Adderall: Seeking an Edge


“I popped a pill in the late afternoon and waited. Thirty minutes in, nothing had happened, and I thought it hadn’t worked. But less than an hour later, I was working intensely on a college application, writing the best essay I’ve ever written.”

This senior musician, who wishes to remain anonymous, is referring to the drug Adderall. He was never prescribed the drug, but like others at Staples and throughout the country has used it illegally to focus his attention in stressful situations. A 2011 study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that 6.5 percent of high school students have abused Adderall.

Frequently used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Adderall stimulates the brain and rest of the nervous system. Improper use of the drug has been linked from problems ranging from rashes to heart attacks and death.

The appeal, students who obtained the drug illegally said, is the possibility of higher grades in school or scores on the all-important standardized tests.

Another anonymous senior athlete said that when he uses the drug, he works more quickly and successfully.

When he used Adderall, he claimed, his SAT score rose 200 points. “I started taking it just before my SAT in preparation,” he said. “It was really important for me to do well, and I thought that this would give me the edge I would need.”

Despite the alleged benefits of using Adderall, Diane Bosch, a school nurse, says that taking larger-than-recommended dosages of the drug can be very dangerous.

“This is a drug that is open for misuse,” she said. “Students use it to study and cram for tests, but it is not safe because there are side effects such as cardiac abnormalities, rapid heartbeat, headaches, and stomach upset.”

According to PubMed Health, other symptoms include rashes, difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability, and unusual changes in personality. Frequent and drastic overuse of the drug can even lead to sudden death or serious heart problems such as heart attack or stroke.

Some of the students who used the drug illegally said they had experienced some unexpected side effects. The piano player, for instance, said that while he was able to more easily concentrate on the finer points of the construction of his essay, he would also become unreasonably aggravated at disruptions such as his vibrating cell phone. Other distractions were irritating as well, he said.

“Going to the bathroom became a frustrating experience because of the wasted time,” he said. “I would rush back to my room and snatch my laptop, instantly focused completely on the task at hand.”

Another anonymous student took ADD medication illegally and said that he felt no difference. “I felt completely the same except I might have been slightly fidgety. I didn’t feel better concentrated,” he said.

Students said they obtained drugs from friends who either had legal prescriptions or who had ordered it illegally online. For students who are legally prescribed the drug or others like it, Adderal’s new popularity can pose challenges.

Luke Crowley ’13, for example, was diagnosed with ADD and was prescribed Focalin, a medication similar to Adderall.

“My friends have asked me for a pill or two and told me they are willing to pay for it,” he said. “Obviously I say no because if I get caught selling or if the kid gets a weird reaction to the medication I would get in so much trouble, and it’s illegal as well.”

Adults at the school were not surprised by reports of the drug’s use at Staples, but they were dismayed.

Deborah Slocum, a guidance counselor at Staples, said she believes that pressure to be successful pushes many students to seek out anything that will give them an edge.

“Kids in Fairfield County feel tremendous pressure to do well,” she said. “They believe stimulants will help them do better. I’ve heard kids say, ‘If everyone else is doing it, and I’m not, then I’m at a disadvantage.’”

Slocum has never had to work directly with a student taking Adderall without a prescription but said that if she were to be placed in this situation, she would not be required to inform the administration.

“To me, a student taking ADD medication illegally speaks desperation,” she said. “You’re still going to do how you’re going to do, it’s not like a stimulant is going to add on IQ points. I would wonder what kind of stress that student is under,” she said.

According to Assistant Principal Richard Franzis, if a student is discovered either possessing or distributing drugs on or off school property, that student is required by Connecticut state law to receive a 180-day suspension.

“It’s illegal to distribute any kind of a controlled substance,” he said. “If caught, a student faces a 10-day out-of-school suspension, referral to the police for possible arrest, and an automatic recommendation for expulsion.”

With the stakes so high, Slocum wonders whether students weigh the risks of their actions.

“You’re taking someone else’s medication, and you have no idea what’s in the pill you just took.” She also worries that students do not conduct thorough research to see if and how Adderall will react with other medications they may be taking.

“If Adderall really helps a kid, they should look into whether or not they have an attention disorder and approach their doctor,” Slocum said. “I would feel much more comfortable going to CVS and getting my prescription out of an orange, plastic container.”