According to the findings of a recent Orient survey, the people who have used Adderall at Bowdoin are mostly men who do not have a prescription for it, get it for free from fellow Bowdoin students, and use it more than 15 times a semester.
Thirty percent of Bowdoin students, or 519 people, responded to a survey conducted by the Orient about Adderall use at Bowdoin. The survey was advertised through e-mails, the student digest, and on Facebook. It did not require username authentication to complete.
Of the total respondents, 44 percent were male, and 56 percent were female. Responses were distributed approximately evenly among class years.
Of the 519 total people who responded, 17 percent, or 88 people, said that they have used Adderall, a prescription stimulant used to treat ADHD, narcolepsy and epilepsy among other conditions, while at Bowdoin. Nine percent of respondents said they had used Adderall before coming to Bowdoin, 11 percent said that they will use it this finals period.
Hitting the books
Of the people who reported using Adderall at Bowdoin, 88 percent said that they have used it to study and/or concentrate while only 28 percent said that they have used it for medical reasons. In the survey these two uses were not mutually exclusive and respondents had the option of checking both.
Students who use Adderall to study describe the level of concentration it gives them as extremely helpful in coping with course work.
"You don't lose focus. You don't get tired. You don't get hungry," said a senior male who will be referred to as Sam to protect his privacy. Sam is prescribed Adderall for a neurological condition, though he also uses it for academic purposes.
Of the students who reported that they have used Adderall at Bowdoin, 55 percent reported finding it "very effective," while 40 percent reported finding it "effective." Only one student of 88 said he or she found the drug "ineffective", and four of 88 said they found it "very ineffective."
A junior male, "Pete," who also preferred to remain anonymous, uses Adderall to study "about 7 to 8 times a semester," and echoed Sam's sentiments.
"It allows me to focus on nothing or care about nothing other than the work at hand," said Pete.
This effectiveness prompted Pete, who obtains Adderall from friends, to pursue a prescription of his own.
"I wanted to be the best student I could and after I saw that this medicine had a direct and positive effect on my work and my work ethic I decided to go and seek a prescription for it myself," said Pete.
"I went to the Counseling Center without requesting upfront that they give me Adderall," said Pete. "I just explained to them my symptoms and inability to concentrate." Pete was not given a prescription.
According to Director of Counseling Services Bernie Hershberger, the Counseling Center sees a rise in the number of students reporting that they struggle with symptoms that resemble those of ADHD as finals approach.
"More students may come into counseling because of procrastination problems toward the end of the semester," wrote Hershberger in an e-mail to the Orient. "We tend to diagnose more ADHD at the end of the semester, although, we do not always commence a medication regimen because of how close we are to Winter Break and the need for this medication to be closely monitored when it is first started."
When assessing whether a student may have ADHD, the Counseling Center looks to see if procrastination was a problem for them in elementary or middle school, in addition to neuropsychological evaluations in some cases.
"In addition to our psychiatrists, who are very experienced with ADHD assessments, we also have a psychiatrist in Brunswick who has a specialty in the evaluation and ADHD, and we sometimes refer to him as well," wrote Hershberger.
Students who are unable to obtain a prescription for Adderall often turn to their peers who do have prescriptions.
Distribution and access
"The people who are prescribed it are asked pretty often by their friends," said "Michael," a senior male who also requested anonymity.
The survey's findings support this perception of the peer demand for Adderall.
Of the 88 students who said that they have used Adderall at Bowdoin, 52 percent, or 46 students, reported that they obtain Adderall from a fellow Bowdoin student. Thirty-seven percent of respondents wrote that they have an Adderall prescription. Of those respondents, 34 percent have given or sold pills to other students.
Michael, who is prescribed 40 milligrams of Adderall for ADD, said that he is asked for pills most often during "hell week," or finals.
"During the midterm week and the final exam week I'm pretty much asked by 60 percent of my friends," said Michael.
Both Sam and Michael do not take Adderall every day as their prescriptions' directions indicate. This allows them to save extra pills that they can either take in excess or give to friends.
"I don't take it as regularly as I should, I don't take it every day, so I'll have excess," said Sam. "I like the stock. There are days when I'll take three pills in a day or four pills in a day and only by saving up, by not following the directions, can I do that."
People like Pete who are unable to get a prescription of their own rely on people who do have them and misuse them in the way Sam and Michael do.
"I get Adderall from maybe at least three different friends of mine," he said. "It isn't a money arrangement, I just ask and they're good-willed enough to give."
Sam and Michael sometimes encounter difficulty around exam periods when the demand for pills spikes.
"When it's getting close to finals and I realize I don't have as much as I thought, I just sort of put the brakes on the whole thing," said Michael.
"The stock" Sam described becomes particularly useful during exams when work piles up.
"Between now and the beginning of break I might go through a whole bottle—a month's worth—though it might be half of that," said Sam. "I hope it's half."
Both Sam and Michael said they give Adderall to their friends and Sam said he occasionally sells pills for five dollars a piece.
Though 41 percent of the people with prescriptions for Adderall said they have never been asked for pills, 48 percent of the people who said that they do not obtain Adderall through a prescription said that they get it for free.
"We have a serious policy about the dealing of drugs and if people are literally selling, dealing, making available prescription medication to other students or other people period, that is hugely problematic and a violation of our policy," said Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster.
"It is illegal to share or sell stimulant medication because it is a Class II controlled substance," wrote Hershberger.
Foster cited the College's Illegal Drug Policy, which states that people who are dealing drugs "will be asked to resign from Bowdoin College."
Of the people who said that they have taken Adderall at Bowdoin, 45 percent said that they have taken it recreationally or to party.
"If you take it when you drink—amazing," said Sam, who uses his Adderall to enhance his nights out. Although he said that he has not been going out much this semester, he used Adderall every time he went drinking over the summer and about "once every other weekend" last semester.
"It cures one of the biggest problems of being drunk and that is getting tired and lethargic by the end," he added. "If you have Adderall before you go out, you're not tired, you're still ready to go."
"Sometimes if I'm tired when I'm going out and I want to have a longer night I'll swallow half an Adderall while I'm drinking," said Michael.
"After everyone's going to sleep you'll want another dance party," said Sam.
For Sam, the effect of recreational Adderall use extends beyond giving him extra energy—it affects his whole outlook and sense of self.
"You feel like the man," said Sam. "You feel like wherever you are is the party of a lifetime and you should continue to help to make it be so."
According to Michael, Adderall is not a drug most people take by itself for a high, recreational use almost always involves its combination with alcohol.
"I think that's more common than you would think, people will do it and then just not speak about it while they're partying," said Michael, who pointed out that the lift Adderall gives is less conspicuous than that of other uppers like cocaine.
Socially, Adderall is a double-edged sword: it can cause hypersocial activity as well as provoke reclusive behavior.
"I kind of just like, shut myself up," said Michael.
Reclusive behavior is one of many effects that some prescribed users experience.
For Michael, the worst side effects are physical, including loss of appetite, severe "headaches after six hours and just feeling like s*** but not feeling tired."
He added that those who do not experience these effects use the drug inconsistently for occasional study sprees.
"If you're not prescribed Adderall you don't really get the downfalls of Adderall until you've used it consistently," said Michael. "The people who think it's the most amazing, cure-all thing aren't prescribed it."
According to Hershberger, "most people will get a 'hit' from a stimulant, but prolonged, repeated use over a day or two will cause negative consequences like jitters in the body, lack of concentration, difficulty sleeping, and possibly paranoid thinking."
For Sam, these side effects take on a romantic edge at times.
You become "sort of reminiscent of a tragic poet or scientist character: you're doing something great that is work but at the same time you're destroying your body and drifting off the face of the planet in terms of your interactions with others," he said. "At the danger of sounding pathetic, losing everything that people consider being a healthy member of society in a concentrated, individual effort is a bit heroic or noble."
Some students feel that those who take Adderall to study and without a medical reason are given an academic advantage.
One student wrote on the survey, "I think that students taking these drugs without prescription have an unfair advantage because not all students have access to them. Nevertheless, I wonder how many people would actually take them if they were available to everyone."
Another added, "I believe they get an advantage, but whether or not it is an 'unfair' advantage depends on the individual taking the medication."
Other students reported that although they believe students who use Adderall to study or write papers may be more efficient at completing those tasks, this signals their lack of preparation at other points during the semester.
"I've known very intelligent people on campus who use Adderall simply because they were not responsible enough to study for their test or write a paper ahead of time," wrote another student. "I find it unfair to students who did their work ahead of time. Some people argue that it's the same thing as drinking coffee, but if that were the case, then it wouldn't be classified as a prescription drug. The bottom line is that it's cheating."
Michael agreed that though Adderall and coffee may be used in the same situations, their effectiveness differs greatly.
"When I'm on Adderall I think I'm way more effective than a normal person drinking a cup of coffee," said Michael. In this way, he said that Adderall gives students who use it legally, with a prescription, an advantage as well.
Similarly, Sam said that "When I take two, three pills, or four, or even five, I'm functioning on a very different level than most Bowdoin students. A much higher level."
"I personally think a stimulant medication may provide anyone with a short term advantage," wrote Hershberger. But it may "set up a longer term problem of dependency as well as a belief that one can only function with this type of medication."
By Zoë Lescaze
December 11, 2009
The Bowdoin Orient