Writing their own prescription: Whitman students abuse Adderall to tackle workload

Shelly Le

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Scholastic pressure at Whitman can be tremendous, especially as midterms approach and the end of the semester looms ahead. Some students turn to using Adderall without a prescription to help them manage their heavy workload.

“I didn’t feel compelled to take it, but I did have an all-nighter in front of me, and other people who I was in a study room with were already planning to take it so it was a ‘sure why not’ sort of thing where it was available to me and I was interested in whatever would help me get through the huge chunk of work that you get during finals week,” said sophomore Owen Maynard.*

Adderall is a brand name amphetamine-based medication prescribed for patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. The drug works to increase dopamine flow in an individual’s frontal cortex, countering the effects of ADHD. According to an article published by NPR in 2009,  as many as 25 percent of students on some college campuses have used a form of Adderall or Ritalin to complete essays and study for exams.

Credit: Catie Bergman

“Adderall is actually very popular at Whitman,” said senior Jake Gale*, who has sold the drug to students in the past.

In a  Pioneer  survey of 252 students,  22 percent of respondents had used  prescription  drugs without a prescription before. Of those, 63 percent had used Adderall. The majority of the respondents who admitted to using prescription drugs without a prescription used them for recreational and study enhancement reasons.

“It’s a fairly common pattern among Whitman students to take more on your plate than you can actually deal with,” Maynard said. “Generally when finals week comes around, I don’t have enough time to properly lay out a plan of action for all my different assignments and pursue them in a reasonable manner.”

Amphetamine-based drugs are addictive by nature, and can pose dangers for prescribed and non-prescribed users if used on a regular basis. Side effects of the drug include increased heart rate, insomnia, seizures, mood swings and severe paranoia. If mixed with other prescription drugs, such as Oxycodone or large amounts of alcohol, Adderall can prove fatal.

Adderall creates a hyper-focused state that motivates the user to focus on one task without feeling the need to submit to distractions such as socializing with friends or feeling the need to sleep.  Gale said that Adderall is usually looked for around midterms and finals at Whitman.

“Adderall makes you very good at whatever it is that you choose to do, but you still have to choose to do sort of what it is that you need to get done,” Maynard said, observing  that Adderall can sometimes make users who have not built up a tolerance for the drug become so hyper-focused that they can get stuck in a one-track mindset.

“I was being pulled along by the drug in such a way that my productivity or the pace of work that I had artificially boosted myself to had outpaced my capacity for careful, reasonable thought necessary when you’re writing. So in a sense, it was a conflict of interest, but I wanted to work faster than I could effectively work, so it was a weird situation,” he said.

Sophomore Alice Sampson* said she took Adderall once for study-enhancement purposes when she had to write a six-page essay in one night last semester. However, she noted she doesn’t plan to take it again because she didn’t feel as though the drug made much of a difference in helping her complete her essay beyond keeping her awake all night.

“It wasn’t very sustainable,” she said.

Sophomore Parker Spehar* began using Adderall for recreational purposes his freshman year, and transitioned to using it to enhance his studies. Spehar obtained Adderall from friends who had prescriptions and offered it to him for $3 to $5 per pill.

“I used it when I felt that I couldn’t stay up on my own, and since I don’t really like caffeine that much, I figured it would be an alternative to drinking coffee,” he said.

Spehar said he took Adderall to catch up on work that he had to finish in a small time frame, rather than because he wanted to be an over-achiever.

“The reason why I took it wasn’t because I felt pressure to do well or achieve a certain level of quality of papers or studying for my tests. It was mainly because I just procrastinated, and it ended up I had a lot of work to do and Adderall would keep me up,” he said.

Credit: Catie Bergman

Additionally, Spehar felt that he wasn’t able to manage his time well as a first-year student.

“I was just caught up in being a freshman. It’s a new place; there’s so many things to do, so many people to meet,” Spehar said. “I would end up going out on the weekdays and boom it’s Sunday night, and I have a paper due, and I had spent the whole week hanging out.”

Director of Academic Resources Juli Dunn discussed the difficulties of balancing social lives with academics for first-year students.

“The reality for many Whitman students was that high school wasn’t hard. You’re naturally talented academicians. So to now be at a place where you have to plan your studying, students are overwhelmed,” she said.  “I would say the ARC is underutilized for using planners that can help them prepare for finals week. Students have the best intentions, but at some point they may fall off the planning wagon.”

Maynard and Spehar both felt that the pressure to complete assignments in a short time frame creates a desire for Adderall amongst college students.

“It’s always like something is due way too soon, and I have to work really hard to finish it off in time to tackle the next thing that’s due way too soon. There’s too much to be done and too little time to do it,” Maynard said. “Which isn’t to say that it couldn’t be done without Adderall, because people certainly do.”

Junior Grace Cowden* has a prescription for Adderall. On a number of occasions, she has been approached by friends asking her to share a couple of pills.

“It’s always finals week because they have to do an all-nighter for a paper or they have a test the next day,” Cowden said. “Sometimes I’ve said [to friends asking for Adderall], ‘No, I don’t really feel comfortable,’ but other times I’ve given in because they’re close friends of mine.”

Cowden feels that Adderall should only be used by those with  prescriptions.

“This is a drug meant for people with attention disorders and people without these disorders shouldn’t be taking it,” she said.

Though Cowden said that she always asks her friends if they are taking any other medications or substances that may have negative side effects when combined with Adderall, safety concerns aren’t typically discussed when Adderall is bought and sold.

“I don’t usually talk side effects because they know what they are doing because it’s repeat customers. I’ve never had someone come up and be like, ‘Wow, I should try Adderall,'” Gale said.

“I think it’s a self-responsibility type of thing where if you’re in a position where you’re taking Adderall, the responsibility is on you to do so in a so-called safe manner,” Maynard said.

After taking Adderall approximately 25 to 35 times his freshman year, Spehar no longer takes it for fear of developing a regular habit.

“I saw a lot of people taking it all the time no matter what the circumstance was. Mainly for school, but it kind of turned into taking it to just take it,” he said.

Maynard, who has only taken Adderall during finals week, felt similarly.

“I’m wary of dependence and getting myself into a mindset where I feel I need to take neuro-stimulants to make it through a large block of work because, I mean, the work isn’t going away,” he said.

Still, as midterm season approaches, a number of Whitman students will choose to ignore the potential hazards of using Adderall, and rely on the drug to get them through their all-nighters.

“We are talking about people who are still in their late teens or have only recently not become teenagers and so they’re expected to act like adults and have adult workloads and we still have adolescent mindsets in multiple respects,” Maynard said. “To sort of grapple with that transition we lean on a number of crutches, Adderall being one of them.”

*Name has been changed to protect anonymity. All students interviewed for this article asked to remain anonymous due to concerns about legal repercussions for being publicly identified.

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