Taking the easy way out

Dec 112005
Authors: Amanda Schank

For Aaron Appell , $5 bought 10 milligrams of reputed relief.

Appell, now a junior biology major, played the stereotypical freshman slacker by failing to attend two of his classes and giving himself only two days to study for both the final exams. He chose Adderall as a studying aid, crammed nonstop through the night and earned a high B on each exam.

"I don't know if you've ever tried to sit in the library for 12 hours straight, but without the help of some drugs like Adderall it's near impossible," Appell said. "It worked pretty well except I felt absolutely horrible because I hadn't eaten all day and was all cracked out because I'm not prescribed to take it."

Appell is only one of the multitudes of students who turn to Adderall, a prescribed stimulant designed to increase focus and concentration, as a legitimate study aid. Adderall is prevalent especially during finals and easy to obtain on a college campus, but its use can have many potentially harmful side effects that many students are unaware of.

"Students have a lot of pressure and sometimes hope to find a quick way of improving test performance (through taking Adderall), but most of the time that can backfire because they might miss sleep and be too stressed and anxious and may do poorly on tests," said Daniel Korb , a psychiatrist at Hartshorn Health Services. "There are a lot of risks involved in doing it that way."

Adderall is an amphetamine stimulant primarily prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), said Japheth Hessler , a psychiatric nurse practitioner at the health center. People with ADHD have a decrease in dopamine and norepinephrine chemicals in the brain, causing difficulties with higher mental functions like concentration and planning judgment.

The medication increases the production of those chemicals, allowing improved focus for not only people diagnosed with ADHD, but also for anyone who takes the medication in general. Some students use the medication as an element in their studying techniques, many times relying on it to stay up late and temporarily heighten their mental awareness.

However, the drug can have mental and physical repercussions on the non-prescribed user and "needs to be taken with medical oversight," Korb said.

Physically, the medication could cause changes in cardiac functioning, possibly stimulating the heart to go into dysrhythmia and heart attack, which could lead to sudden death. An increase in blood pressure and stress on the organs could result in a stroke, an aneurysm or long-term damage on the liver, heart and kidneys as well.

If taken without supervision and in higher doses, Korb claimed the possibility for a psychological and physical dependency on Adderall exists. Other mental consequences include paranoid thinking, development of Tourette's syndrome, possible delusions, increased emotional instability and an onset of psychosis.

Headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, insomnia and motor ticks are possible as short-term effects.

"For a lot of people the medication is fairly safe, but there's always that small percentage where some people can have a serious reaction," Hessler said. "There has been reports of sudden death…for those students taking too much if they're trying to stay up two or three nights in a row."

Adderall is readily available on college campuses as students frequently have friends with prescriptions who are not shy to hand it out either for free, or a price, usually $5 or less per pill. The increased focus is only a temporary effect of Adderall, usually lasting around six hours, Hessler said.

Rebecca Goldfarb , senior human development and family studies major, learned the immediate negative effects of Adderall after only one pill.

"I knew nothing about it, just that it would help me stay up and help me focus," Goldfarb said. "I couldn't sleep for almost two days – it was horrible. I should've never done it…and afterward I was like, whoa, that was really stupid."

For some students, the benefits of Adderall outweigh the chances for harmful ones.

"I'm not too worried about (taking Adderall) – I've never had any problems with it before," said Stephan Shenk , junior construction management major. "I recommend Adderall as a studying aid – you feel like you can study better and get more stuff done."

Despite its ability to increase many mental functions, Korb and Hessler suggest students refrain from Adderall unless prescribed. For students who claim taking Adderall is the only way to find focus, both recommended testing for ADHD, available at the Learning Assistance Center.

If testing reveals nothing, better studying habits might.

"A lot of people worry about which party they're going to go to and do that instead of studying and planning ahead," Hessler said. "If (students) know they have the opportunity to use the medication and stay up all night studying and still do OK on their test, there's some people who will use the medication…as sort of a crutch instead of something that could be helpful."

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