The target of prescription medications like Adderall is a serious mental illness known as attention deficient disorder (ADD). People with this particular mental illness feel sped up, distracted and unable to concentrate almost every single day of every single week. Not surprisingly, people who experience this face extra challenges as students. They may hop up out of their chairs, interrupt their teachers, and otherwise behave in ways that aren’t conducive to their learning or the learning of others. To them, Adderall can be a lifesaver, as it corrects the imbalances in their brains and allows them to really pay attention to the world around them.
But students who don’t have a chemical imbalance, and who don’t have ADD as a result, might also be interested in Adderall, and their reasons for using the drug might have a lot to do with stress and worries about academic performance.
Adderall and the Brain
Each dose of Adderall contains a form of amphetamine, which can boost a user’s feeling of attentiveness. For people with ADD, this is a welcome addition, as the medication allows them to eliminate the distraction that always follows them, so they can focus on one element at a time. But for people who don’t have ADD, Adderall also seems to provide a pleasant sensation, particularly if these users are students.
Hooked By Pleasant Sensations
People who take Adderall recreationally report that the drug provides them with a sense of:
In some cases, students report feeling smarter on Adderall, as though they’re aware of things they just didn’t know before. That’s an interesting idea, but according to research quoted by TIME, these students don’t actually have access to knowledge that had eluded them in the past. Instead, they just have an extra boost of confidence, as though they know something when they do not. This added boost of confidence is widely attributed to the chemical changes Adderall can bring.
In addition, a recreational user of amphetamines like Adderall interviewed in an article in The New York Times suggested that the drug provided a form of obsession. For this student, taking the drug meant delving deep into the research portion of a paper, falling in love with what the minutiae of the data meant, rather than actually writing the paper. For this student, taking the drug seems like an impediment to good learning, rather than a help.
The Role of Stress
So if Adderall doesn’t make students smarter and it doesn’t allow them to study more effectively, why do students pop the pills? Some research suggests that stress plays a role.
Students who want to go to elite colleges and universities are under enormous stress to do well in high school. Students interviewed for an article in the Baltimore Sun admit to participating in study groups and training sessions until midnight, and then studying for an hour or so more before heading to bed. These same students would wake up in the wee hours of the morning to cram in yet more study before the school day began, and they stuck to a similar schedule on the weekends.
If these students got into college, they’d face a similar amount of academic stress, particularly if they participate in classes that are graded on a curve. Here, they’re competing with other students in order to get a passing grade, and any kind of failure could make the whole endeavor seem pointless. In addition, a study from Inceptia suggests that some 74 percent of students are working during the school year, meaning they have even less time open for study.
All of this data seems to suggest that students are under enormous pressure to succeed in the classroom, and they’re driven to spend hours in study as a result. At the same time, these students have a severe set of demands upon their time from work, friends and family, so they don’t have enough hours in the day to do the work they think is necessary.
It’s easy to see why Adderall would seem like a miracle to these students. It can help them to stay awake, so they won’t be forced to deal with a pesky need for sleep, and it can give them a boost of euphoria and energy, so their lives don’t seem so stressful and hard to control. For these students, the drugs seem helpful, even though the drug may not help these students in the long run.
Signs of Abuse
The key way to spot a student abusing Adderall involves watching that student’s eating and sleeping behaviors. Students who seem capable of running for hours and hours at top speed without stopping to sleep or refuel might very well be leaning on drugs to enhance their performance. In addition, students who use Adderall may become addicted to the substance, and as a result, they might be consumed with the idea of getting more of the drug.
In time, they might choose to engage in all sorts of unhealthy behaviors in order to keep an addiction alive, including:
- Stealing drugs from others
- Stealing money
- Selling treasured possessions in order to buy drugs
- Visiting multiple doctors in order to get more drugs
It might be tempting to allow the abuse to continue until the student emerges from school, particularly if that student is doing well in class and doesn’t seem particularly impaired by the damage being done. However, amphetamines have been associated with all sorts of negative health problems. For example, amphetamine abuse puts a great deal of strain and stress on the heart, and it’s been associated with heart failure and death. The drug can also impair long-term mental health, and it can lead to depression and an enhanced risk of suicide.
If someone you love is abusing a drug like Adderall, you need to do something about that abuse right now. You could start the conversation by pointing out the signs of abuse you’ve seen, and then prompt the person to get the care that could lead to long-term cessation of any kind of drug use
If you’re unsure about what to say or how to get the conversation started, just call us. We’re happy to help. In fact, we can even help you to find a Foundations Recovery Network program that could help the person you love to overcome an addiction and live a life that’s free of any sort of drug use and abuse. We have professional facilities that provide inpatient care and outpatient care. We also have facilities located all across the country. Please call, and our admissions coordinators can tell you more.
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton