Ashley* was just a freshman at the University of New Hampshire when she discovered Adderall. She had never heard of the drug before college, but a handful of her newfound friends routinely purchased Adderall pills from friends who had prescriptions. “They told me it was the best study drug, and that it helped keep you awake and focused on your work,” Ashley recalls. One night, when she had a 10 page paper to write, Ashley took her friends’ advice and bought one of these magic study pills to help her concentrate. The pill worked wonders, and soon, Ashley began taking them regularly – even to help her complete menial tasks.
Ashley realized that not only did Adderall help her complete assignments, but it also had one other major use: it helped her lose weight. “I noticed that any time I took Adderall, I just wouldn’t be hungry,” Ashley says. “I could go a full day without putting any food in my body, and I still felt energized.”
Today, as a junior in college, Ashley still takes Adderall regularly, without a prescription; and nowadays, her affinity for Adderall isn’t all about her grades. “Seriously, it’s great, because it basically combats all the beer and junk food I drink on the weekends,” she says.
Many college students nationwide are following suit with Ashley and taking Adderall as a dietary supplement. But while Ashley and many other college students see no harm in it, taking any drug without a prescription is a problem, and Adderrall certainly has its own set of dangerous side effects, especially when used as a weight loss aid.
What is Adderall?
Adderall is an amphetamine stimulant that is prescribed to people who have ADHD (Attention Deficity Hyperactivity Disorder), ADD, or narcolepsy, and is intended to increase alertness, concentration, and overall cognitive performance in those who have the disorders. The drug is also prescribed off-label to people who suffer from depression or are obese when no other drugs will work.
While the drug is extremely prevalent on college campuses, it’s regarded as a schedule II drug, which means that it has a high potential for abuse and addiction. Still, many college students have no problem taking these pills without a prescription. In fact, according to a study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, full-time college students between the ages of 18 and 22 are twice as likely as their non full-time college students counterparts to have used Adderall for non-medical purposes within the last year.
For some college students, buying pills from students who have prescriptions becomes too much of a hassle, so they turn to other means of acquiring Adderall. “In my experience treating students, many times, students without ADHD will mimic symptoms, or say that they’ve had symptoms for a whole bunch of reasons,” says Dr. Kimberly Dennis, Medical Director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center. “They want Adderall for abusing the substance, losing weight, or for the academic edge.”
Many students believe that people with ADHD have an unfair advantage over those who don’t have the disorder, because those students are allowed to take the “miracle study drug.” In reality, however, the drug has different effects on those who are prescribed and those who are not. “The drug is used for people to give them more focus, more energy, and the drug actually calms down people who have ADD,” says Dr. David Kipper, author of The Addiction Solution: The New Paradigm in the Medical Treatment of Addiction. “For someone who doesn’t have ADD, the drug acts as a stimulant much like cocaine. Their libido goes up and the appetite goes down.”
Most students who abuse Adderall don’t know this, however, and continue to take it as a study drug to help them perform better. The “academic edge” might be the initial motivator for taking the drug, but once students like Ashley realize they are losing weight because of Adderall’s hunger suppressant capabilities, they become dependent on it for a whole new reason.
How Does Adderall Help You Lose Weight?
Since Adderall is a stimulant, when taken, it increases your metabolism and suppresses your appetite, says Dr. Dennis. The drug is much stronger and more potent than caffeine, so the effects on your metabolism and appetite are monumental. “Adderall is just like some of the old diet pills that have been taken off the market,” Dr. Dennis says.
Dr. Kipper offers a more scientific explanation for how Adderall helps you lose weight. “The drug produces more dopamine in the brain, which is the neurotransmitter that suppresses appetite,” he says. “It keeps the dopamine from being recycled and metabolized away.” Whenever we do something that is pleasurable, our mesolimbic reward system in the brain secretes dopamine as well. This means that we connect taking Adderall with a feeling of pleasure, and can lead to the addiction.