College can be quite the adventure for a student. Many people describe their college period as the best time of their lives. But what makes it the best time? Certainly not the never-ending homework. More likely, it is the social part; making new friends, trying new things, and figuring out whom they really are. The extra-curricular aspect can be time consuming. However, when it comes down to it, homework has to become the number one priority. This requires the students to manage their time to fit it both their academic requirements and their social lives. Now days, college student have found somewhat of a cheat as to cutting down homework time and studying for test with a “smart drug”. Having a little bit of help can allow them a better shot at balancing everything. Given to those who are diagnosed with ADHD, Adderall has become one of the most popular drugs in college, but just how safe is it? This essay is going to prove that Adderall can be affective for those who need it, but is still dangerous if not used properly.
Attention deficit hyperactive disorder is a neurologically based behavioral disorder that afflicts children and adults alike. Characterized by inability to pay attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive actions, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, or ADHD for short, this disorder has become a popular diagnosis for students who claim that they are unable to concentrate or focus on their studies (2). Individuals of all ages have been diagnosed with ADHA due to having symptoms that prevent them from being able to give the necessary attention to their learning. This is even a popular prescription in case where individuals find themselves unable to sit still for an extended period of time. Much research has been done in recent years regarding ADHD, its neurological basis in the brain, and how to treat it effectively (1). Many prescription drugs have been released onto the market that effectively target the levels of certain hormones that in turn enable one to counteract the symptoms of ADHD (3). These drugs have become a regular household name and it seems they are the most common solution for this disorder.
Television shows and other media has spread the hype of using ADHD medicine like Adderall. They portray not just the person that actually needs it, but others who use it to enhance alternative functions. In some cases they show the potential down falls like crashing when it wears off and becoming dependent upon it on a regular basis. Regardless of the reason, it is drawing attention to the potential help and harm that is associated with it. People are growing familiar with the problem of ADHD and the medication that is used to resolve it. This also could give college students the idea of using this type of medication as a “smart drug” or for a quick high. It also should provide some type of warning for the dangers associated with its growing popularity. This is a growing solution for college kids and the potential issues associated needs to be considered thoroughly.
Drugs such as Adderall, which were developed solely for those properly diagnosed with the disorder, are beginning to be used recreationally by those whom admit to not having ADHD, but either find that they perform better with its aid or simply enjoy the high of the prescription drug (4). The high can be considered to be less dangerous than other narcotics, but there is still a potential for crashing hard at the end of the high. Another consideration is that the drug created to help with the learning process can in fact be hindering it. Depending on drugs to be successful in education is not the way college students should be getting their education. What does this mean for college students? Is recreational use of this drug dangerous physically? Mentally? Does the use of Adderall by those not diagnosed with pose the threat of an addiction? Is an addiction to a drug that seems to make you more efficient a bad thing? These are all valid concerns that need to be addressed to truly know the potential damage or harm associated with Adderall and other similar drugs.
To begin to answer these questions and more, one must understand a few of the basics of the neurobiology behind the disorder ADHD and the science behind drugs that treat it. Like many neurologically based disorders, scientists are not 100% sure of all of the complicated functions that play a role. They have a very good generalization, but there is still room for additional studies to certify the cause and effect. However, by using state of the art brain imaging techniques, several studies have deduced that brains afflicted with ADHD malfunction in the frontal cortex. The frontal cortex is involved with primarily executive functions like reasoning, planning, focusing, and problem solving. It is in this part of the brain that dopamine, an important neurotransmitter, has been found to be deficient. Without proper concentrations of dopamine in the frontal cortex, these executive functions suffer (5). This creates a need for individuals with ADHD to have a means to replace the lack of dopamine in the front cortex.
To treat this disorder, prescription drugs like Adderall may be prescribed to patients. Adderall is a cocktail of several active ingredients that include amphetamine salts, an active ingredient in many ADHD medications. These amphetamines are thought to treat ADHD by blocking the reuptake of dopamine from the neural synapses and increasing the uptake into subsequent neurons. The increased dopamine flow in the frontal cortex then allows the brain to carry on its executive functions as a normal brain would, thus counteracting the effects of ADHD (6). This is exactly what individuals with ADHD need in order to function in the same manner that others without it do. But what happens when a brain whose executive functions work properly is treated with such a powerful stimulant?
The answer to this question lies in the 1 in 5 college students that admit to using this drug and not having ADHD (7). Why? Athletes have steroids, depressives have “happy-pills”, and those who wish to do it all, and do it fast, have Adderall. A person with a perfectly normal, functioning frontal cortex and dopamine levels will experience a heightened sense of motivation, focus, and concentration. Presumably this is the perfect mood to pull all-nighters, read hundreds of pages at a time, and write pages and pages of that final paper (8). “I didn’t feel like I was becoming smarter or even like I was thinking more clearly. I just felt more directed, less distracted by rogue thoughts, less day-dreamy…I felt like I was clearing away underbrush that had been obscuring my true capabilities.”(7) Other students have claimed that is works better than caffeine, allowing them more hours in the day to keep up with their demanding schedules. Before performing his experiment, Keeler discussed his decision with psychiatrists who informed him, to his surprise, that when taken in small doses, irregularly, with or without a prescription, Adderall is most likely harmless. Other scientists beg to differ, and it is these accounts that are of particular interest.
The general consensus is that stimulant amphetamines like Adderall do indeed increase performance in those that do and do not have properly diagnosed ADHD. The promise of a better GPA with less effort is promise enough for college students across the board to obtain Adderall by any means necessary. Sharing their personal success with other students can also increase the usage and demand. This requires the student to find a way to get this miracle drug. Many students admit to actually seeing doctors and purposefully exaggerating symptoms of ADHD to acquire medication. It is readily available to purchase on the street or internet without a prescription for a much higher price. Others simply pop a generously donated pill from their pals. The danger lies in the possibility of dependence and the rarely considered effect of the drug on those that have preexisting medical problems that can deteriorate with prolonged use.
Since many students assert that they use Adderall only for studying for large tests and completing important assignments, the risk of dependency is high. “I don’t think I’m addicted…..I just can’t imagine not taking it (8),” says student Susan. Says student Steve: “I attend a major university….I take two pills when I have a ton of work to do….Without Adderall I failed one class….I began to take Adderall again and saw a huge improvement (9).” This clearly shows the potential for dependency and the false security of success by associate their personal performance to Adderall. This is a habit that could potentially carry on outside of the college environment. Long work days, family responsibilities, and deadlines could create a need for continued use of Adderall as well. The long term effects of using Adderall in this manner are relatively unknown, however it is well known that those that use amphetamines in larger doses by snorting or inhaling can very well be diagnosed with addiction. Just one example of an amphetamine of this nature is speed (10). Clearly, as with any drug, there are potential side effects and dependencies that can occur. That is why with more prescriptions doctors monitor the usage. Getting the medication alternatively takes the physicians involvement out of the equation.
Other side effects of this drug include being irritable while under the influence and feeling as though one’s creativity has been stifled in the name of creating order out of disorder and doing the one task at hand. It is easy to get overwhelmed when one if faced with a mountain of work, now alter the stress with medication and that can be a recipe for disaster. The mountain of responsibilities can be affected by the ability for one to think outside of the box. Much of the college requirements demand a certain amount of creativity and thinking outside of the box. Many courses do not have cookie cutter expectation in their classroom requirements. “These medications allow you to be more structured and more rigid. That’s the opposite of the impulsivity of creativity,” says Dr. Heiligenstein of the University of Wisconsin (7). Much of the college responsibility requires some form or structure or creativity. Not being able to utilize these functions could add to the irritability. Is this just a small price to pay for an “A?” Can one sacrifice their creativity for a few hours in the name of passing Chemistry?
There is even more to this issue than menacing side effects, however. What is it about academics today that have students popping pills to succeed? And is it fair? Athletes that use steroids are kicked off their sports teams because they are assumed to have an unfair advantage—so isn’t this the same general principle? Many students, especially those that actually suffer from ADHD reply “Yes.” “It’s the kind of medication that can help anyone,” says ADHD afflicted student Josie, “For people with ADD, it just makes them normal, and for people without ADD, it makes them above average. If both me and someone without ADD were both on Adderall, I could never outdo them (8).” Drugs in college creates an uneven playing field. Like steroids in athletes give the advantage to the ones who are using the drugs, Adderall and other ADHD and ADD medication can provide the advantage only for those who do not suffer from the disease. It can give one student a much better advantage over the other, and this can almost be seen as cheating.
Determining if unprescribed Adderall should be allowed in college is a very valid one. But perhaps a bigger question in this entire equation is what is creating the need for the college student to need to resort to such methods to find their success? Social life is a large factor in the college experience and keeping up with the latest parties, sports, and other activities takes a lot of time. Then the student has to attend class and spend hours at night completely the requirements for that class as well. Without an adequate balance, the college student will be pushed into finding an alternative means to sustain their busy schedules. Reverting to alternative drugs can prove to have a detrimental effect. Not only in college but in life. There will never be enough hours in the day, so learning to juggle a busy schedule is a part of the learning process as well. Knowing the long-term risks associate with cheat-drugs like Adderall could prevent this from being such a commonly used alternative for college students and adults alike.
So, as a stressed out college student striving to succeed in school and boost my GPA, I sit here wondering how much faster and more efficiently I could have written this paper had I been taking Adderall. Am I missing something that others are getting an advantage from? A nagging suspicion tells me that yes, maybe I would have finished before 2 am. Maybe I would have stopping pausing to check my e-mail and Facebook. But my gut tells me that this is the wrong thing to do. Not being afflicted with ADHD, I do not have a good reason to take a pill to succeed other than to counteract my own inability to “get down to business”, as they say. My motivation for writing this paper was to find out whether or not unprescribed use of Adderall was dangerous. It appears that though it is not. The risk of dependency, however, is real, and can be seen in those students that can no longer finish assignments without the help of this drug.
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