By Jen Maldonado
Finals week is the time of the year that drives students to extreme measures to make sure they stay focused, and with this need to succeed comes the misuse of Adderall, commonly known as a “smart drug.”
Recent research on Adderall usage in college populations shows that between 7 percent and 25 percent of college students report that they have used the drug as a study aid in the past year. Most studies show that college students ages 18 to 22 are twice as likely to abuse Adderall than non-students from the same age group, according to Dr. Lawrence Tonetti, a substance abuse prevention specialist at Rider.
“I’ve used prescription Adderall to help me stay awake longer so I could study for all the finals I have,” said a junior Rider student. “I personally don’t have a medical reason to take Adderall, but with my two jobs, sport and clubs, it becomes really difficult to fit in time for the studying that needs to get done during the last weeks of the semester.”
Adderall is a combination of two drugs, dextroamphetamine and amphetamine, which are psychostimulants that alter brain chemistry to ease functioning, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. It is often prescribed to those who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD).
The drug can make people experience feelings of paranoia, restlessness and agitation, and can cause depression, weight loss, insomnia and rapid heartbeat, among other health risks. Perhaps the biggest problem with Adderall for most people is that it can be habit-forming and can thus lead to addiction, according to Tonetti.
Tonetti believes students turn to Adderall as “a quick fix to help them cram” because they don’t think they have any other options as the stress that comes with finals builds up.
“I think students get desperate,” he said. “In the past, people would choose to cut some things out of their schedule and make choices about how many things they were taking on. But now young people, I believe, are more likely to feel like either they can, or perhaps should, be able to do it all.”
A senior male Rider student said he doesn’t use Adderall to prepare for exams, but has turned to it in times when he had to complete 20-page papers, assignments that required a lot of time and attention.
“I’ve only taken Adderall twice, when writing long papers to help me focus and not get distracted,” he said. “I used it in those certain scenarios because [when] trying to sit down for long hours at a time conducting research, and I needed help focusing so I could get the work done in a reasonable amount of time.”
Not only do students take Adderall during times of high stress, but some students take it recreationally.
“I used to just use it for recreation or during finals,” said a female sophomore at Rider. “I was able to get a prescription from my doctor so now I take it every weekday. It narrows my focus and gives me energy to stay up and study.”
Tonetti feels that if students were aware of the dangers misusing Adderall has, they might turn to healthier alternatives, including learning how to better manage their time and not waiting until the last minute to begin studying.
“I would recommend for students to pace themselves,” he said. “Procrastinating and cramming are the biggest things that lead to the use of stimulants.”
Some students, however, are oblivious to the dangers misusing Adderall can have.
“Honestly, I have not thought about the potential risks of taking it without a prescription,” the male senior student said. “I wasn’t aware there were any.”
Additional reporting by Jess Scanlon.