With finals just around the corner, students at the University of Nevada, Reno, are preparing to do whatever it takes to ensure a passing grade on their exams. Some may choose the classic study tactic of re-reading lecture notes and creating intensive study guides while some others will choose to use “study drugs” in order to be hyper-focused and cram for the exam the night before.
“It is crazy how many people are on Adderall late at night in the [Knowledge Center] during finals week. It seems like everyone is using it, and if they’re not, they’re looking for it,” said Ryan S., a UNR student who asked to remain anonymous.
“Adderall is a prescription drug and medical doctors use it to treat ADD, ADHD and other conditions,” said Dr. Julie Hogan, a professor of substance abuse prevention at UNR. “For students receiving this drug from a prescribing physician, use is safe and encouraged. For students using it without a prescription, this is considered an illegal use of a legal drug and should not be encouraged under any circumstance. Some students falsely believe that taking study drugs will help them study the night before an exam, so they take the drug, stay up all night, and cram.”
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a chronic condition that includes attention difficulty, impulsivness and hyperactivity. ADHD often begins in childhood and persists into adulthood. ADHD has been known to cause low self-esteem and difficulty at school and work. ADHD is treated with medication and therapy.
Adderall is a stimulant prescription drug, identified loosely as a “study drug.” Adderall contains a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, central nervous system stimulants that affect chemicals in the brain and nerves that cause hyperactivity and impulse control.
As a prescription drug, Adderall is used to treat ADD and narcolepsy. Side effects of Adderall include anxiety and weight loss, among others.
“Honestly, I really hate taking Adderall. I only take it because I feel that I’m stupid without it. It honestly makes me depressed,” said a UNR student who was diagnosed with ADHD around the age of 9. “The fact that people think they need it to finish a 20-minute project makes me feel even worse about my condition.”
A study of over 10,000 college students across the United States by the National Center for Health Research found that over half the surveyed students with Adderall or other “study drug” prescriptions were asked to sell the medication to fellow college students.
The students at UNR who will not be relying on Adderall or any other “study drug” this semester to study for big exams may be at a disadvantage compared to those who do.
“I [think using Adderall] is 100 percent cheating, except for me because I need it,” said the UNR student with diagnosed ADHD. “It’s a performance enhancer. It’s like an athlete taking steroids. Some people need steroids [for] growth problems; others cheat for personal gain.”
This student’s view of how the drug creates an unequal playing field when it comes to taking exams is contrary to Dr. Hogan’s view. She believes that unless a student has a valid prescription for Adderall, it does not help students to prepare for an exam any better than a student who was not taking the drug.
According to Stacy Burton, UNR vice provost of faculty affairs, the university’s Academic Standards Policy does not specifically prohibit the use of Adderall, but the Student Code of Conduct does.
The code of conduct prohibits the “use or possession of any illegal and/or unauthorized drugs, prescription drugs, and drug paraphernalia including for medical purposes . . . except as expressly permitted by law.”
However, the university does not see the use of Adderall for test-taking purposes as an example of academic dishonesty.
Aside from the drug’s controversy as a performance enhancer, Adderall is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning there is a high risk for addiction and abuse. Adderall contains amphetamine and, according to the Food and Drug Administration, amphetamines have a high potential for abuse. The administration also said the use of amphetamines for long periods of time may lead to drug dependence and should be avoided.
“Admittedly, I am an occasional user of Adderall, but just for exams so it’s not addictive,” Ryan said. “I have a ton of friends who use it and who sell it; they are usually people who were actually diagnosed with ADHD and just don’t need all the pills they get, so they sell them to make extra money.”
The study by the National Center for Health Research also found that over three quarters of prescription stimulant abusers use the drug for academic purposes. Some identified purposes were to help them stay awake, focus and to study for an important exam.
“Studies indicate that using Adderall as a study drug, cramming for an exam all night and sleep deprivation do not help students succeed on exams,” Hogan said. “What does help is keeping up with the reading material, attending class, engaging in class discussions and study groups, and taking and studying class notes.”