The high cost of success: Some students misuse prescription meds to cope with academic pressure

College students are twice more likely to abuse drugs like Adderall to enhance their academic performance. Photo Credit: Jade Johnson
College students are twice more likely to abuse drugs like Adderall to enhance their academic performance. Photo Credit: Jade Johnson
College students are twice more likely to abuse drugs, like Adderall, to enhance their academic performance.
Photo Credit: Jade Johnson

As the fall semester winds down and academic anxiety flourishes, college students are finding themselves using prescription drugs like Adderall as a study aid.

College students commonly misuse prescribed medication like Adderall, thinking they will get better grades, according to Healthline. Adderall is a medication usually prescribed to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Georgia State philosophy major Max Reed* uses Adderall and Vyvanse, another prescribed medication for those with ADHD, to help him study. Reed started taking the pills in high school, and currently spends up to $100 a month on the medications in college. Reed said his philosophy coursework is intensive, and he sometimes works up to 10 hours a day.

“When you write philosophy papers, you have really long periods of intense work and have to piece it all together. You have to get really into it before you can start having things click,” he said.

Adderall is among a group of legally prescribed drugs having the highest potential for abuse. Full time college students ages 18 to 22 are twice (6.4 percent) as likely to use substances like adderall non-medically compared to non full time students (3 percent), according to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Sheryl Strasser, associate professor of the School of Public Health at Georgia State, said patterns of drug misuse among students vary by many factors, including school, social groups and geography.

“While amphetamines/stimulants use is on the rise and frequently abused by college students,  [substance abuse] is not typically limited to use of one type of substance, and they may be willing to try other types of substances,” she said.

Strasser also said reasons for misuse of substances depend on a whole host of reasons, including pressure, stress, escape and euphoria.

“Really, it depends [on] coping with relationship issues, financial worry, loss, rebellion, experimentation, freedom of independent living, pain control, relaxation and escape,” she said.

Reed said he is unsure about the difference in his grades with or without the use of Adderall, but he has gotten several perfect scores on papers while under the influence of Adderall. He said the ideas he had while using were “top tier.”

“There are expectations in the classroom taking philosophy,” he said. “You have to kick ass at it. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time.”

Reed said the initial rush after taking Adderall is euphoric, most times he takes the pills after school. After taking them, he said almost 15 minutes pass before he can focus and study.

One time he even skipped a class to finish a paper while using Adderall.

“I’ll take one 10mg instant relief after school work, then a 20 mg extended release pill for like an all day thing,” he said.

Reed said his mind moves like “a Mario mushroom” after taking Adderall, and his quality of thought is better. He has also seen his writer’s block improve with the drug.

“I’m impressed with the thoughts I have on Adderall. It takes my thoughts to the next level,” he said.

Strasser said a student may become impulsive or erratic when abusing stimulants. Other side effects include withdrawal, changes in eating patterns and lack of proper grooming. The person may also lose interest in communication or participation in their daily life.

Reed said his friends use prescription drugs, and his family is aware of his use.

“They’re not sure if I should be using it,” he said, “but they turn a blind eye.”

Reed said his former girlfriend noticed him behaving erratically.

“I would get super irritated in traffic, or do something to make her pull me aside and ask me about taking Adderall,” he said.

He said his side effects include mood swings and overly emotional behavior. A sense of normalcy returns to him after a week of discontinued use, but he said Adderall’s residual effects remain during that week.

“Adderall makes you crazy,” he said. “If you take it, like six or seven days straight, you become very emotional. You can get really sad easily or take things too personally on the seventh day.”

Strasser also said there are signs to watch out for, which include drastic mood swings, sudden changes in behavior, appearance or actions. She advises people to “take action” when those signs appear.

“Look him or her in the eye and tell them you notice something different and are concerned. He or she may want to push you away and begin to isolate themselves,” she said.

*The person asked to be identified by another name to conceal his identity.