‘Study drugs’ unhealthy option for students


With the stress of finals week just around the corner, some students are turning to dangerous “study drugs” to stay awake and focus during all night study sessions.

Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta and other medicines prescribed for the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Attention Deficit Disorder and narcolepsy, also act as stimulants for people who do not have these conditions.

According to a study done by the Nemours Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on health related issues, nearly 9 percent of the students surveyed had used ADHD medication in a nonmedical capacity. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, full time college students are twice as likely to have used Adderall recreationally as non-college students of the same age.

Shawn Hatch, director of clinical services at Marquette General Hospital, said that over the last five years, she has seen an increase of young people coming into the hospital seeking an ADHD diagnosis.

“There are a lot more people who hope that they have it,” she said. “They come here seeking that medication.”

ADHD medication acts in a manner similar to other stimulants, like caffeine; it increases levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter related to motivation and pleasure, in the brain, said Hatch. The increase often gives users an increased sense of focus and attention for hours at a time.

Using ADHD medication that isn’t prescribed to you can be dangerous because it is easy to take too much, said Hatch.

“If you take more than what a normal prescribed dose would be, you reach that point where you can’t sit in a chair and concentrate,” she said. “Worst case scenario is stroke, hallucinations, delusions, high blood pressure and increased heart rate.”

ADHD medication is very addicting, both physically and mentally, said Hatch.

“People who find that the sensation of being ‘up’ stimulating, start to seek it. They like it. Your brain gets used to having that surge, that increase in dopamine levels. If you take that drug away you experience a big drop,” she said. “You feel sleepy, depressed, irritable [and have] low motivation.”

Currently the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) classifies Ritalin and Adderall as schedule II drugs. According to the DEA, schedule II drugs have medical value, but also have a high potential for abuse which can lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
Hatch said that it is important that anyone ceasing nonmedical use of ADHD medication do so under medical supervision.

“It takes about one to two weeks before you start feeling like a human again,” said Hatch. “Interestingly, the physical withdrawal is not life threatening. The risk of death is more often suicide, because they feel emotionally so miserable.”

Matt Kehrer, a junior construction management major at NMU, said that he had used ADHD medication nonmedically in high school to help study for his math and science classes. A friend, who was prescribed Adderall for ADHD, suggested that Kehrer take one of the pills.

“I took one . to try to focus,” he said. “I thought that maybe if I were 100 percent focused, I could retain the information and possibly do well on my exams.”

Kehrer said that for him, the medication did not have the desired effect.

“It didn’t really make me focused. It gave me a stomach ache and kept me awake,” he said.

After doing research about why he felt ill while on the medicine, Kehrer decided to stop taking it all together.

“I found out it’s horrible for your heart and really addictive. Also, I had a friend who used to just take them to study and he ended up getting hooked. His appetite went away, he never slept and he looked like hell,” said Kehrer.

Information about prescription drug abuse and other resources are available on campus for students who think that they may have a problem with using ADHD medication, said Lenny Shible, a health promotion specialist at NMU’s Health Promotion Office (HPO).

Shible said that even though college students can feel overworked, they have to consider healthier alternatives to taking drugs.

“As people are trying to decide how they are going to approach the oncoming crunch, it’s important to look at the big picture. Sleep, exercise and eat healthy. They would provide healthier options than popping a pill,” he said.

According to Shible, taking a break is also a very important study tool. For every 45 minutes of studying, a student should take a 15 minute break.

“I’m a firm believer in ‘Work hard at optimal levels, and take a break to recharge the batteries a bit,'” said Shible. “I believe that if our students are taking care of themselves this way, they can be more effective in getting their work done than if they were popping pills.”

Kehrer said that he has found healthier and more productive ways to study for exams and offered advice for students who are considering using ADHD medication for studying.

“If it’s not prescribed to you, you probably shouldn’t take it,” he said. “My advice is to go to a place where distractions are minimal. The library or your bedroom is usually a good option. Just try to refrain from checking your Facebook every 10 minutes.”