Home Pop Culture Adderall. How a pharmaceutical drug became a de rigeur study drug at...

Adderall. How a pharmaceutical drug became a de rigeur study drug at most college campuses.


The following essay comes courtesy of Valerie Harris who decided to examine the culture of ‘study drugs’ as they are euphemistically known on college campuses, the most commonly and obsequious drug of choice these days being adderall, a pharmaceutically manufactured drug designed to stimulate various sections of the brain and created originally to treat those individuals diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, which just may or may not just be the pharmaceutical industry’s attempt to invent a disease and a ready made cure from which of course to profit from.

That said, what may have started off as a way to combat attention deficit disorder amongst some has increasingly become the de facto drug of choice amongst many who have come to see the drug as a crutch in their navigations to better grades as well as a handy social lubricant in the same way other stimulants are used, including speed and cocaine. The only difference between a drug like cocaine and adderall is the former is a street drug where as the latter is a pharmaceutically manufactured one. Both it seems are prone to cause havoc to unsuspecting users, many who eventually become unwittingly addicted to such drugs and often abusing them to their unfortunate demise.

It’s no secret that college students today are engaging in some risky and downright stupid behaviors; Scallywag & Vagabond has chronicled a number of examples over the past year or so. That said the article that follows below takes a slightly different angle on this issue by looking at the growing trend of pharmaceutical “study drug” abuse on campuses nationwide.

It might also interest readers to know Valerie Harris also curates online resources for students thinking about graduate education, as she walks us through the reasons for this growing problem and offers suggested ways out.- Scallywag.

Demands of Undergrad and Masters Programs Leading to Drug Abuse

A steadily increasing number of college students are abusing Adderall, medical experts say. The drug, which is classified as both an amphetamine and a psychostimulant, is commonly prescribed to young people diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but collegiate men and women often use it as a study aid. Today, doctors and substance abuse specialists are warning of the drug’s many adverse effects  — and encouraging students to adopt study habits that are less risky to their physical well being.

Many physicians have noted the positive attributes of Adderall, particularly among young people who have trouble focusing in school. For many ADHD patients, the drug often serves as a suitable substitute for Ritalin because it tends to produce fewer negative side effects. Adderall also retains high bioavailability, meaning that its desired effects are not affected by food consumption.

However, Dr. Ronald Vicker and Dr. Venus Nicolino recently wrote in The Huffington Post that between 20 and 30 percent of college students take Adderall recreationally (and illegally) as a “study drug.” In addition to Adderall and Ritalin, other study drugs include Modafinil, Dexedrine, Nootropoil and Ephedrine; none are considered “safe’” for recreational use. The abuse of these drugs – which allow college students to remain awake longer and focus on their coursework more effectively – has risen roughly 200 percent in recent years.

The authors note that the problematic trend has been compounded by “immoral doctors” who prescribe Adderall to college students who clearly do not require the drug to function. Another contributing factor is the drug’s addictiveness, which has led to an increased number of individuals who use Adderall recreationally. Common illicit uses include: ingesting pills orally; crushing up the pills and snorting them; and “stuffing,” or absorbing the pill through the body’s largest mucous membranes (typically the anus, vagina or penis).

Vickers and Venus also note the numerous side effects of Adderall abuse, both in the short- and long-term. Overdosing on the drug can lead to cardiac arrest, permanent mental or physical defects and, in some cases, death, they say.  Other side effects include anxiety, depression, heart palpitations, increased blood pressure, seizures, stroke and psychosis. The authors also point out that sale, possession and use of Adderall without a valid prescription is considered a felony – and drug enforcement officials have begun to target illicit users in recent years to mitigate the nationwide abuse problem.

Adderall's effect on the brain.
Adderall's effect on the brain.

Then there are consequences that Vickers and Venus say most college students have not even considered. For instance, lying about a medical condition in order to legally acquire Adderall will lead to a diagnosis recorded on the individual’s permanent chart; this can cause subsequent headaches for those who wish to apply for health insurance.

Alan Schwarz of The New York Times writes that the primary reason behind the rampant abuse of study drugs is the desire to improve academic performance. Regardless of the long-term effects, Adderall and other study drugs effectively improve concentration among students at the time they are ingested; as one student told Schwarz, “it’s like [the drug] does your work for you.”

As college admissions have grown increasingly more competitive in recent years, the study drug epidemic has spilled into American high schools. Doctors believe that anywhere from 15 to 40 percent of current high school students abuse study drugs – and perpetrators are often young men and women who do well in school and simply want to boost their grades. This has led school administrators across the country to reassess the demands faced by American high school students. “Straight A’s and high SAT scores look great on paper, but they aren’t reflective measures of a student’s health and well-being,” said Douglas Merrion, a Philadelphia school district spokesman. “We need to better understand the pressures and temptations, and ultimately we need to embrace new definitions of student success.”

Educational experts are also encouraging students to adopt different study habits that are just as effective as Adderall and other drugs, but lack the detrimental long-term effects. A recent article by Huffington Post College urged college students to regularly meet with study groups to go over classroom notes and exchange ideas about the course content. Other strategies, such as making flash cards and continually rewriting notes, allow students to process information more effectively (and retain facts for tests). Finally, students who struggle to concentrate can take a simple (but highly effective) step: get more sleep. On average, college students who sleep more record higher GPAs.

To mitigate the widespread problem of study drug abuse, experts are warning college students to completely avoid controlled substances in order to improve academic performance. There are many other measures one can take that will not cause long-term health problems or lead to legal trouble for perpetrators.

Adderall use in the world in 2010
Adderall use in the world in 2010


  1. I don’t think this map is accurate. I am a pharmacist in Australia. Only a few doctors which are specialists are able to prescribe dexamphetamine. The drug can only be dispensed with those doctors’ prescriptions. The records for dispensing them have to be kept for 5 years and pharmacies could be inspected any time. No one will risk their career by dispensing illegally.
    The number of scripts for dex are actually quite low in au compared to USA.

  2. the first published report of amphetamines being used as a study aide came in 1935, when a student at a state college was found dead at his desk after pulling an all-nighter on Benzedrine (amphetamine) tablets he bought OTC from his drug store. It wasn’t until 1962 that Benzedrine required a prescription.

    The news can’t sell the idea something isn’t new, so, hence “how this “new” drug (that with, short of insignificant modification, has been out since 1932 that has been used in college campuses just as long) is being used on college campuses” without the ( ) part.

    also, cramming on this doesn’t change cramming doesn’t work, and the students wind up with shitty grades just the same. I know, I’ve failed classes with this drug because I resorted to cramming. It doesn’t magically change how memory works, kids.

  3. cocaine and amphetamine (Adderall) is not the same drug whatsoever. That is the stupidest claim in this article. Clearly, this author has a learning disorder. Instead of doing actual research and offering original content, he lazily re-hashes 3rd-rate sources with no authority on the subject, like Huffington Post or New York Times. NYT claimed 25% of high school students at a prep school used Adderall at some point. Here’s the thing: that was solely based on the anecdotal assumption of students they asked. And anyone who knows about alcohol abuse on campuses knows 4/5ths of the alcohol is used by 1/5 of the student population, yet students who do drink assume the majority of everyone else is binge drinking. It’s called user bias, the distortion of the user assuming everyone else is doing what they’re doing.

  4. And why does no one complain about the addictiveness of caffeine or call it “cheating”? Because it’s so effective? Drinking Coca Cola / coffee is bad for your teeth, and donuts are addictive, too… just look at this obesity epidemic. Adderall is a lot better for the health than any of that junk.

  5. Oh, and btw, I think caffeine is worse for my insomnia problems than this Adderall… if I drink an energy drink on Monday, I’ll probably have major insomnia issues for the entire rest of the week.

  6. ‘as one student told Schwarz, “it’s like [the drug] does your work for you.”’

    Are you f-ing kidding me? From “the dog ate my homework” to “the drug did my homework.” For some reason, the second possibility seems more plausible? Actually, it’s more likely that the dog ate your homework than that the drug did your homework. Did the student forget everything they learned when they woke up the next day?

    I will say that when I used Adderall, I did have trouble sleeping… so I took a melatonin pill. I was asleep within 20 minutes. Taking 20mg on the first pill is really ignorant, ’cause I had insomnia after taking only 10mg at 1pm. And the cool thing that came of all of this, other than the benefits of Adderall, is that I learned about the gem of melatonin pills, which are completely natural and only work when you lie down with the lights off. I’ve had insomnia for my entire life, and suddenly, I found out the solution.

  7. This article is stupid. Taking a drug to improve your concentration is NOT “taking a drug recreationally.”
    Recreation is when you do something just for fun and games. How in the
    hell studying has suddenly become synonymous with “recreation” is the
    real psychotic (or stupid) thinking going on here. And how do you
    determine who “needs” the drug “to function”? If “attention deficit
    disorder” isn’t a vague diagnosis, I don’t know what is. Who doesn’t
    have an attention deficit? Very few. I have so much trouble focusing and
    already have, but I always thought “I don’t have ADD because I’m not
    hyperactive.” Then I found out that’s ADHD. I’m angry about all this
    Puritanical nonsense media coverage of a drug that mostly stems from
    knee-jerk reactions by journalists and bloggers who in fact know very
    little about it, when in fact the drug could be improving many people’s
    lives tremendously. I never heard of anyone who says, “I took that drug
    for years. It helped me get through grad school. But now I’m soooo
    dependent on it, what a mistake!” This is a drug being used by students
    at TOP UNIVERSITIES to perform to the max. Every drug has its abusers.
    Stop complaining about a drug that could be improving the world when you
    don’t really know anything about it, just because you heard someone
    else complain about it on the news.

  8. Great article, Valerie, and thank you to Scallywag for posting. Adderall use and abuse is dangerous. Full disclosure – I own a company that sells a natural Adderall alternative for college and university students. I often get asked why I started this company from customers, and many of the reasons are contained in this article. Although Adderall can be a great stimulant when properly prescribed and taken as directed, the side effects for students who abuse Adderall are debilitating; besides depression and anxiety, Adderall abuse can also cause irregular heartbeat, dangerously high body temperatures, psychosis, long-term sleep problems, and even death. And that’s IF the pill you buy around campus is actually Adderall. Many of my customers also don’t believe me that buying Adderall without a prescription, or selling your prescription, can lead to felony drug charges because Adderall is a Schedule II controlled substance that contains four amphetamine salts – similar to what’s in methamphetamines (crystal meth). If you’re a student and are considering taking Adderall to get better grades, don’t do it. Look at a healthier study supplement that’s made from natural ingredients, regardless of whether it’s my product or one from the competition. Make some more time for studying. Sacrifice social time for studying and homework time. No matter what pill you take – either Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, or a natural cognitive supplement – unless you actually take the time to study, you won’t get the grades you want and need.

Comments are closed.