Supplements for studying may do more harm than good

Kyle Roerink

Students who choose to use Adderall for studying face adverse side effects

Adderall has become a common drug for students around finals time. The drug is a once-daily medication for the treatment of ADHD and ADD. Photo illustration by Rachel Kilroy | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Editor’s note: All students interviewed for this story as Adderall users are identified by their first names only, for privacy reasons.

During finals week, papers, exams and final projects can pile up, causing many late nights. When the late nights get to be too much, some students see only one solution: Adderall.

Allie, a sophomore at Kent State, said she snorts the drug, made up of mixed salts amphetamine, to study for hard tests. She doesn’t have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or a prescription for the drug.

She said she started taking it in high school because a lot of students were using it. She has not always used it just to study though.

“In high school one night I snorted nine 10-milligram capsules,” she said. “Throughout the night I felt fine, but once you see the sun rising, the good feeling starts to go away. I went back to my friend’s house, and her parents had already gone to work. My heart was racing, and I thought I was going to die.”

She said she’s had a lot going on in her academic life this semester, and her favorite way to study is by pulling an all-nighter. Despite her traumatic experience in high school, Allie said she still likes to complement a long night of studying with Adderall.

For some of her classes, she has attended study sessions and worked with individual tutors. She has a 3.1 GPA.

“I only use (Adderall) for the classes that I need to study all night for,” she said. “Those classes are harder than any other classes that I have ever taken. I need all night to focus and concentrate.”

Allie said she can study without it, but the drug increases her level of focus in such a way that she feels it’s unnecessary to stop using it.

“I would say that there have been six times where I pulled all-nighters this year on Adderall,” she said. “Five out of the six nights, there was only one time where I did not do well on a test.”

John Schell, a clinical psychologist at Kent State, said he has seen studies showing that 15 to 20 percent of college students in the United States misuses Adderall.

He said doctors prescribe Adderall to people who have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder because the drug balances the neurotransmitters in the brain. He thinks there are two compelling reasons for non-prescribed students to not use the drug to study.

“The first is obviously health reasons,” he said. “Over time, it is going to be problematic and potentially cause consequences that the student is not even aware of yet . (Students) can’t sleep well, their appetite is off and they’re not eating as well so they start to get run-down.

“On the flip side, I think, academically, if you’re going to use the substance to help yourself to study, you’re not really training your brain in the neuropathways that are used . to focus in a particular area and train yourself to study.”

Schell said there is a distinction between students who misuse the drug for studying and abuse the drug for the euphoric high that it can create.

“When a person is misusing it and they don’t have that imbalance, what ends up happening is that you have more of the side effects and more of the negative, long-term effects,” he said. “You have things like hypertension that can develop. You have cardiac complications and even sudden death in certain instances.”

Schell said other side effects that are possible by misusing the drug are sleep disturbance, mood instability, some cases of depression and irritability.

Amy, another sophomore, said she takes Adderall to study because she has focusing problems. Her family doctor would not prescribe her the drug.

“When I am on it, my body feels like it’s going 100 mph, and I can just have the ability to stay up and do anything,” she said. “But then I just start downloading music for hours. Hours go by, and you don’t know what you really did.”

Amy said she gets concerned about using the drug because her heart beats at a rapid pace, and the next day her body feels fatigued.

“There is a question of how productive you are,” she said. “Because you’re up, and you’re not really aware of what you’re doing at that time.”

Danielle, also a sophomore, said she started taking Adderall her freshman year to party and study.

“When I go to parties it’s everywhere,” she said. “. I could flip through my phonebook and get Adderall from nine to 10 different people.”

She said her therapist does not prescribe her the drug because she has had a problem abusing it in the past.

“If I were prescribed it, I would go through it so fast the doctors would take me off of it,” she said. “That’s the thing with taking it. Doctors who prescribe people to Xanax or Adderall really monitor these types of things because people abuse them.”

She said she buys it for $1 per 10 milligrams from people who are prescribed the drug.

“I usually snort it because it goes straight to my head,” she said. “You go from being like ‘I can’t do anything,’ and then it shoots through your blood system and you feel like you can do everything.”

She said she couldn’t study, do homework or write papers without Adderall.

“So what, I buy it from other people,” she said. “I don’t look at it as being a drug anymore because I need it to study . you do what you need to do.”

Angela Dejulius, a family physician at DeWeese Health Center, said students who are not prescribed Adderall should not take it because the drug is illegal for them to use.

The federal government classified Adderall as a Schedule II controlled substance, which means it has a high potential for abuse. Doctors prescribe it, and continual use may lead to severe psychological and physical dependence. Drugs such as heroin and Oxycontin are classified in the same group.

“It’s a stimulant,” Dejulius said. “It’s speed, basically.”

Dejulius advised students who have a lot on their plate academically to not put themselves in a situation where they need to stay up all night.

“Get enough rest, eat right, common sense stuff – do your work ahead of time,” she said. “You shouldn’t expect that you’re going to perform well if you have to stay up all night.”

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Kyle Roerink at [email protected].