Adderall: Hero or Villain?

For many college freshmen, transitioning from high school can be pretty difficult, what with taking in a whole new living environment, share of faces and dreadful responsibilities. What was once a breezy senior year workload of movies and skipped classes is now a catastrophic pile of torturous exams and protruding deadlines.  So, how is an already lost and stressed out soul supposed to navigate through those all-nighters at the library?

Well, let’s just say there is a reason why the cafeteria always seems to be out of the strongest level of coffee available.  However, in an increasing trend in colleges across the nation, striking numbers of students desire a different pick-me-up fix.  This drug of choice is proven to have stronger and longer-lasting effects than caffeine.  Adderall.

Adderall is a prescription stimulant made up of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine.  It is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults and children and, in some cases, narcolepsy.  The drug works by targeting your central nervous system and gradually increasing the levels of dopamine, the “pleasure” neurotransmitter in your brain.

For somebody diagnosed with ADHD, Adderall will help to increase attention span and alertness levels and help relax the body and mind.  However, for a person who is not diagnosed with ADHD, the side effects are heightened alertness and restlessness, feelings of euphoria or a “high”, and increased focus.  These side effects feel similar to those seen in other stimulants, such as caffeine or cocaine.

According to psychological research studies, about one in five college students will use Adderall or drugs similar to it illegally, or without a prescription, for studying purposes.  Despite the research-supported idea that stimulant drugs tend to lower a student’s GPA in college, a rapidly growing number of students are turning to Adderall for their perfect study session.  In particular, many demand study drugs for those all-nighters so they have enough awareness and focus to finish all of their work in time for morning classes.  Students swear by it, but they don’t know the effects it will have on their bodies if they take it without the proper diagnoses.

Sure, the myth of a boosted performance may sound very tempting to the overwhelmed college student who feels there are not enough hours in the day.  But unfortunately, many of them do not consider the negative side effects and major health risks that are associated with taking illegal prescription drugs.  Of the many problems seen, the most common is the possibility of addiction.

One student, Maria* (name changed to protect identity), said she never had to study in high school and received a major shock when she came to college and had to learn to do so.  With only a tunneled vision of the impending stress that comes with weekly exams and assignments, she was not able to concentrate enough to begin the work ahead of her.

“I built up such a tolerance to caffeine, where I went from having four cups of coffee a day to maybe eight or so,” Maria said, “Still, it didn’t work and I just needed something stronger to get me through the load.”

Addiction comes easily with stimulants because the increase of dopamine floods the brain of “good” feelings and forces you to want to keep taking whatever it is that produces these emotions.  Therefore, when you build a tolerance to the drug and want or need to continue to have such high levels of dopamine, withdrawal triggers unpleasant waves of fatigue or depression.

Another major symptom of Adderall usage is suppression of appetite, which may also lead to abuse if somebody uses it for weight loss purposes.  When taking the drug, students report not feeling hungry all day but still force themselves to eat at appropriate times to provide their body with nutrients they may be missing out on.  In some scenarios, malnutrition can take place if you forget to eat and don’t nourish your body properly.

Adderall’s effects could lead to many health complications if you’re taking it without treating the condition it’s made for.  If you take the medication later in the day, you may be setting yourself up for future sleep problems because you won’t be able to fall asleep at a decent hour while on the drug.  Negative side effects also include nausea and stomach pains, mood swings, agitation and anxiety, and headaches or dizziness.  It could also send your blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and paranoia levels soaring.

While it is almost impossible to prevent the spread of an underground supply and demand system, the smartest thing college students can do is educate themselves on the dangers, not just the benefits, of taking Adderall or any drug not prescribed for them.  The complications and risks to your body and health will always outweigh the possibility of landing an A+.

Sources:

http://www.drugs.com/adderall.html

http://www.everydayhealth.com/drugs/adderall

http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/stimulant-adhd-medications-methylphenidate-amphetamines

http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/05/02/is-taking-adderall-to-boost-college-brain-performance-cheating/

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