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Are “Study Drugs” Worth the Risk?

Michelle Maravillas, Contributing Writer

Getting that 4.0 GPA almost always requires a trade-off. It means giving up that party that you really wanted to go to, staying up longer than you’d really like to, and maybe even drinking more caffeine than you should.

However, the college culture equation is not complete without stress. In fact, according to a survey conducted by The Princeton Review, “students spend a third of their study time feeling worried, stressed, or stuck.” And between assignments, work, clubs and friends, students grow increasingly desperate for ways to cope.

“I’d say that balancing school and a social life, is the most difficult part about college,” Stephanie, who has requested that her real name remain private, expressed. Last year, she, like many other students at Rutgers University, began to find the solution in double espressos and 20 milligram Adderall pills.

“Everyone spoke about Adderall, but I hadn’t actually tried it until last year, which was also a really difficult year for me,” she added.

In a 2017 study by the Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan, more than 14% of young adults between the ages of 18 to 25, reported nonmedical usage of prescription drugs like Adderall. Even more alarming is the fact that many students who use it without prescription, like Stephanie, don’t know the mechanisms or side effects of the drug.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, Adderall is an amphetamine used to treat patients with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Scientists still don’t know the exact mechanisms of amphetamines, but they are thought to work by stimulating activity in the central nervous system; the system responsible for the body’s “fight or flight” response. In turn, the drug is thought to create the same effect in the body as would a bear chasing you through the woods.

The result is a “study drug” that allows students who don’t suffer from these disorders, to stay awake and alert for longer periods of time. But do the benefits outweigh the side effects?

Amongst the serious side effects of the drug are heart attack, stroke and even sudden death in patients with pre-existing heart problems, the FDA reports. As if those weren’t alarming enough, patients using Adderall have reported new or worse behavior, thought problems and other psychiatric symptoms.

“The side effects are scary, but for me, flunking out of a school that I pay nearly 20 thousand to attend, seems much scarier,” Chris argues, “so I think that as long as students are careful and don’t abuse it, then Adderall definitely helps.”

Chris, who has also chosen to keep his real name hidden, is a senior at Rutgers University studying mechanical engineering. He regularly takes Adderall for long-night study sessions and sometimes even before presentations. But can
addiction be prevented by simply “being careful”?

A major issue with the illicit use of amphetamines is that if not monitored by a physician, a student taking high doses of Adderall might be aiding in his or her own addiction.

The FDA reports that Adderall is thought to block the reuptake of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that causes a sense of euphoria in the brain. “So, you get the physical and psychological addiction, and the pleasure center in the brain is stimulated. You put all that together, and you get a very abusive picture,” says Eric Grayson, PharmD, a clinical assistant professor at Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy at Texas A&M.

There’s no denying that stress is an inevitable part of the college experience, but the illegal use of amphetamines, such as Adderall, highlights a serious problem that is often overlooked on college campuses. The pressure to excel has caused students to neglect and even downplay the serious and sometimes life-threatening side effects of the drug.

So, the real question is, are “study drugs” worth the risk if those taking them illegally, don’t know what they are risking?

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