Kent State students using Adderall to help them study for longer periods of time are a part of a growing trend.
words by Samantha Ickes | photos by Maria Cardillo
Adderall, called “the study drug,” is usually bought and sold by students,
who stay up all night studying.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: STUDENTS’ NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED TO PROTECT THEIR IDENTITIES.
Kylie* wraps a rubber band around her hair, brushing rogue strands out of her face. She sighs deeply and looks at the clock: 7 p.m. It seems like all her classes schedule exams and papers at the same time. Kylie swears it feels as if the professors get together to create “hell week.”
As a senior nursing student, Kylie finds it difficult to study in between attending classes, clinicals and a part-time job. Even though she knows she doesn’t need it, Kylie reaches into the back of her desk drawer and pulls out an orange and white pill.
It acts as a safeguard for Kylie. Stronger than caffeine, with its help she can stay awake long enough to power through all her work. Without it will take longer, and sometimes the easy path needs to be taken when her grade is on the line.
“Ten milligrams is all I need,” she says to herself, splitting the pill in half and washing it down with a swig of water.
According to a CNN article written by Arianna Yanes, students using Adderall without a prescription to stay awake at night and study or to help them be more productive is a growing problem. Adderall abuse isn’t similar to drugs like Molly because students aren’t misusing the drugs for partying. Because of this, it has been dubbed the “study drug.”
During Kylie’s sophomore year, she found herself struggling to find a balance between school and a social life as her classes began to get more difficult. It was then Kylie decided to take Adderall after another student offered it to her.
“I was like, ‘Wow, it just makes homework more enjoyable,’ ” Kylie says. “It makes studying enjoyable. It helps me really get into it to kind of prioritize what I need to get to get done.”
Deric Kenne, associate director of drug research at Kent State, says the study drug is a growing problem at the university as well. In a 2013 survey, of 8,600 Kent State students, 8.5 percent reported misusing Adderall. The percentage increased slightly to 9.5 percent in 2014, and according to the National Council on Patient Information and Education, one in four people ages 18 to 20 reported using prescription pills for nonmedical reasons at least once.
In the past three years, Kent has only experienced one Adderall related arrest in February 2015. Officer Tricia Knoles for Kent State Police Services says it hasn’t been an issue on campus.
“Adderall stimulates the central nervous system, so it makes you more alert and energetic,” Kenne says. “Because of this, students feel Adderall helps them study better—a student could take Adderall and then stay up all night studying. Otherwise, the student would get tired, be unable to concentrate and be unable to study well.”
Kylie says she only takes Adderall once a month when she needs “extra motivation to get stuff done.” She buys four or five pills at a time and keeps them until she finds herself needing an extra boost. Sometimes taking Adderall can offer her more energy and motivation than a cup of coffee can when she has a full day ahead of her.
“It’s the best way to stay up all night and get eight hours worth of homework done,” she adds. “I think that’s the main thing—it allows you to focus for longer. It makes you feel like you have to be doing something. It’s hard to just sit there and watch TV or something.”
Though Kylie has taken Adderall throughout her four years at Kent State, she doesn’t plan to continue its use after she applies for graduate school. As a nurse, Kylie will have to take random drug tests. She says taking Adderall is not worth risking her profession as a nurse.
A study done by a National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that full-time students are twice as likely to use Adderall non-medically compared to part-time students. In a 2008 study, 81 percent of students interviewed thought using ADHD medication without being prescribed was “not at all dangerous.”
Kenne says side effects of Adderall include restlessness, trouble sleeping, weight loss, mood change, increased heart rate and anxiety, while short-term benefits include improved concentration.
“There tends to be a perception that prescription drugs, including Adderall, are safe to misuse or experiment with because they are used medically and prescribed by physicians,” Kenne says. “However, prescription drugs, including Adderall can be very dangerous and even fatal when not used under the supervision of a physician or if misused.”
Lucas, a sophomore public health major, feels jittery and can hear his heart beating faster when he takes Adderall. Within 30 minutes of taking the pill, he feels a surge of energy and adrenaline that makes it impossible to sit still.
“Your body feels normally, but you can notice that you’re more focused,” he says. “You can zone in on more things you want to focus on.”
Lucas tried Adderall for the first time during high school when a friend offered to sell him the drug. He and a friend were hanging out after school his junior year when his friend mentioned he tried it. Lucas remembers sitting in his friend’s room when his friend pulled out a baggie with a few of the pills in it.
After hearing about the benefits of Adderall, Lucas didn’t see a reason not to try the drug and mainly tried it out of pure curiousity. If it could improve his focus and help him finish his homework in time to hang out with his friends, why not try it? Lucas continues to take it throughout the school year every two to three weeks.
“It really can help you block out everything,” he says. “Whatever you have in mind—whatever task you have to do. It just helps your mind do what you want to do. When I know I need to kick into a different gear, that’s when I would say I’d take it.”
As Lucas sits at his desk in his dorm room, he puts his head in his hands and contemplates if he should take Adderall to get all his homework done. It’s already after 9 p.m., and he’s not even halfway through his 10-page research paper due within the next 12 hours.
Though Lucas says Adderall has been beneficial in helping him study, he says people use the study drug as an excuse, including himself. He knows he doesn’t need it to complete his work, but it makes it easier, and sometimes making the easier choice is best when you’re in school and working throughout the week.
Adam, 20, used Adderall when he attended Kent State as a freshman. The summer before his first year of college in 2014 was his first. Late one evening, after work, Adam sat outside with a co-worker, who asked if he wanted to try it.
He didn’t need it to study during the summer, but he was curious as to how it would affect him because he doesn’t have ADHD or ADD.
Adam could feel his mouth drying as if he swallowed cotton and his heartbeat increasing with each breath. He felt overwhelmed with this euphoric feeling that made him want to talk to everyone he met. It felt as if he couldn’t fail no matter what the task. With his newfound confidence, he felt as if he had a false sense of intelligence, as if he could accomplish anything.
Since then, Adam has taken Adderall five times. One of those times was during exam week when he needed some extra energy to finish studying. Throughout the semester, Adam received an 80 percent average on all his exams, but after studying under the influence of Adderall, he passed with a 95 percent.
Students generally purchase Adderall from other students who are prescribed the medication. The inexpensiveness of the drug contributes to its increasing popularity among college students.
“It is relatively easy to get the drug from friends or other students—in some cases, individuals who have a legitimate prescription for Adderall will sell the drug to other students,” Kenne says.
Hannah, a senior hospitality management major, says she sells Adderall for $5 per 25 milligram pill. Hannah was prescribed Adderall her junior year of high school and never thought about selling it until someone on her floor in her residence hall during her freshman year sought her out to ask if she would be willing to sell the pill.
Movie scenes where a hooded figure slips an individual baggie full of drugs in a back alley might come to mind when thinking about a drug deal. Deals are often in isolated areas and secretive to not attract attention of bypassers or the police. Adderall transactions, however, are not as behind the scenes as other drug exchanges because the medication itself is legal.
Hannah sells to the same group of seven to 10 students regularly. She says it’s not like a “stereotypical, super-secret drug deal.” The students who buy from Hannah come over to the house when they want to buy. She hands them the pill, and they hand her the money.
“People wanted it, and I wanted quick cash,” she says.
The trend among Kent State students shows students tried the drug out of curiosity after hearing about the benefits Adderall provided to other students. Students don’t see the harm in taking the medication without a prescription because of the infrequency it’s taken.
With easy access to Adderall, it’s no wonder the misuse of the drug has been on the rise. Kenne says the drug can become addictive when the body begins to rely on the use of the drug because of the effect it has on neurotransmitters. The same effect would happen to a person who drinks a large cup of coffee every day for several months then quits cold turkey.
Students like Kylie, Lucas and Adam say they are not addicted to the drug. Adam says he no longer plans to use Adderall. Similar to Lucas, he feels as though people use the drug as an excuse if they don’t need it for medical reasons. He sees no point in taking Adderall when he can accomplish his goals without relying on it.
The majority of users take the drug sporadically—when they need extra help during the semester. However, with the increasing popularity and accessibility of the drug, a question raises: Will an addiction problem among college students become an issue?