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Health concerns associated with Adderall use

Health concerns associated with Adderall use

Health concerns associated with Adderall use
December 01
23:49 2014

Dalton LaFerney / Senior Staff Writer

You take the pill, probably washing it down with Red Bull or coffee, hoping to reach the zenith of concentration and productivity. The medication reaches the bloodstream, prying open synapses to be flooded with dopamine. Your pupils dilate, and you are focused — it’s time to study.

Finals season is here, and many UNT students will look to Adderall and other stimulants for assistance. It’s not a difficult task to get them at a university, but some healthcare thinkers oppose stimulant drug dependence, as it has negative effects on the body.

A 2013 study published by the National Institute of Health studied 1,253 college students and found 30 percent of students use stimulant drugs exclusively to study. Stimulant drug misuse was more common among Greek life students, and is associated with low GPAs, psychological distress and histories of alcohol or drug use.

UNT Police Spokeswoman Jana McCaslin said there were 24 arrests involving prescription pills made by the police department from Nov. 24, 2013 to Nov. 24 2014.

Smita Mehta, educational psychology professor, said the common belief of students that Adderall will improve their content retention and success on exams is false.

“If attention is a function of a medication like this, technically users should be able to perform well in school,” she said. “But we are not seeing improvement in grades. All we are seeing is the type of effect that psychotropic drugs have. You are quite like a fly on the wall. If that’s what you are looking for, there is a problem here.”

Mehta said she is not in favor of medications to control learning or behavior. She offered insight on the growth in popularity of stimulant drug use, citing a 2014 paper by Peter Conrad and Meredith Bergey of Brandeis University that examined marketing efforts by pharmaceutical companies to sell Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder medications.

“[A] pharmaceutical company created a medication for some other condition, but because they were studying it very carefully, they saw some of the side effects improved the ability to focus on a short term basis,” Mehta said. “So, they thought if this is what it can do, maybe they could market it such a way. And so the American Psychiatric Association came up with ADHD.”

ADHD is the combination of attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity disorder, two separate disorders until the APA created the new diagnostic category as a result of marketing efforts made by pharmaceutical companies. The Conrad and Bergey study reports ADHD diagnoses continue to increase as the image of the disorder has been reshaped.

“For the past 40 years, ADHD has been among the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric conditions for children in the U.S.,” the paper reads. “With the rise of adult ADHD, prevalence of ADHA continues to grow as it becomes seen as more of a lifespan condition than just a disorder for children.”

Mehta said stimulant drugs were aimed to help students focus and be calmed, but instead kids have become dependent on the drugs, not having solved the major issues that warrant ADHD medication.

“Parents who did not know how to manage their kids would go to their doctors and ask for something to calm down their kids,” Mehta said. “It didn’t necessarily calm them down, but it dulled their senses. As long as they were not creating problem behavior, everything was okay.”

While hyper students were lifelines to the ADHD drug market, Mehta said the drugs used to treat it did not look at ADHD as two separate issues.

“Attention deficit disorder was one thing, and then there was attention hyperactive disorder,” Mehta said. “Behavior is something you can observe because it is external, but how do you know when somebody’s focus has improved?”

ADHD treatment became popular for students in classrooms across the country. Mehta said because teachers and parents were desperate, they did not read the side effects and continue the same trend, resulting in the loss of creativity and proper functionality of the brain.

Mehta said students should not cram for exams — another reason many students turn to drugs like Adderall — because it forces students to stay up later, leading to decreased retention rates and exam success. She said to study each day, and eliminate distractions like cellphones and computers during study sessions to maximize success.   

“If somebody needs to use medications for anything, use it is a temporary way until you develop the behavioral procedures necessary to take over,” Mehta said. “Medicine should not be continuous, unless you have serious issues like blood pressure or heart problems.”

Although most college students use Adderall short term, there have been many reported cases of addictions and extreme misuses with the drug. Too much of the stimulant can lead to depression or other serious health issues such as high blood pressure or minor troubles like muscle twitches. If a user becomes dependent on the drug, a doctor might prescribe a high dosage, throwing the patient into an unhealthy cycle.

UNT’s Eagle Peer Recovery program offers services like those needed in association with Adderall misuse. Founder Robert Ashford said stimulant drugs are not of high concern in comparison to alcohol or marijuana use, but are among the top focal points on campus due to common misuse.

“We are trying to educate students on the realities of what Adderall is for,” Ashford said. “Unfortunately, the perception with most students is that it will help them study or pass, but studies show that’s not the case. The pressure to succeed is often overbearing. If you feel that way, look at your time and ask how you are managing it.”

Featured Image: Several UNT students study for upcoming exams in Willis Library last night.  Photo by Evan McAlister – Staff Photographer

About Author

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton is the editor of the Daily.

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