Adderall: study aid or gateway drug?

One of the most common abuses of Adderall is by college students who use it as a study aid. Source:

One of the most common abuses of Adderall is by college students who use it as a study aid. Source:

As a full-time college student and part-time retail employee, Caitlyn spreads herself pretty thin, leaving little room for time to do homework and to keep a social life, a concept many college students can relate to.

In order to get work done more efficiently, Caitlyn, 21, turned to the help of prescription medication.

Medications used for study aides, like Adderall, have become a familiar presence on college campuses. Prescribed to those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a disorder where the person has problems with hyperactivity, attention or impulsive actions. Adderall is favored among college students for its ability to aid with concentration.

“I was taking an online class and it was a lot of reading and I just couldn’t focus,” Caitlyn said. “My friend told me, ‘Oh, you know, one time I took Adderall and it really helped me focus.’ She told me if I ever needed some, to let her know.”

Last summer, her online history class challenged her ability to focus and with pressure to succeed, Caitlyn bought two pills for $10 from a friend.

“I can’t remember what dosage I took. It wasn’t high, but wasn’t low either,” she said. “She knew I didn’t take it as much, so she gave me a lower dosage. She was using it to party, but I was only using it for school.”

After she took the pill, she waited 30 minutes for it to take effect.

“I waited and then started doing my homework. It helped me get really focused and I think it actually worked because I was able to finish a lot faster,” she said. “It would always take me so long and I would always be so exhausted, I wouldn’t be able to finish. This made me stay up and stay on task.”

Barton Blinder, clinical professor in the psychiatry department at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, explained exactly what effects the drug has.
“For individuals with ADHD, it increases dopamine in the areas of the brain that promote regulation and inhibition of over-activation and over-stimulation, enabling focused attention and reduction of restlessness,” Blinder said. “A person without ADHD would be more alert, anxious and sleepless with Adderall.”

Caitlyn experienced some of those effects.

“I could feel it coming down, but it wasn’t a negative effect,” Caitlyn said. “Even though I was done, I was still up from the pill, but I didn’t crash.”

Joni, 22, also had a similar reaction to Adderall.

“It can make you fidgety and anxious… the longer and the more you do, the worse it gets,” she said. “It causes insomnia because it keeps you awake.”

However, Joni’s reasons for trying the drug aren’t school related. One of Adderall’s side effects is reduced appetite, which she used to get in shape.

“I think I started using it to lose weight. I know it’s an amphetamine, so it lessens your appetite,” Joni said.

As explained by Blinder, side effects are reduced appetite, insomnia, muscle tics, growth retardation in children, anxiety, mania and psychosis when abused.

Although not originally taken for that purpose, Joni used Adderall for her homework as well.

“For me personally, I think it helps a lot if you don’t use it too often. It helps you focus. It really helps me for school,” she said. “I don’t want to say it motivates you, but it makes you do busy work, so it’s easier for you to finish homework.”

David, 25, another Adderall user, had the same sentiments about its helpful traits.
“It blocked out everything… no distractions…it allows time to go by and allows you to make studying your main focus,” he said.

On the other hand, students like David are adding Adderall to the list of experimental drugs.

“I used it because I like to experiment with new things and I heard it was good to study with,” he said. “I had easy access to it, so it just did it.”

Along with it being used to study, it is also frequenting the party scenes and is thought of as a hangover cure.

“I was at a bar when I took it,” David said. “I had a good time, but my girlfriend felt really sick. She had a really bad headache.”

Like David, Sargan, 21, used Adderall on a whim at a party while in college at University of California, Santa Barbara.

“I did this when I was 19,” Sargan said. “I crushed Adderall and sniffed it and it gave me a pretty good high, but I mixed it with other stuff. It was just one of those things I wanted to try because everyone was doing it. I experienced a serious headache. It was supposed to be a hangover cure, but it made it worse.”

According to Blinder, using Adderall with other substances and when not prescribed is dangerous. Adderall is a controlled amphetamine and should be used with caution.

“Amphetamine is a ‘drug’ meaning it impinges on the brain while present and leaves no benefit when it leaves. That is why it is a day by day medicine and has danger of overuse abuse and withdrawal effects if used improperly,” Blinder said. “Mixed with other drugs such as alcohol, cannabis, cocaine or opioids, effects are dangerous, unpredictable and possibly deadly.”

Due to his experience, Sargan doesn’t see himself using Adderall in the future.

“I’m not one of those people that likes to get addicted to stuff,” Sargan said. “I’m just one of those people that likes to try new things. I wouldn’t use it again, not even for studying. I just don’t need drugs to study. If I do need it and was prescribed it by a doctor, then I would.”

There is good news for those who choose to stay away from Adderall, but still want to boost their studying. According to Blinder, there are non-stimulant medications for ADHD which include Stratterra and Intunive, but prescriptions are required.

He also gave some natural approaches which include multivitamins, omega-3 fish oil, phospatidylserine and huperzine. In addition to these supplements, there are daily practices students can do to improve their bodies’ functions.

“Adequate sleep is important for cognitive function, exercise increases brain neuronal reproduction, rational and balanced nutrition aides cognitive function, even more so when recreational drugs are abstained from and avoided,” Blinder said.

More inquires on Adderall and alternatives to improve studying can be directed to the Student Health Center at Saddleback College. They can be reached at (949) 582-4606 or in the Student Services Center, Room 177.