It’s 10 p.m., the night before that big final, and let’s face it: you haven’t cracked the book since you tripped over it on your floor in early January. Your head is falling to your shoulder, your eyelids are drooping and your immunity to caffeinated drinks isn’t helping you stay alert.
Many MSU students are joining the ranks of collegians nationwide resorting to something else to keep them on track during that late-night study session – the prescription drug Adderall, which some students have began referring to as the “study drug.”
[night] Adderall, an amphetamine and stimulant, is mostly prescribed for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a condition in which a person displays a short attention span and becomes easily distracted.
Meredith, a business sophomore who would like her last name sealed, said she took Adderall for the first time when she had skipped class a lot and was very unprepared for her upcoming accounting exam. “My friend told me about Adderall and offered me one,” Meredith said. “I was desperate because I knew I was going to have to pull an all-nighter. I took it and it kept me focused all night and made me super awake.”
Since then, she said she takes it before most of her exams because it makes her not want to give up and go to bed until she knows everything and can cram it all in.
However, some students aren’t fazed by the drug or its side effects and continue to use it as a means to stay awake and study. Adam Hughes, an advertising junior, said Adderall did not affect him and thinks people who claim it helps them study are feeling the placebo effects of merely believing it’s working. “It’s a mentality that people have when they take it,” Hughes said. “Is it chemicals in the brain? I don’t know. They hear about people who like it, and it makes them think it will be beneficial for them, too.”
[awake] Hughes took Adderall three times because he heard so many people talking about how it aids concentration and studying. He said the first time he took it, he was light-headed for a couple minutes but that’s about it. “It definitely did not improve my grade,” Hughes said.
Adderall is the brand name for amphetamine-dextroamphetamine and it comes in two forms, a regular blue pill and an extended release pill called Adderall XR. It can be taken in doses of 5, 10, 20 and 30 milligrams, depending on the seriousness of an individual’s ADHD. Most non-prescribed students use the regular form of Adderall because it has an immediate and more dramatic effect.
But as with most drugs, there are side effects.
Susan Conway, a pharmacist for Henry Ford Medical Center in West Bloomfield, said there has been recent concern the loss in appetite from taking Adderall is causing growth problems in children. For those who are abusing the drug, Conway said long-term effects can include psychological dependence, social disability and cardiovascular problems.
This seemed true for Meredith because she said she has experienced an increased heart rate and sweating while on Adderall, and said upon taking a pill, she has gone an entire day without eating, causing her body to feel weak. She also said sometimes she is unable to sleep while the drug is still in her system. She said she doesn’t feel it’s dangerous, though, if she takes it only for exams.
[pills] Jessica, a business freshman who would also like her last name removed, has been prescribed Adderall for the past seven years for her ADHD. She said she takes the extended release form in the morning and then takes the regular form later in the day to help her study. She said she has given it to her friends four or five times in the past, although she doesn’t like to.
“I don’t like to give it out because I don’t want to get in trouble,” Jessica said. “My psychiatrist said he would cut off my prescription if he found out I was giving it out.”
Jessica said on her last visit to her psychiatrist before she went to college, she got a warning from him not to give it out to her friends. Her doctor said people will want it and may even try to steal it, and she should keep it locked in her room.
“He never said anything about that in high school, just college,” Jessica said.
“I didn’t even know what it was until last semester,” Meredith said. “Now I hear everyone talking about it.”
Conway warns that drugs affect everyone differently and Jessica said her doctor warned her different types of people require different amounts. “If something bad happens to one of my friends, I’m the one to blame,” Jessica said.
[cut] Conway said Adderall is in a class of drugs requiring a written prescription every time it is filled. She said this is for control purposes so patients cannot go to another pharmacy and get a refill.
But is this enough control on a drug so many students seem to want and are willing to pay for? Jessica said she knows people who sell their full prescription to make money on the in-demand drug.
“They basically sacrifice themselves and their own health to make some extra cash,” Jessica said.
Some people debate that non-prescribed users of Adderall have an unfair advantage over those that need it for ADHD. For instance, Meredith said she asked her dealer if it helps him focus like it does her. He said it doesn’t, but said he didn’t care because he was making a lot of money off it.
Jessica said she doesn’t see it as an unfair advantage either. “If you find something that helps you study like that, use it, why not?”
As for Hughes, he said he doesn’t plan on taking Adderall again.
With finals fast approaching, many late-night library dwellers will be turning to something to keep them awake and focused, but is this the best plan of attack?
Zach Hambrick, professor of psychology, said although he hadn’t really heard much about Adderall being taken for non-prescribed purposes, he said he wouldn’t suggest staying up all night to study for an exam. “In reality, people do [cram],” Hambrick said. “But I don’t suggest cramming as a strategy to study because it’s not effective as long-term retention information.”
Leigh Anne White, assistant director of psychiatric services for Olin Health Center, said cramming won’t help students and studies have shown students who get eight to eight and a half hours of sleep the night before an exam typically do better than those who get only five hours. She advises students to study in advance. “Be sure to prioritize your studying,” White said. “Study for 45 minutes and then take a 10-minute break.”
Since it’s an amphetamine, Hambrick said he knows Adderall is addictive and there are serious side effects. He suggests just drinking a cup of coffee instead.
White said coffee will only make it harder for someone to sleep and also highly discourages the use of drugs to help students study. She said there really isn’t a legitimate way to stay awake and still get enough sleep to prepare for an exam.
So when the 2 o’clock hour approaches and your Red Bull wears off, reach for an espresso- or better yet the pillow- not for your friend’s prescription bottle.

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