With Adderall, One Size Doesn’t Fit All

No more lectures to sit through, no more tutorials to try and stay awake in, no more labs to wake up for—it’s done. But then a new type of stress and uncertainty begins: exam season. Trying to find time to do things you once found simple now appear as daunting tasks. During this time of trouble, people become desperate and unhealthy coping mechanisms come into play, like the use of Adderall to stay alert.  

Alan Cruz, a second-year medical science student at Western University diagnosed with ADHD at the age of eight, shares that students using ADHD medications such as Adderall to aid with studying is a very frequent thing in university, especially towards the end of a semester. In recent years, the use of Adderall as a ‘study drug’ has become more popular in university culture. A 2011 editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal estimated anywhere from 5 to 35 percent of Canadian post-secondary students had abused the medication.           

For Cruz, his medication has helped him remain focused enough to create good life habits for himself, but this hasn’t always been the case. For years, Cruz struggled with finding a prescription that fit with his body—starting the process can be trying. “I didn’t feel like myself—you feel almost like a zombie, very serious and focused. I had no interest in making friends.” The process to start a ‘specialized’ medication prescribed by your doctor takes time and is unique to everyone. Doctors start their patients on a low dosage and gradually increase it if necessary to watch how their body reacts with it and, most importantly, to ensure that the patient doesn’t overdose. Luckily, after trying multiple brands and various dosages of ADHD medication, Cruz and his doctor have been able to find a prescription that helps him focus without many side effects. But for somebody using ADHD medications such as Adderall without an ADHD diagnosis, this may not be the case.

There are many issues with using someone else’s prescription as no two bodies are alike. ADHD medication is a specialized prescription that is created to help a certain person, and the risks associated with taking this medication if you are not this person outweigh the possible benefits. When the stresses and pressures associated with exams kick in, students often do not consider the fact that using Adderall and other ADHD medication is not a one size fits all situation. Although Adderall can sometimes be viewed as a magic pill, there is no such thing. Taking the medication can enable students to focus and regulate their stress which is why some don’t think twice when reaching for the pill. However, many students seem to be unaware of the potential risks and side effects associated with stimulant use. “There are so many different types of ADHD medicine—they act differently in everyone’s body; everyone’s metabolism is different, and their body’s chemistry is also different,” Cruz shared, restating the fact that it’s almost impossible for someone to know how their body will react to this new substance that is being introduced.

It is unlikely that all students will stop using stimulants to help them cope with the high pressures of school. Therefore it is essential that those deciding to use the medication as a ‘study drug’ understand the risks associated with using someone else's prescription. Many side effects can occur when using stimulants such as Adderall, ranging from something as minor as dry mouth to something more serious such as seizures. The uncertainty that comes with taking a prescription that hasn’t been created for your body is one that will only add to the stress of exams. That is why students should try and develop good study habits throughout the year, in order to avoid the unpredictability of using Adderall.

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