Adderall: The New Academic Performance Enhancer

Maya Sherne, Breaking News Editor

In 2012, a national study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services revealed that 20.7 percent of students reported taking a prescription drug (Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Codeine, Adderall, Ritalin or Xanax) without a doctor’s prescription.  Most commonly, drugs abused by teenagers are either opioids, drugs that suppress your perception of pain, or stimulants, drugs used in managing attention span, impulsive behavior and hyperactivity.

“It doesn’t surprise me that one in five students take Adderall. Miramonte is an extremely academically competitive community and you need an edge to get on top,” a junior girl, and non-prescribed Adderall user, said.  “I’m almost somewhat surprised that those numbers aren’t higher.”

Both drugs are extremely effective when used as prescribed by a doctor; but recent horrifying events, including the deaths of teenagers with an Adderall dependency, show the negative effects of abusing these stimulants for academics.

“Any percentage of usage of any type of psychoactive drug is cause for concern,” Associate Principal Michael McAlister said.

According to the Food and Drug Association, Adderall is a prescription medication that stimulates the central nervous system.

However, for those who do not need the drug, Adderall acts as a powerful stimulant.  Students use the drug to stay alert for an all-nighter, to increase energy for an extended party, or even to get an energy boost for an athlete looking to gain an edge.

“The appeal is simple: take Adderall and be able to study harder and perform better than you ever could have without it,” the junior girl said.

Adderall has a calming effect when used to treat ADHD; it balances out the neurotransmitters in your brain, essentially rebalancing your brain’s chemicals.

Junior Steven Shepard is a Miramonte student with ADHD.  When he doesn’t take his medication, “I’m a lot more tired, and I just can’t focus on anything,” Shepard said.  “It’s hard for me to make it through the day.”

Medications like Adderall can improve the lives of children and others with attention disorders.

But the zombie-like focus the medicine provides has led to growing numbers of teenagers and young adults who illegally purchase, or fake symptoms in order to obtain Adderall.

“If a student is taking Adderall and it is not prescribed but rather illegally obtained, there are several issues.  First of all, it’s illegal.  The individual also may not have correct information about the physiological, psychological and emotional effects,” pediatrician and ADHD specialist Marianna Eraklis said.  “Also, the dose needs to be determined by a physician.”

The danger of Adderall lies in the risk of dependencey and the rarely considered effect of the drug on those that have unknown preexisting medical problems.

“It’s definitely concerning that kids can purchase or share Adderall without a prescription,” Eraklis said.  “It is prevalent all across America in high school and college.”

Adderall is among the group of legally approved drugs to have the highest potential for abuse and dependency.

“Abuse of Adderall is troubling because it can disturb normal sleep/wake cycles and mood,” Eraklis said.  “If it is taken recreationally, that is a red flag for serious drug abuse in any individual; taken for studying is disturbing as an ethical issue.”

A 2009 study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that college students who used Adderall were eight times more likely to experiment with other non-prescribed drugs.

“If it’s not prescribed, and they’re using it, this is a use of drugs on campus.  I don’t care if it’s so they can get a better grade, it’s not okay,” McAlister said.  “This is not the kind of behavior or practice we want to endorse or turn a blind eye to.”

Surprisingly, Adderall is not just appealing for academic purposes.  Students report taking Adderall for athletic reasons as well.

“I take it a lot for sports training too because it makes me feel like I have more strength, stamina, speed and drive to work harder,” the junior girl said.

Adderall is illegal without a prescription, and is banned by the NFL, MLB, NBA and the NCAA because it is seen as a performance enhancing agent.

“Adderall can enhance athletic performance with increased focus and mental processing,” Eraklis said.  “It does increase heart rate and blood pressure and combined with vigorous exercise, it can make you feel ‘wired’ and shaky and nauseated.”

The side effects of Adderall include loss of appetite, weight loss, dry mouth, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache, diarrhea, fever, nervousness, trouble sleeping and dependency.  The side effects are unpredictable because the drug works in response to each individual’s unique body chemistry.

“Taking Adderall ‘round the clock’ will deplete energy, disturb sleep and interfere with your memory and cognitive function,” Eraklis said.  “It can backfire as a study drug.”

Adderall’s long-term effects are relatively unknown in the medical community, but amphetamines, in larger doses, are linked to addiction; and since many students explain using Adderall for studying and homework completion, the risk of dependency is high.

“During finals/dead week I take it about two-four times a day,” the junior girl said.  “But now without finals I take it three-four times a week.

“I think every kid in this community feels pressure to succeed,” McAlister said.  “And anything that can help them get a leg up on that process can help them feel, at least temporarily, like they can get out from under that weight, when in fact, typically, I can only imagine that that would make things worse.”