THE NEW CAFFEINE
Prescription Drug Adderall Is All The Rage On College Campuses
Editor's note: To protect the identities of interviewees who used or
sold Adderall illegally, only their first names have been printed.
Henry, an Emory University undergrad, couldn't stay awake. A quick
learner, he always put off studying until the last minute. As tests
loomed closer, he'd pull all-nighters. But copious cups of coffee
didn't do the job to help him cram. His eyes eventually fluttered over
his books, and he frequently nodded off.
Henry's solution came freshman year in the form of a pill called
Adderall. Prescribed to his roommate for attention
deficit/hyperactivity disorder, the drug kept Henry alert and zipping
through his notes for hours.
Soon he was hooked.
Now a senior, Henry says Adderall has guided him through dozens of
all-night study sessions over the past four years. "My mind focuses on
the work," he says, "and my concentration is incredible."
Like Henry, Georgia Tech graduate student Gordon says he takes
Adderall every once in awhile to buckle down and "crank out an A."
Jayme, a recent Georgia Tech grad, says the now-ubiquitous drug worked
wonders throughout her college career.
"It's so great, I can find it anywhere," she says. "Through sorority
sisters, people in class, wherever. It's worth paying for, to stay
awake for 30 hours and know I'll get a good grade."
Henry, Gordon and Jayme are part of a growing trend among college
students, an estimated one in five who pop Adderall without a
prescription, according to a 2002 Johns Hopkins study. Many students
don't consider their use of Adderall to be abusive because it helps
them perform well in school. Henry claims he's seen people pop pills
in the middle of class -- if you didn't know better you might mistake
it for Advil or birth control.
But Adderall, an amphetamine approved by the Food and Drug
Administration in 1996 to treat attention disorders, can have serious
side effects, including heart failure, seizures and strokes --
especially when mixed with alcohol or other drugs. After all, it's
What's more, college counselors aren't always attuned to the presence
on campus of prescription pills, which, for the most part, wreak less
havoc than -- and don't carry the same stigma as -- illegal drugs like
heroin or cocaine.
"We see more students that abuse alcohol, marijuana and crystal meth,"
says Virginia Bell-Pringle, a Georgia State University assistant
clinical professor and the school's coordinator of alc
ohol and drug
But, according to some, Adderall is just as seductive as those other
drugs -- though for a different reason.
During his second semester at Emory, Henry says he quickly upped his
dose from 10 milligrams to 20. Over the summer, which he spent at his
parents' house, Henry went to see his physician and said he was having
trouble focusing. He claims he mentioned he tried Adderall and that it
worked. Within minutes, Henry had his own prescription for 20
Back at Emory, he found he had pills to spare and noticed that people
on campus were clamoring for them -- and were willing to cough up
cash. Henry says he started selling the pills for $5 a pop; when
finals came around, they went for $10.
While at Tech, Jayme says she took Adderall, on average, four times a
week. "It helped me sit still for about six hours, which is quite
remarkable," she says. "I could write a paper quicker than usual,
because all my thoughts seemed collected rather than scattered
After a few months, a single pill wasn't working as well, so she upped
her dose. She says she took Adderall every day for four months while
studying for the LSAT. During the height of her use, she averaged 60
milligrams in a 12- to 24-hour period. That's the amount prescribed to
patients with severe narcolepsy, according to Health Square, a
consumers' health information website. If a person who's never
ingested Adderall took that much, he or she could experience
hallucinations, abdominal pain or heart failure, the website warns.
During her sophomore year, Jayme mixed Adderall with Ritalin, another
amphetamine prescribed for attention disorders. She says she suffered
an acute panic attack, sending her to the emergency room. Doctors
attributed the attack to her repeated use of Adderall when she didn't
medically need it. Still, she kept taking the drug.
Stephen Holtzman, an Emory professor of pharmacology, points out that
in addition to increasing heart rate, blood pressure and body
temperature (and, in some cases, causing strokes or heart attacks),
Adderall's side effects include insomnia, depression, loss of
appetite, digestive problems and, for 10 percent to 12 percent of
those who try it, addiction.
"Although the amount of Adderall produced is nationally controlled,"
Holtzman says, "it's very easy for it to be abused and for people to
What's more, some students Creative Loafing interviewed said they
frequently take Adderall during long nights of partying, allowing them
to stay up into the wee hours. The toxicology of the drug, Holtzman
says, is greatly increased when mixed with booze.
Emory senior Lindsay is one student who tried Adderall and didn't like
it. Her first and only experience with the drug turned her off
immediately. She began trembling after her boyfriend gave her Adderall
to cram for a test. "I couldn't stop shaking, and I threw up several
times," she says. "When I finally did try to sleep, I couldn't. I
tossed and turned, and it was miserable."
She says she swore off Adderall -- due partly to the fact that, unlike
Henry, Gordon and Jayme, it didn't help her grades. "I didn't do well
on my test the next day," she says, "because I was too busy hanging
over the toilet."
But those whom Adderall keeps focused see the positives as outweighing
the negatives. "A final in a class might be worth 40 percent of my
grade," Henry says. "I've got to take Adderall to study for it and ace