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Gromotka: Your brain on Adderall

BY ADAM GROMOTKA | NOVEMBER 18, 2013 5:00 AM

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How do you succeed in school? Do you work closely with professors? Use your planner? Form study groups? Buy pills from a friend of a friend that juice your brain into running an all-night, obsessive-compulsive study marathon in high-gear? While sarcastic, that last option is actually pretty common on college campuses. I’m talking, of course, about the illicit use of the prescription stimulant Adderall.

When used as prescribed, Adderall — and related prescriptions such as Ritalin — can help someone suffering with ADHD get through their day. For the user without a properly diagnosed medical condition, popping some Addy can increase focus during late-night study sessions … and increase the urge to clean the apartment, fix that thing that needs fixing, and count the threads in the carpet … for hours. It can also cause a slew of health problems ranging from increased blood pressure to paranoia, accompanied by a depressive crash. But as uncomfortable as the drug sounds, I can’t blame my fellow students for doing what it takes to get a competitive edge.

In a world of résumés, internships, entrance exams, and connections, Adderall makes perfect sense.

Well, for some people. I don’t mean to paint an image of residence-hall Dumpsters overflowing with empty prescription bottles, but it is a growing issue. Annually, the Student Health and Wellness Center conducts an anonymous survey of hundreds of students, asking about their health habits — including the illegal use of prescription drugs. This year’s batch of 930 participants confirms that more students are starting to turn to productivity in a pill, with a 40 percent increase in the illegal use of prescribed stimulants since 2009. According to the survey data, about one-fifth of students reported using illegal prescription stimulants last year.

If Adderall can create such discomfort through inappropriate use, why would so many people take it to help with school? If a student were to make a pros and cons list of Adderall use, what could possibly outweigh a list of negative points including hallucinations and an uncomfortably elevated heart rate?

The pressure to do college right.

“There’s a lot of pressures on kids to succeed … pressures to get good grades, stay on scholarships. It’s very individual,” said Christina Sowers, a substance-abuse counselor at Student Health. “Everything’s so fast-paced now compared with 20 or 30 years ago.”

We sat down to discuss her views of prescription stimulant use on campus. During the interview, she described college as a pressure cooker for students, and her analogy is pretty spot-on. Students should earn the best grades possible, gain pertinent work experience, and connect with companies looking to hire. Oh, and they should somehow pull this off as quickly as possible while maintaining a job to pay for their education and, by some miracle, keeping their sanity by way of casual social interaction. It’s a lot of roles for one person to play.

“If it’s available, if a friend has a prescription, people will turn to [Adderall] to help them out,” Sowers said. I can’t blame them.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for the illegal use of Adderall. I’ve never taken it, and I don’t plan on it. But with how much of a rat race college has become, I can see why someone would.  There’s a lot to do, and it has to be done as efficiently, quickly, and correctly as possible. We have to hyper-succeed, and destroying our bodies has become an acceptable means to such an end.


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