On Adderall Abuse in Claremont

It’s a late night in Honnold Mudd, and at least one work-weathered student from Claremont McKenna College is tired. Nonetheless, a ten page Government paper is still due in the morning. He has neglected to start it until now, instead letting it gnaw at the rear of his conscience all weekend. Now it is finally game time; there is no comfortable wiggle room to procrastinate.

He needs a stimulant, something to perk him up. And fast.  The Honnold Café is still open, but he has no interest in coffee.

He pops a small, blue pill instead.

“People would be upset if they knew the amount of Adderall usage that occurs here,” asserts Charles Camp*, a student at CMC and a former dealer of the prescription stimulant Adderall. Even while making this bold statement, Charles fidgets uncomfortably throughout our interview.  He is clearly conscious of the negative stigma surrounding what he has come here to discuss.

Diana, on the other hand, a sophomore at CMC, is a little less shy about her illegal use of prescription stimulant drugs.

“It’s the best drug ever,” she muses cheerily from a dorm room. “It rocks.”

Later in the interview, Diana describes a recent deal she made with particular excitement. The market price for Adderall or Ritalin at the Claremont Colleges is usually around $5 per pill, with some variation based on the dosage, but Diana boasts about how she recently scored ten pills for only ten dollars, saving herself forty bucks.

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In a national survey, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 6.4% of full time college students age 18 to 22 used Adderall, a stimulant prescribed for the correction of Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, for non-medical purposes in 2006 and 2007. [1] Students without prescriptions buy these pills illegally, and then use them with the hope that the pills will increase their concentration on homework assignments.

Professor Thomas Borowski, a professor at Pitzer College and coordinator of the 5C Neuroscience program, questions the effectiveness of these drugs on students who are not diagnosed with ADHD.   “In terms of facilitating your retention of material, it has no effect,” he says, adding that it also will not help your memory.

While it can help with concentration, he notes that the drug "facilitates endurance more than concentration." By endurance, Professor Borowski means the ability to study without getting tired.  In other words, stimulants may help you concentrate to a degree, but their real specialty is keeping you awake.

Even if students are able to study the material while under the influence of stimulants, that does not necessarily mean they will be able to remember what they learned when they sober up the next morning.  There is a phenomenon known as "State-dependent learning."  This occurs when a person learns information in a drug-altered state, and their brain encodes that material in that state.  In order to recall the information, he or she has to be in the same state.  Essentially, as Professor Borowski explains, a student would “have to take the drug again to effectively write the test.”

Professor Borowski also estimates that somewhere around 30% of the feeling of “increased productivity” that students claim to feel after popping Adderall or Ritalin is simply a placebo effect.

The negative health effects, on the other hand, are very real.  That energetic heart-racing feeling many students describe after taking the stimulant is the result of increased strain on one’s heart.  In the short term, this could cause “cardiovascular failure (heart attack) or lethal seizures.“  Stimulant abuse in the long term has been known to cause heart disease and chronic hypertension.  Some users can even become psychotic, developing a predisposition to anxiety and panic attacks.

“Drink a strong cup of coffee,” Professor Borowski recommends.

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Students at the Claremont Colleges face a new kind of ethical dilemma: to take or not to take?

CMC’s Academic Integrity policy makes no mention of study drug abuse.  The policy, as currently written, neither condones nor outlaws the practice.

Students should be wary of taking this as a “green light” to go ahead and take the pills. While CMC may not explicitly ban prescription stimulant abuse, the United States does.  Adderall and Ritalin are classified as Schedule II substances, in the same category as cocaine.  Use without a prescription is a felony.

Despite the legal liability, many CMCers feel pressure to use the drug in order to compete with their peers.  The logic seems simple: if one person uses it to get ahead, his peers must also use it or end up at the bottom of the pack.   Stimulant abuse suddenly switches from a personal choice to a necessity, all in the tragic name of classroom competition.

Laura Miles, a sophomore who is diagnosed with ADHD, has been prescribed Adderall.  She compares her prescription to sight correcting glasses. The real purpose of these drugs, she points out, is to help those with ADHD compete on an even playing field in the classroom.  This makes it unfair for others to take it.

“People who wear glasses without a prescription can’t see through walls, but people who don’t need Adderall who take it can do the equivalent of academically seeing through walls,” Miles says.

“My doctor gave me Adderall so I can be like you,” she adds, clearly frustrated. “If you take Adderall, you’re way up higher than I am."

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Many people justify abusing Adderall by challenging the authenticity of study drugs as a whole, claiming that they are an over-prescribed treatment for a completely subjective disorder.  Many students brag that they can easily walk into a doctor's office and finagle their way into a prescription. "Well, everyone has ADHD to a degree" is an all-too common defense, but an unsupported one.

If one truly believes they have symptoms of disorder and that Adderall will help them, they should go out and take the test, to see if they can get a prescription.  In the meantime, however, they have absolutely no right to weakly justify their illegal behavior on a hypothetical.

Putting Adderall and ADHD subjectivity arguments aside, the issue is black and white.  It is illegal to use the drug for non-medical purposes. Therefore, unless one has been has been prescribed it by a doctor, it is illegal to use here at CMC.

It is a great tragedy to think that so many bright kids consider themselves dependent on Adderall in order to succeed.  Adderall usage completely undermines one's academic accomplishments.  And to what avail?  A couple of extra points on an assignment?

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone is doing it.  The statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, while disappointing, also display positive results.  They also show that the vast majority of students, over 90%, are not abusing Adderall.  These students are here to learn, and to learn the nitty-gritty, old school, get some of that Honnold Mudd dust in your lungs kind of a way. They have succeeded, and not while doped up on some stimulant.

Without a doubt, every single student at Claremont McKenna College is smart enough to successfully complete this curriculum without having to abuse Adderall.  And that is exactly what they should do.

*Students' names have been changed to protect those interviewed.