The use of performance-enhancing drugs is a new trend on college campuses
Most college students are familiar with the pressure to succeed when exams approach. Also familiar are the lengths students will go to for success, such as all-night study sessions. But some students feel so pressured that they resort to other means to help them succeed: drugs.
According to an article in the weekly science journal, Nature, as many as 25 percent of students have used prescription drugs. The American College Health Association has found that the non-medical use of prescription drugs is the second most common form of illegal drug use in the college population after marijuana.
Adderall, or "Addy" as it is known on some campuses, is the most popular of these drugs. It is a stimulant and an amphetamine, which is a class of drugs that increases the levels of norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine in the brain. It causes an increased flow of neurotransmitters, which intensifies one’s ability to concentrate, allowing them to focus for extended periods of time.
Though marketed to treat those diagnosed with ADD, ADHD and narcolepsy, every year Adderall slips into the hands of many college students and high school over-achievers aiming to ace exams, finish projects and get that ‘A’.
The drug is usually obtained through a friend with a prescription and sometimes, directly from a doctor. A regular dose of Adderall can last anywhere from four to six hours.
It is potentially addictive and carries an FDA "black box" warning label, which states that the drug poses a significant risk of serious or even life-threatening adverse effects.
However, these warnings have not stopped students from using the drug in times of stress and high pressure.
Several Baruch students, whose names have been changed for this article, have used Adderall before and more than half of the interviewed students said that they would use it again, even though some say it is addictive.
Except for one student who was prescribed Adderall by a doctor, everyone interviewed had taken the drug from a friend or from a friend’s prescription.
"It made me focused and I would say that the job I got working for Ridley Scott was due to my use of Adderall," said John Smith, a 21-year-old senior who was prescribed Adderall for an ADD diagnosis. The effects of the drug were unpleasant. "When I came down, I was miserable," he said. "I also lost about 20 pounds."
Smith did not feel that Adderall was addictive, and said that he made a conscious decision to stop using the drug. "I would use it again, but not regularly," he said.
Another user decided to try it because of her inability to concentrate "I focus and I study for a long period of time. I get a lot of work done," said Tonya Walker, explaining what this drug did for her. Walker did, however, experience severe headaches.
Adderall helped John Williams get an A on his midterm last year, while the drug suppressed Jennifer Martin’s appetite.
Maya Adams experienced a blissful and calming effect that helped her finish assignments quickly and within short deadlines. But with all the productivity that Adderall induces, some Baruch students are literally and figuratively still not buying it.
"They should try to find a way to alter their lifestyle so they don’t have to take these drugs," said Dat Mai, a junior and a biology major who sticks to energy drinks for his boost. "Either drop a few things or get used to the hard work."
"I personally, definitely don’t think it’s worth it, especially given the dependence forming nature of most of these drugs," said Zayed Khan, a senior majoring in finance and investments.
Others see nothing wrong with using Adderall to improve performance. Many researchers and professors use Adderall to boost their own abilities and, in the same article published in Nature last December, some suggested that medications like Adderall should be made widely available to people who merely want to sharpen their minds or improve their performance.
The use of cognitive-enhancing drugs, the researchers argue, should be viewed in the same general category as education, good healthy habits and information technology — ways that our uniquely innovative species tries to improve itself. They say medications are as helpful as getting adequate nutrition, having a regular sleeping pattern or hiring a tutor.
"Given the many cognitive enhancing tools we accept already, such as going from writing to laptop computers, why draw the line and say, thus far but no further?" ask the authors of the article.
Professor Edyta Greer, an organic chemist at Baruch, disagrees and says that the risks Adderall poses to one’s nervous system seems too high a price to pay for the temporary improvement in performance.
"It is great feeling that you can achieve a lot and overcome your problems … If people think they can perform better with drugs, it doesn’t mean that it should be approved," Greer said. "In my opinion, this trend suggests that students experience a lot of stress and sadly lack confidence in their own capabilities."
By Lisa Fraser
March 9, 2009