Rochester, N.Y.— As the pressure to succeed grows among college students, an alarming trend is also brewing on college campuses. More and more students are turning to ADHD drugs like Adderall to help them focus and stay up through the night.
When taken as a study aid, Adderall and drugs like it are called “smart pills”.
According to a recent study by The Addiction Journal, one in four college students admit to taking ADHD pills to study.
Steve (name has been changed), a local college student says he also takes the pills to help get his schoolwork done.
“You’re a lot more focused. That’s the only way to describe it. You can just focus on that one thought and so it’s a lot harder to get distracted.”
People who take Adderall but don’t have ADHD can stay hyper-focused and can stay up for several hours and even for days.
“I took 60 milligrams in one night and I stayed up 72 hours working on one assignment, ” says Steve. “I ended up getting a really good grade on it.”
Sara Ormsby, an addiction therapist at Unity Health says she sees cases of Adderall abuse more often.
“I just think that more and more schools are setting higher and higher standards for their students and so I just think that people feel that there is a competitive vibe on campus,” says Ormsby. “They want to do well or have an expectation on them to do well.”
Steve agrees. Without Adderall he would get mostly B’s and maybe a few C’s but he says that’s not good enough.
“The difference between an A and a B can be huge,” says Steve. “Everything seems to be focused on GPA and so to get a good job, I need to get good grades.”
Ormsby finds that if a student wants Adderall bad enough, the drugs are easy to find and they’re relatively cheap. Each capsule can cost anywhere from $5 to $30.
“If it’s not a epidemic yet, it’s on its way to being that,” she says. “Adderall is so accessible. It’s prescribed very easily. ADD and ADHD are these hot button diagnoses that a lot of people have. I find that that most of my clients say that they get them from friends who are prescribed Adderall but just aren’t using them as prescribed and will have extra to give to other people.”
Steve says on his campus, he doesn’t have to look far to find these drugs.
“It’s everywhere,” he says. “If you ask five people chances are they know someone [who has Adderall]. If you ask ten people, chances are they can just give you some because he had a prescription.”
According to IMS Health, the number of Adderall prescriptions increased 68 percent from 2007 to 2010.
Dr. Ralph Manchester of University Health Services at University of Rochester says during midterms or finals time more students walk through his doors looking for Adderall prescriptions.
“Sometimes they’re coming in the day before finals start and they want something to go to the pharmacy with today,” says Dr. Manchester, “If they don’t already have an ADHD diagnosis it’s not something we’re going to be able to address in 24 hours.”
He also seen more students complaining of side effects caused by Adderall use.
“It’s very easy to get too much and every year in December and May around finals and we see a handful of students come in with rapid heartbeat, feeling lightheaded and generally feeling not well because they’ve taken too much of this kind of medication.”
He feels that students often underestimate the effects of prescription pills.
“I think in general there is a misunderstanding that if it’s a prescription drug that it can’t be as dangerous as an illegal drug.”
Some longterm effects of Adderall abuse include the possibility of stroke, heart attacks, depression and even psychosis.
Adderall is also an amphetamine and can have effects similar to cocaine and people who abuse the drug can form physical and psychological addiction. The more your body adjusts to Adderall, the more you’ll need to feel the effects—thus creating a higher risk of overdosing.
Dr. Manchester and Ormsby says it going to take a lot of education on the part of universities and parents to curb the trend of Adderall abuse.
“Parents are typically in tune with how their kids are behaving and what their overall attitude is,” says Ormsby. “If they start to see that their children are not calling them as much anymore or if they’re angry or aggressive and that’s not their normal behavior that may be an indicator that something’s off.”
Steve says he knows the danger he is putting himself in and feels that in the end, taking Adderall would leave him at a disadvantage in the future. He knows that there will come a time when he will have to live without Adderall.
“When I get into the real world I would be in deep water. Because I wouldn’t be able to manage my time [without Adderall] and you can’t just leave work until the weekend to do it like I do now when you have a 9 to 5 job everyday.”
Still for now, he depends on the pills. He says he needs to get A’s and anything less isn’t good enough.
“Why not… if you can just go to one of your friend and take a pill and improve your grades? Why not?”
At local universities like University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology, punishment for students caught buying or selling prescription pills can range from mandatory drug counseling programs to outright expulsion.