The Adderall Epidemic

The world of professional baseball found itself in a whirlwind of accusations, congressional hearings, and questions of credibility when steroid use among athletes was first reported. Fans throughout the country lashed out and boycotted America’s pastime. Some of the greatest players in the history of Major League Baseball found their success scrutinized for cheating. They went on to become the poster boys for society’s anger at cheating for personal gain, unfair competition, and the use of performance enhancing chemicals. The story of performance enhancers is common throughout professional sports and has even captured media attention at the collegiate and high school level. The same story of performance enhancer use that has failed to reach public awareness takes place in the classroom.

Prescription stimulants, a host of drugs which include Adderall and Ritalin, have been increasingly abused among students nationwide to cope with academic pressures. Many people grossly see stimulants as a the panacea for poor academic performance by providing a superhuman ability to concentrate. Comparative reasoning between hard and soft drugs leads one to perceive prescribed stimulants as safe since the medications are designed in a laboratory environment for a specific purpose. In reality, the Controlled Substance Act classifies prescription stimulants as schedule II drugs due to their high potential for addiction and abuse. Prescription stimulant abuse has been on the rise and needs to be combated with an aggressive education plan and community involvement before it spirals out of control. To create an effective campaign against Adderall abuse, institutions need to examine factors that contribute to use and better educate students on the consequences of use.

A more careful examination of history reveals that prescription stimulants were initially used to treat non-attention deficit issues, such as respiratory conditions, obesity, and specific neurological disorders. The medical community prescribed these drugs with trepidation as there were concerns about stimulants’ abusive and addictive potential. Hard drugs replicate the natural brain chemicals affecting neurotransmitters called norepinephrine and dopamine, which assist patients with ADHD focus and concentrate comparable to students without the disorder. For those who do not suffer from ADHD, the additional chemicals overload the brain with artificial chemicals. This produces a sense of pleasure resembling the effects of cocaine and speed, increasing the possibility of chemical dependence.

Because many misclassify Adderall as safe drug, they fail to fully comprehend the side effects of its abuse. Short-term side effects include gastrointestinal problems, blurred vision, increased body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, reduced circulation, irritability, and insomnia. As usage continues, long-term side effects begin surfacing. The results may be hallucinations, intense mood changes, physical and mental cravings, psychotic episodes, cardiac arrest, coma, and even death. Furthermore, drug tolerance increases with continual use resulting in heightened physiological dependency. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reports that Adderall abusers are 20 times more likely to use cocaine and heroin once the body builds tolerance. When usage ceases, individuals experience intense withdrawal symptoms such as violent mood swings, extreme fatigue, and uncontrollable cravings.

However, for many abusers, harmful and additive effects of these drugs go unnoticed compared to their benefits over time. An important contributing factor is the pressure to succeed more than ever from parents. Parental worth is generally measured by the success of the child, leading to aggressive parental involvement in children’s educational lives. Parents unable to accept a mediocre or satisfactory performance disprove of this level of performance with the best of intentions, but can trigger detrimental consequences. Students experience intense pressure to succeed in school and failure is not an option. They feel forced to cope by abusing performance enhancing drugs like Adderall to deal with the resulting stress and anxiety.

The transition to college can also prove to be difficult for students who were successful in high school with little difficulty. Top academic achievers in high school class find themselves among equally intelligent peers, leading to a drop in status. Previously perceived as the smartest and brightest students, they struggle with the reality of earning lesser grades. More likely to search for other means of achieving their goal than admit their failures, Adderall becomes a perfect solution for assisting students reaffirm their self-identity.

College cultures have even morphed into a microcosm that expects the abuse of prescription stimulation. Features commonly associated with college life, such as staying up all night partying, studying through the night, and having rigorous academic and extracurricular schedules, provide incentives for using stimulants to students suffering from exhaustion. Students abuse Adderall to cope with juggling multiple extracurricular activities while maintaining academic standards. A stimulant medication could assist with staying up late, social gatherings, and battling exhaustion from participating in multiple clubs and organizations. In contrast, other students use Adderall experimentally and recreationally. Armed with the perception that college is a time for drug experimenting and self-discovery, it is seen as a good drug to experiment with. This sociocultural acceptance of its abuse poses a more dangerous threat. College students consider prescription drugs safer to use than other drugs because pharmaceuticals are subjected to extensive laboratory testing, are manufactured in clean laboratories by professionals, and produce a standard dose dependent effect. The fact that potential side effects of Adderall are listed on the label contributes to the perception of a more predictable experience.

Adderall abuse is a convoluted problem with an eclectic group of factors contributing to the epidemic of its use on college campuses. Students are engaging in abusive behaviors and there are few signs of its slowing down.
Correcting students’ dangerous and careless habits is difficult. Since Adderall abuse is self-reported, the extent of the problem on campuses isn’t fully clear. Moreover, the secretive nature and number of legitimate prescriptions on campus ensure constant supply and easy accessibility. While colleges and universities cannot single-handedly stop or prevent students from abusing Adderall, they can take steps to protect the institution and non-users by assessing campus culture. After assessing the rate of abuse and level of acceptance, institutions can begin educating students, faculty, and staff on the dangers, signs, and symptoms of Adderall abuse.
In order to address student drug abuse, the perceptions held by the students should become the focal point. Students perceive the drugs as a safe alternative to cocaine and harder drugs. Educating students on the fallacies of their perceptions is one method of prevention. Students also need to be prepared for the pressures of collegiate work prior to their arrival. Freshman orientations are the ideal place to inform students on the rigors and differences of college. In addition to giving information about the school, orientations can incorporate a seminar on drug abuse, college expectations, and study habits. These provide students with the tools necessary to succeed independently without stimulants. Providing a seminar on the legal consequences of distributing prescription medications may make students reluctant to openly share their prescription. Most students fail to realize it is a serious and offense to sell, trade, steal, or consume any prescription drug not prescribed for them, let alone a schedule II drug.

Encouraging parents to listen to students and the problems they are facing, providing methods to be supportive while their son or daughter transitions to college, and educating parents on the symptoms and signs of Adderall abuse will give them information they may not have. This presents parents with a valuable opportunity to recognize substance abuse symptoms and alert college administrators or private physicians to intervene.

Performance enhancer use in the real world is met by serious consequences which fail to resonate on college campuses. When a baseball player is tested positive for anabolic steroids, the MLB immediately suspends him for 50 games without pay and allows the team to terminate his active roster standing and replace him with another player. The suspension is doubled on the second offense and the third positive testing results in a lifetime ban. Students face very few professional consequences for Adderall abuse. Giving them something to lose would curb this problem.