“I’ll take a little anxiety and insomnia if it means getting a good grade point average,” Lisa comments matter-of-factly. Lisa, a current Utah Valley University student, sounds similar to the majority of her peers. Who in college hasn’t distressed over deadlines or pulled an all-nighter cramming for that Biology final? What’s different about Lisa’s situation is where her anxiety and insomnia come from.
“I’ve always been a pretty good student. I am a perfectionist, so I expect a lot out of myself. A few years ago, I began to notice I was having trouble concentrating. Eventually I got a prescription for Adderall,” Lisa explains.
A brand-name psychostimulant medication, Adderall is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. These two chemicals work together to increase the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. It increases concentration and alertness in the user, and is often prescribed for conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. In other words, Adderall is the equivalent to one hell of a strong cup of coffee– make that thirteen cups of coffee and a Rockstar on the side.
In Lisa’s case, she was prescribed Adderall for ADHD. Lisa discusses, “To this day, I still question if I actually have ADHD. Within five minutes of meeting me, the doctor diagnosed me and gave me a prescription. Sometimes I wonder, ‘Does he even know me?’ I could have easily lied just to get the pills. Adderall is pretty popular, you know.” When I question Lisa whether or not she did in fact lie when she initially got the Adderall prescription, her brow furrows. “I didn’t lie. No.” She pauses for a good ten seconds, deep in thought, then continues speaking, choosing her words carefully. “I really do think I have attention issues. But do I have such strong attention problems that I should be taking such strong medication? That I don’t know.”
America is a nation of medicated people, and some may argue it is a nation of over-medicated people. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, at least half of the American population takes at least one prescription drug. These medications are prescribed for everything from lowering cholesterol to raising moods. Often times, however, prescription medications are not taken properly and can easily be abused. An estimated 20 percent of the people in the United States have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons, with studies showing a trend in prescription drug abuse among college students increasing steadily.
“Yeah, the Adderall definitely makes me anxious. I feel fine and focused on it for a few hours, but then I just start going stir-crazy. And I usually need to take sleeping pills at night if I take Adderall too late in the day. If I don’t (take the sleeping pills), I won’t sleep,” Lisa makes clear.
It’s also becoming clearer that maybe Lisa’s situation is not so uncommon. According to Amelia Arria, a Senior Scientist at the Treatment Reasearch Institute, alcohol is still the number one most commonly abused substance among young adults in college. However, Arria points out that prescription stimulant abuse occurs in 15 to 20 percent of college students.?Lisa sheds some light on the subject, telling me that many of her friends abuse Adderall on a regular basis.
“It’s really not uncommon. In fact, it’s uncommon if someone hasn’t tried a prescription stimulant like Adderall at least once, and that’s without a prescription. Usually they will just get Adderall or buy it from friends to help them through the day.”
College is definitely not a stress-free environment. That much is clear. With classes and extracurricular activities that demand much, if not all of one’s free time, it is understandable that a little pill that provides increased stamina and an abundance of attention would be tempting if not downright seductive. But what are the consequences of succumbing to such stimulants?
A 2005 study in the American Journal of College Health found that even the occasional abuse of prescription stimulants will increase the chances of other kinds of substance abuse, specifically the abuse of alcohol and cocaine. There are also the risks that come with taking prescription medications, especially prescriptions that are not one’s own. A few of the many side effects of stimulants include fatigue, depression, paranoia, malnutrition, cardiac irregularities, and seizures. The effects of increased concentration and in some cases euphoria are what make the drugs so popular, especially on college campuses, but are a few hours of these positive effects worth the possible lifetime’s worth of negative consequences?
“I started taking Adderall for concentration purposes. Then I found myself taking it in order to wake up in the morning, to have a better time at a party, to decrease my appetite… Sometimes I don’t think I could function without it,” Lisa contemplates with a look of sadness in her eyes, “I don’t like the control it has over me, but realistically I don’t see myself giving it up anytime soon.”