Students use Adderall, Ritalin to enhance school performance
Every day CU sophomore Michelle Davis wakes up at 6:30 a.m. to eat breakfast and wash down her daily pill – either Concerta or Adderall. As a result, she says she will feel her hands tremor, her heart pound in her chest and her body sweat. She will also feel anxious and stressed throughout the day.
Davis knows it is not good for her body, but she said she needs to take these stimulants every day to exercise for long periods and to concentrate on her studies.
“I can get a lot done without taking any breaks,” Davis said. “If I went off (the pills) I think my grades would go down. I’m afraid of what would happen if I didn’t take them.”
Davis may be among the 30 percent of undergraduate students at CU who, at sometime during their college years, could be diagnosed as a substance abuser. This includes the abuse of Ritalin and Adderall, according to the CU Wardenburg Health Center.
“The general attitude (at CU) is that (Ritalin and Adderall) are not drugs but study aids,” said Steve Bentley, coordinator of the substance abuse program at Wardenburg. “It’s widespread.”
Bentley said students manipulate Ritalin and Adderall to enhance their concentration and to excel on exams rather than use it to treat attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, which is the intended purpose of the drugs. As a result the users will experience many side effects.
“Ritalin and Adderall are brother drugs. They are a little bit structurally different, but they have very similar effects (as other amphetamines), like cocaine or methamphetamines,” said Melissa Dutchak, a pharmacist intern at Wardenburg.
For the year that Dutchak has worked at Wardenburg, she has seen students come in for their Adderall prescriptions every day, especially during midterms and finals.
“I see multiple prescriptions going out multiple times every day,” Dutchak said.
Davis said she began using Concerta and Adderall after she failed a biology test during her freshmen year in college.
“My brother suggested I take Concerta, (a time-released Ritalin),” Davis said.
Davis then learned how to get a Concerta prescription of her own.
“My brother coached me on what to say to the doctor,” said Davis.
Now Davis said she can run for six and a half miles on the treadmill and her appetite gets suppressed. She said she also becomes anxious and stressed after taking her pills.
On Oct. 2, after Davis exercised at the gym, she started to panic because she was afraid she did not have enough time to prepare for her oral Spanish exam. So Davis ran frantically back to her sorority to study.
“It’s like the equivalent to speed,” Davis said. “I can get really anxious and uptight, and I can feel out of control.”
Bentley said that the symptoms Davis experiences, like anxiety, hand tremors and a fast heartbeat, are evidence of the common side effects of Ritalin and Adderall abuse.
“(Davis) has got these side effects, and she doesn’t realize it’s affecting her central nervous system,” Bentley said. “Anytime you get a fine motor tremor, that means that a core part of the brain is being affected.”
Students’ abuse of Ritalin and Adderall may at first increase their focus and concentration but will eventually cause the adverse affect and make students become even less organized and focused than they were before using these drugs, Bentley said.
“(A student) may have the sense of just a lot of energy, and (they) can’t seem to muster enough energy to get through (one project),” Bentley said.
Other possible symptoms for Adderall and Ritalin include insomnia, moodiness and increased heart rate and blood pressure, Dutchak said. However, these side effects are usually not a cause for concern in young, healthy adults.
“Because they are amphetamines, they do have stimulatory properties,” Dutchak said. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was concerned about people who have some sort of cardiovascular problem and use amphetamines because they do make the heart race faster.”
The FDA placed Adderall and Ritalin in the second-highest class for medicines which indicates the highest degree of danger or risk associated with the drugs.
“These drugs belong to the most highly controlled class of medicines,” Dutchak said. “There’s the first class which would be all the drugs that are illegal in this country. Class two would be the legal ones that might be related to the illegal ones, but they have medical application.”
Adderall prescription labels contain a warning about its potential for abuse. It reads, “Taking amphetamines for long periods of time may lead to drug addiction. Particular attention should be paid to the possibility of people obtaining amphetamines for non-therapeutic use or distribution to others. Misuse of amphetamines may cause sudden death and serious cardiovascular adverse events.”
However, Dutchak said she does not believe Adderall and Ritalin lead to drug addictions and the side effects do not happen to everyone.
“An overdose of Ritalin or Adderall could put you in the hospital, and there could be withdrawals if (a student) was on an especially high dose,” Dutchak said. “But it’s not particularly common.”
Dutchak and Bentley both said that Ritalin and Adderall can be beneficial in treating ADHD if they are prescribed by a doctor. Any illegal use of these drugs is bound to cause problems no matter what the perceived benefit to a student’s study habits are.
“What rational person would say, ‘yeah, I think it’s OK to affect my central nervous system for the purpose of a better grade?'” Bentley asked.
Davis said she plans to continue using Concerta and Adderall to help her focus and get good grades throughout her college career.
“The horror stories of drug abuse are always in the back of my mind,” Davis said. “I’m not naturally smart, and I can’t absorb all the material like some students.”