Clearing the Fog

    With modern life characterized by speed and productivity, schedules are tight and agendas are full. Our minds are constantly being called upon to complete task after task: to evaluate, analyze, recall, process, organize and create. Multitasking is not an option, but rather a necessity in this daily grind. With so many thoughts pirouetting through the brain, it can be difficult to focus on the job at hand, its stresses both physically and mentally exhausting.

    Riley Salant-Pearce/Guardian

    This is why some turn to Adderall.

    Adderall is a common prescription for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, helping to lengthen attention spans and increase the ability to concentrate. In recent years, however, college students who deal with the slings and arrows of midterms, finals and exams like the LSAT and MCAT have been using Adderall as a study aid because of the drug’s stimulative properties, which can keep the user awake and focused for long periods of time.

    There have been no studies at UCSD about the use of Adderall by students without a prescription, and use is probably not widespread. But some students say it helps them get by.

    Eleanor Roosevelt College senior Mark Kaufman sees nothing wrong with the occasional use of Adderall to help provide the level of concentration and energy required for a busy schedule.

    “During summertime, I didn’t take Adderall once, because I didn’t feel the need to,” Kaufman said. “But now that school has started, you’ve got work, school and other various hobbies that are important to you. Adderall for academic purposes, I think, is good, but not in the way that some people take them.”

    The pill seems a perfect answer to the busy individual’s life — an easy way to gain that extra energy, motivation and focus. But is using the drug just a harmless way to pull an all-nighter?

    According to Panit Pollavith, a drug information specialty pharmacy resident at UCSD Medical Center, Adderall is a highly addictive substance, “classified as a Schedule 2 drug, a classification given to a drug with [a high] abuse potential and dependence profile.”

    Possession of a Schedule 2 drug without a prescription is illegal. Other drugs in this category include cocaine, morphine and some opiates.

    Adderall, a central nervous system stimulant, is composed of four amphetamine salts: amphetamine aspartate, amphetamine sulfate, dextroamphetamine saccharate and dextroamphetamine sulfate.

    What began as recreational use eventually became a study aid and ended in addiction for one Roosevelt senior, who preferred to remain anonymous.

    “Basically you’re hooked when you start trying it,” he said. “You make excuses to take it. You lie to yourself, like a cigarette smoker; ‘I’m drinking some coffee; I need to have a cigarette. I have to read this book, I’ll take some Adderall.’”

    The physical effects of abuse are characterized by fatigue, repeated health complaints, red and glazed eyes and lasting cough, according to Pollavith.

    “It killed me,” the anonymous ERC student said. “I lost so much weight. You don’t eat at all.”

    In addition to physical deterioration, the effects of mental change are also apparent. Emotional warning signs of abuse are sudden mood changes, irritability, irresponsible behavior, low self-esteem, poor judgment, depression and general lack of interest, Pollavith said.

    “The externalities were the effects on my social life,” the student said. “I’d become more antisocial. I started avoiding friends. I wanted to stay inside more. I kept to myself. I thought that I was on a different level than everyone else.”

    According to this student, its frequent availability added to constant use. He noted that one can easily find someone with a prescription to Adderall who is willing to sell it or even just give it away.

    “I knew a person who was prescribed Adderall and didn’t take it,” he said. “He would just give it away, hand it to me. That was the worst way to be introduced to it … to be given an unlimited supply of it.”

    However, he noted that the demand for the drug during midterms and finals exceeded its supply when it became more popular during the last school year.

    Although he took Adderall to help academic performance, the exact opposite resulted instead. He failed a math class twice because he did not go to class or study, thinking that cramming the night before on Adderall would be successful. He said it “gives you a false sense of invincibility when it comes to the academic lifestyle.”

    Since then, however, he has stopped using Adderall. Last quarter he received a 4.0 GPA without the drug — a significant improvement from his “B” average GPA two quarters before.

    “I find that I think better and clearer when I’m not on that,” he said. “My grades proved that to me. That was all I needed to see. I don’t want to have to rely on drugs to make me a reliable person.”

    Although this is the experience of a student with normal functioning abilities, Adderall can be incredibly beneficial to those with actual attention focusing disorders.

    Among other stimulants and treatments, the drug is used to treat people diagnosed with ADHD. The disorder is characterized by impulsivity, inattention and sometimes hyperactivity. It is almost always a childhood-onset disorder, and it affects about 3 to 9 percent of school-age children and 4 percent of adults worldwide. About one-third of the people with the disorder will outgrow it in adulthood.

    If untreated, however, marital, work and driving problems may ensue, according to Paul Lee, a psychiatrist at UCSD’s Psychological and Counseling Services.

    Adderall is comparable to methylphenidate, the active ingredient in popular ADHD drugs Ritalin and Concerta. Adderall has been proven to last longer and have less severe side effects and withdrawal effects, according to Pollavith.

    John Muir College senior Jason Yeatman is prescribed Adderall for a minor case of ADHD. He has stopped taking the medication completely over the past year because he finds it unnecessary and overprescribed, simply given out to fix problems, such as bad study habits, that could be solved without medication.

    “There’s such a thin line,” Yeatman said. “I was asking myself, ‘Am I taking this because I need Adderall to focus, or am I just taking it because it’s two in the morning and I’m tired as hell and I want to stay up all night?’”

    He also believes it enhances everyone’s focusing performance, whether someone has a slight attention problem or not. For this reason, he believes that it provides an unfair advantage in academics when taken by students with normal attention abilities.

    “Adderall in college is like steroids in sports,” Yeatman said.

    Yeatman overcame his ADHD by learning and coping with the way his brain works, like figuring out the best type of environment for studying. He found a successful alternative to medication in dealing with his less severe attention problems.

    “Stimulants can really help people who have to do something that is just not inherently interesting for them or whose level of dysfunction is really high,” said Jerry Phelps, a clinical psychologist at Psychological and Counseling Services.

    Medication is the first line of treatment and often successful. Some may require other treatments, such as behavioral therapy, organizational, study and social- skills training, as well as therapy to help improve self-esteem as accompaniments for the medication.

    Those with minor attention and fidgeting problems may be able to overcome them with simple no-medication treatments, Lee said.

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