Illicit Attention

One SAT Saturday in mid-September, between frantically cramming vocabulary and mathematical formulas, my friends and I started the typical pre-SAT complaining: how we should have studied harder and how we should have taken more prep classes — how this girl got a perfect score and that guy cheated on the math portion. You know… the usual. After a few minutes of bantering, one of my friends announced that she wished she had bought Adderall. A drug commonly known as the “study drug”, Adderall is a psychostimulant used in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactive disorder, or ADHD. She felt too tired from studying for tests, writing essays and filling out college applications from the week before to fully concentrate on the college-prep test. To some, Adderall abuse may sound foreign, but Adderall and abuse of other attention-deficit drugs is growing among high school and college students across the nation. 

When I was in high school, illicit consumption of Adderall was common. Students would buy the attention-deficit drugs from other students with an ADHD diagnosis before AP Exams, research papers or SAT/ACT tests, in hope of increased concentration and a greater ability to stay awake during studying. Adderall was seen as an easy alternative to attain higher scores. The students who used the “study drug” were academically diverse: from high-achieving, AP and Honors students looking for a fast alternative to balance their schedules while maintaining a high GPA, to students struggling to keep a minimum GPA to play on a sports team. In fact some were convinced, via extensive WebMD research, that their inability to concentrate hard enough to attain perfect grades was a right of passage to self-diagnose themselves with an attention-deficit disorder.

As a current college student, I’ve noted an increase in undiagnosed Adderall abuse among my peers. From the 24-hour study room in the library basement to frat row, Adderall use has become a college norm. More and more college students are using the drug for the same purposes as high school students: for perceived increased concentration. Especially at a large public research university, where the average lecture hall reaches maximum capacity at 500 students, the grueling pressure to excel, to set the curve, and to be the best, drives many students to purchase the “study drug.” In addition, the attention-deficit drug’s presence is increasing at parties. After a long, stressful week of lengthy research papers, midterms and group presentations, Adderall is used for longer and harder partying.

Contrary to popular belief, the long-term implications for ADHD self-diagnosis, or use of “the study drug”, are far from harmless. Common side effects include transient depression and anxiety. Side effects of severe Adderall abuse include heart palpitations, heightened blood pressure, seizures, strokes, paranoia, hallucinations, and overdose resulting in death. Students who take Adderall often become dependent on the drug. This means the same withdrawal symptoms that apply to drugs such as heroin, meth, and cocaine apply to the maltreatment of Adderall. So although Adderall may help you pump out a 15-page research paper that you waited until the absolute last minute to write, it can be an addictive, and potentially fatal, solution, to a bigger problem.


“Adderall Abuse Symptoms, Signs and Addiction Treatment.” Coalition Against Drug Abuse.

Kapadia, Nahel. “Adderall Abuse and Its Implications for the College Academic Community.” USCience Review. University of Southern California, 8 Feb. 2012.

Ricker, Dr. Ronald, and Dr. Venus Nicolino. “Adderall: The Most Abused Prescription Drug in America.” Huffington Post, 21 June 2010. Web.

Anna Peare is a second year student at UC Davis where she is a participant in the University Honors Program. She is majoring in Community and Regional Development and minoring in Spanish and Education. Anna grew up in Lafayette, California and attended Acalanes High School.

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