Straight Talk Advice

Mar 19, 2013

Academic doping with Adderall not road to excellence

Dear Straight Talk: My very stressed-out son admitted using Adderall as a "study drug." He says he needs it to be competitive. He buys it at high school for $3 a pill, saying, "you can get it everywhere." I had no idea this was such a widespread problem in competitive high schools and colleges. We’ve been helping him focus without it, and keep telling him lower grades are better than using drugs to get A’s. Please sound the alarm for other parents. — Concerned Father, Laguna Niguel, Calif.

Brie 21, San Francisco Ask me a question

Nowadays, it's uncommon for students not to use Adderall or Adderall-like drugs at some point. I borrowed my roommate’s Concerta prescription and used it for finals one semester and to get through calculus — not that I liked doing this — but I stayed focused for seven hours in the math lab, resulting in an A versus a C. Nearly half my friends take Adderall regularly, while the rest of us drink lots of caffeine. I work and go to school (both full time), and two Rock Stars are the only way I get through some days. I’ve thought about an Adderall prescription, but I know it's harmful (I’d feel like vomiting coming off the Concerta), plus, I can ask the first five people I see on campus and get it.

With today’s job market, students must get A's, volunteer, do internships, and for many of us, work for a living. It's not like my parents’ day. Education is becoming like sports where to get anywhere, you have to dope.

Omari 19, Washington, D.C. Ask me a question

I know many students who use Adderall. My high school was ranked third nationally. You can imagine the competition. At college, I’m not even surprised when I hear people are taking it. I’ve never cared for pills, but many friends swear by them and have the GPAs to ‘prove’ it. However, unless you have ADHD, there is no reason for Adderall. My GPA is higher than my friends’ without ever popping one. I stay focused using a reward system. I study, then do something fun, then come back to studying.

Alex 17, Newton, Mass. Ask me a question

Our world is unnaturally competitive and fast-paced. Taking high school courses at the community college, or getting a GED and applying directly to college (which I’m doing), are healthy alternatives to today’s ‘academic overload’ and allow time for spiritual/personal growth. (Plus, if no Adderall means lower grades, a GED doesn’t make much difference in college acceptances.) I’m happy to begin college early and miss the enormous workload of junior and senior years. Other remedies: a good therapist and/or a meditation practice.

Nicole 23, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

Parents must reflect on their role in pushing their children so hard. Students first use Adderall to study for exams. Because it’s an amphetamine, many become addicted and things go downhill.

Dear Concerned Father: Thank YOU for sounding the alarm. I couldn’t agree more that lower grades, legitimately earned, are better than doping for A’s. Students themselves call Adderrall misuse “legal cheating.” Alex offers some interesting wholesale alternatives to the “rat race” of many competitive high schools.

Not only are Adderall and Adderall-like drugs addictive and physically harmful, they have a moral and spiritual downside and prevent the forming of one’s own coping skills and work ethic. A society-wide doctor-parent-school-child approach is needed to cool Adderall prescriptions (except for true ADHD cases), rethink our pressure-cooker schools, and educate everyone about the moral, societal, and health dangers of — latest vanity-drug buzzword — “pediatric neuroenhancement.”

Warning signs of ‘Study Drug’ abuse: Insomnia, irritability, mood swings, depression, nausea, twitching, shaking, overly talkative, weight loss, complaints of rapid or irregular heart beat, sudden good grades and focus.

Editor's Note: To give you an idea of how serious school is today, most college students get more broken up over a botched test than a botched date. Rising academic expectations along with a tightening job market have driven a frenzy of drug-induced studying (yes… still followed by a frenzy of drug-induced partying — no change there).

In the 2012 Monitoring the Future survey, about 6 percent of high school seniors admitted to having misused Adderall or Ritalin. Based on several surveys, 8 to 35 percent of college students report themselves guilty of same. While some misuse is recreational, the overwhelming majority is for upping one’s GPA.

These numbers may be low, especially in certain high schools. As panelist, Rachel, says in our SEP 2, 2009 column on this topic, “It seems like I blinked and all these intense pharmaceuticals came into play. I am so surprised at the number of kids using them all the time."

Where is everyone getting all these stimulants? According to ABC News, between 2002 and 2010, prescriptions for ADHD drugs went up 46 percent for children under age 18. During that same time frame, there was a 750 percent increase in Adderall prescriptions for women between 26 and 39. Critics call it the new “mother’s little helper” and not really for ADHD. For the college crowd, students claim that it’s easy to find a doctor to write a scrip for just saying, “I can’t concentrate.”  The result: a steady supply of Adderall pills to beg, borrow, swipe, or sell at school for $3-6 a pill.

More bad news: Adderall is rapidly replacing Ritalin as the “study drug of choice.” Adderall is an amphetamine so addictive it is a Schedule II controlled substance like Oxycontin and morphine. Considered less risky are Concerta and Ritalin, which are methlphenidates, but they still cause a panoply of nasty side effects listed below.

Some good news: ADHD-drug misuse has reached the point that the “brain” of western medicine has spoken. The American Academy of Neurology’s 2012 report on “Pediatric Neuroenhancement” implores doctors to recognize their “moral obligation to prevent misuse of the medication.” This is code for: Write fewer prescriptions. Be wary of parents who want their kid to have a leg-up, teachers who lack imagination in managing boisterous boys, and college students who would be better off with, yes, coffee — or best: good diet, exercise and sleep (the old-fashioned formula for concentrating).

Health effects of ADHD-drug abuse are serious: irregular, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, depression, irregular bowels, headaches, twitching, shaking, low libido, impotence, seizures, psychosis, and sudden death.

Another concern: The brain’s learned neuro-chemical appetite for amphetamines makes users prone to first-use cocaine and meth addiction down the road.

Parents: If your child (including college-age) is showing some of the warning signs (listed at the bottom of the original column in green box above), ask them if they are using study drugs. Don’t be so naïve to think they will cop to the truth — most won’t. If you feel there is cause based on their symptoms, high-quality, inexpensive test kits are available at www.recoveryhappens.com, along with video instructions on how to collect an accurate test. Our columns on drug testing indicate that young people actually want to be drug tested if there is cause. —Lauren

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  1. By Brenda, age , from La Habra, CA on 03/19/2013

    I’m 99% sure that my older brother is on Adderall or something similar and I’m really concerned about him.  He’s parnoid about his grades being perfect so that he can get into one of the best colleges.  Our parents just think that he studies very hard.  However, we share a room so I know that he often stays up most of the night, and sometimes all night studying and also acts very hyper most of the time.  When he does try to sleep, he tosses and turns and talks about school in his sleep, so I don’t think he’s getting much rest even then.  This also keeps me awake, and I’m not getting enough sleep either. 

    I’m really concerned, but don’t know what to do.  I don’t want to go to our parents and get him trouble since I’m sure that he’s getting whatever it is illegally.  There are well known sources for these drugs at our school.  This also appears to have affected his appetite and he barely eats much of the time and has lost lots of weight.  It’s not so obvious when he’s dressed, but lately when I’ve seen him naked or in his underwear, I can see that he’s wasting away.

    Concerned Sister

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  2. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Sebastopol, CA, USA on 03/19/2013

    Brenda—You have a serious situation on your hands and it is up to you to help your brother. Nobody likes to be the “fink” but when it’s a matter of life or death, you do it. Your brother is going down a very dark road. I agree that he sounds like he is using Adderall and that he’s become addicted and is taking high doses. It’s not uncommon for parents not to notice things that siblings notice because the siblings share rooms, bathrooms, etc., or have rooms near each other. It’s amazing how much weight someone can lose and not have it be that noticeable through clothing. I know a parent who almost fainted when she saw her daughter undressed. She had no idea. You are the one who knows, so it’s your responsibility, like it or not, to do something. Believe me, at the rate your brother’s going, college won’t matter anyway. Put the brakes on NOW! Showing your parents this column would be the quickest most effective way to get their attention. Or think of an anonymous way to tell them if you must, but don’t waste any more time. Your brother will love you again eventually—way sooner than you imagine. Please let me know what happens.—Love, Lauren

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  3. By Jennifer, age , from Lodi, CA on 03/20/2013

    My older sister who I have always been close to went off to college last Fall.  When she came home at Christmas, she was a totally different person.  She was high strung and irritable all the time which is totally unlike her and had no interest in spending time with me unlike in the past which really hurt, as I had been really looking forward to seeing her.  It was also obvious that she had lost alot of weight. We have always shared a room and still do when she’s home.  The first time I saw her nude, I was shocked at the wasted away state of her body.  I asked her about it and she just shrugged it off.  She was also up and down all night long most nights and was obviously getting very little sleep.

    I really feel that she is on some kind of drugs and seems to have the symptoms described for study drugs and I am worried about her.  She’ll be home for Spring Break next week and if she’s no better or is worse, I really want to do something so that she gets help, but I don’t know what to do.

    Jennifer

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  4. By Cathy, age , from Rohnert Park, CA on 03/20/2013

    I’m a freshman in college and my roommate is on Adderall and is driving me crazy.  She’s determined to get straight A’s and studies all day and most of the night.  She’s totally hyper, hardly sleeps and makes things very difficult for me.  She barely eats but guzzles down diet coke’s all day long.  Her body is getting so emaciated that it is literally sickening to see her nude.  I grew up in an all female household where everybody was very casual about nudity, and normally seeing another female nude doesn’t bother me, but seeing her grosses me out and lately being high on the Adderall seems to have caused her to be extra casual about nudity in our room.  I try to avoid looking at her, but that’s not so easy when you are sharing a small dorm room.  If I say anything, I get the “girls are all the same line.”  Another girl on the hall told me how shocked she was when she saw the condition of her body when she saw her nude in the shower room. 

    This is ruining my college experience.  At home I had to share a room with my sister with whom I did not get along and couldn’t wait to get away from her and live in a dorm.  However, sharing a room with my sister was heaven compared to my roommate.  I’m trying to find a way to get a new roommate, but I can’t unless someone else would be willing to move in with her and that is not likely.

    Cathy

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  5. By Sherry, age , from Santa Ana, CA on 03/20/2013

    I agree with you, Lauren, that if your sister or brother or a friend is in trouble and you are the only one who knows, you need to tell someone and get them help even if you think they’ll be mad at you.  While my issue didn’t involve Adderall like Brenda’s brother, the issue was really the same.  My sister had anorexia and bulimia.  We share a room and I was the only one who ever saw her naked so I was the only one who knew what bad shape her body was in.  I wanted to tell our mom, but didn’t because me sister didn’t want me to and I didn’t want her to get mad at me and she kept promising to change her behavior.  Then one day she fainted at school and had to go to the hospital, so our mom finally found out what was going on and made her get help.  The doctor said she was getting to the point where it could have been life threatening!  I never could have forgiven myself if something had happened to her because I was afraid to say anything.

    Sherry

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  6. By MaryEllen, age , from Seaside, CA on 03/21/2013

    I also live in a college dorm and when you live in such close proximity with others with little privacy, it’s easy to spot the “users.”  Fortunately, like me, my roommate does not use Adderall.  However, many girls on our hall are users and drive the rest of us crazy.  One of the girls next door to us is a user and sometimes makes so much noise it keeps us awake most of the night.  It’s bad enough living next door to her, but I really feel sorry for her roommate is is very nice and is not a user.

    I’m not convinced that it really helps your grades that much, and even if it does, I don’t think it’s worth what it does to your brain and body.  In the shower room there are shower curtains for privacy when you’re actually in the shower, but beyond that there is no privacy and you can’t help seeing the other girls’ nude bodies, even though I certainly don’t go out of my way to look.  Like some of the others who have written, I can’t help but notice that the bodies of some of the users are really wasting away.  One girl is in such bad shape that she literally looks like a skeleton and is frightening to see when she is nude. 

    I really think they should have separate halls for the users and non-users like they used to have separate halls for smokers and non-smokers before they totally banned smoking inside most dorms.  Let the users be together, but don’t expose the rest of us to this!

    MaryEllen

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  7. By Susan P., age , from Petaluma, CA on 03/31/2013

    I agree that life/school has become very competitive. However, I think that there is an aspect here that young people need to address themselves: the ways in which they are distracting themselves. I see my own teens listening to loud music that has words, texting friends, checking various social media at regular, short intervals, probably snacking, AND trying to focus on their homework. And then they blame external pressure rather than facing the fear of ‘not being connected’.

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