Can performance enhancing drugs take your schoolwork to the next level?
by Alexa Watts.
Performance enhancing drugs are usually associated with athletes. However, increasingly, drugs like Adderall, Concentra and Vyvan have become common among college students. They help improve focus to help students get through the rigorous workload of a semester.
One City College senior, a biology major who asked to remain anonymous, says she’s been taking a performance enhancer off and on for almost four years. “I started taking Adderall my freshman years of college,” she says. “It really helped my grades, but I didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t able to sleep at night or the moodiness I had so I stopped taking it.”
But without the pills, her grades slipped and she ended up on academic probation. ” “I started taking it again my junior year, and I went from barely passing to getting B’s and A’s,” she says. “I still have trouble sleeping but I’d rather deal with a few months of insomnia than fail out of school.”
Many college students are making that same decision. Drugs like Adderall are generally prescribed for people diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but have now fallen into the hands of students who don’t really “need” them.
A survey of students at 119 colleges across America published by the University of Michigan Substance Abuse Research Center showed that 25 percent of those enrolled in very competitive universities used Adderall. A national survey on drug use and health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, also found that between 2007 a 2008, college students ages 18 to 22 were twice as likely to use Adderall compared to non college students in the same age group. And according to an investigation by the Journal of American College Health showed that, 17 percent of 179 surveyed men and 11 percent of 202 women reported illicit use of prescribed stimulant medication. Forty-four percent of the students stated that they knew students who used stimulant medication illicitly for both academic and recreational reasons.
According to the U.S National Library of medicine, Adderall, Vyvan, and Concentra are all different forms of central nervous system stimulants. They affect the chemicals in the brain and nerves that contribute to hyperactivity and impulse control, and are prescribed to people with attention deficit disorder or attention hyperactive disorder. WebMd.com states that stimulant ADHD medications increase dopamine by strengthening the weak dopamine signals in the brain, a chemical in the frontal lobe that carries signal between nerves in the brain helping with focus and concentration. Low dopamine levels or variations in levels are in the brain are increased so that students who have ADHD or ADD can compete with other students that have normal levels of dopamine.
However for students who don’t have any chemical imbalances, these drugs further increase already sufficient levels of dopamine. This results in a sharpened focus and the ability stay awake. Similar to the feeling an athelete gets when taking a steriod. A student receive a sudden kick of motivation and is able to do mass amouts of work in a short period of time without feeling tired or distracted. These drugs are also hunger suppressants which make them more appealing to college students, particularly women.
However, there are side effects, some very serious. Drugs such as Adderall, Vyvan and Concentra place students at high risk of addiction. All these drugs are classified as level two medication or habit- forming drugs. Other risks such as, suddden death, stroke, heart attack, hypertension, psychosis, seizures and aggressive behavior are increased when taking these drugs for prolonged periods of time.
Dr. Shyam C.Shivdasani an M.D. who practices internal medicine in New Rochelle, warns about the dangers of taking dugs likes these. “It’s a powerful drug and can cause heart problems,” he says. “It’s an effective drug; however it should only be used for people who have significant ADD or AADHD problems where the use of therapy is not enough.”
Many students who use the drug sporadically find that getting large amouts of work done in a short period of time outweighs any dangerous side effects that can occur. Erica Shockey Kohler, a recent graduate of Central Connecticut University, who was digonosed with ADD took 56mg of Concentra each day during her college years. She says the medication helped her, and she was also well aware of many “average” students who got their hands on similar drugs.
“Honeslty I didn’t mind, but I would never give my medicine to anyone,” says Kohler. “My parents made me really paranoid about how it’s illegal and a narcotic, but I guess it’s like anything; people always find a way to do things illegally or cheat.”
She adds, “ My roommate used to get Adderall from people who were prescribed it and she would toss and turn in bed all night after her studying, doing papers, and homework was done. So I guess not being able to sleep for almost 24 hours straight is the punishment for people who don’t need it.”