Policies’ website.
“If one of my own students were abusing, I probably would have a conversation about its danger,” said Don Lovett, professor and department chair of biology at the College. “But I cannot imagine that I would target a student whom I did not know well.”