Drugged Testing: Addicted to Adderall, Reliant on Ritalin
October 18th, 2006
Stuyvesant students have long been portrayed as caffeine addicts—even teachers crack jokes about our love of anything caffeinated. But, in the academic pressure-cooker that is Stuyvesant, many students have turned to more powerful stimulants, such as the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) medications Ritalin and Adderall, in order to help them study and boost test scores.
Ritalin and Adderall are medications that help those who have been diagnosed with ADD or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). These drugs help them focus and calm down and are strictly meant to be used if one has a prescription. However, if someone who does not have either ADD or ADHD takes these medications, it can have the opposite effect, making them extremely hyper and energetic.
Jenny, a student whose name has been changed to protect her identity, once took Adderall to study for a physics midterm. She felt that prescription ADD medications were hot commodities at Stuy, and that “when you find out somebody has it, you want to get a lot of it. It’s hard to find by the time of the SAT’s.” She said, “Personally, I know 15 to 20 people in Stuy who have taken it, but I’m positive [that] the 15 people I know [also] know 15 other people.”
Jenny explained exactly how she felt Adderall was helpful. “You either get more done in a short period of time, or you get less done, but you understand it more,” she said. “For me, I got a lot done, and what I learned I remember to this day.” She also described the high as similar to being on fast-forward in a movie: “When you’re on it you can control yourself, but you get into it. You feel yourself going quickly. It was pretty cool.”
Marie, another student whose name has been changed to protect her identity, also experimented with narcotic “study-aids.” She described her experience with taking Adderall: “I got it from somebody,” she said. “You have to try it out first to make sure you don’t get a crazy reaction.”
She was afraid of the potential side effects which, according to the ADD-ADHD Help Center’s Web site (add-adhd-help-center.com), can include insomnia, dizziness, paranoia and addiction, as well as several other rare, but serious, effects such as high blood pressure, increased heart rate and hallucinations.
Although she was nervous, she said “One Saturday I took it. I didn’t feel anything at first, but all of a sudden I went crazy. I sat there for six hours. I studied, I finished my SSR background sheet—it was great.”
Pleased with the results, Marie decided to ask her friend for more pills. “I took it to study for the Spanish AP [exam], but it didn’t kick in as fast as it did the first time,” she said. She took another pill the day of the Advanced Placement test, but instead of increasing her energy, the drug had the opposite effect. “I was really scared that I would get a reaction the day of the [test],” she said. “I took it and I felt like it didn’t work. I felt slowed down. I think the reason I didn’t do well on the test was because it slowed me down,”
Her experience with Adderall has a clinical explanation. The ADD-ADHD Help Center’s Web site said that Adderall and Ritalin “both have high abuse liabilities. These substances are powerful stimulants, and Adderall abuse, along with Ritalin abuse, is extensive. Adderall abuse can lead to marked tolerance, escalation in dosages and addiction.”
Biology teacher Jerry Citron said that Adderall can “act as a stimulant if you don’t have ADHD. It’s an amphetamine,” belonging to a category of drugs that includes caffeine, cocaine and crystal meth. He also said that for students who take it to improve performance while studying or taking tests that “it doesn’t necessarily improve memory acquisition. It can give a false sense of confidence. If they’re tired, it can make them more impulsive.”
So why do students risk so much to do better on tests? When asked whether she felt the competitive atmosphere of Stuyvesant influenced her decision to take Adderall, Marie said, “Definitely. I got swept up into it. I had so much going on. I’m a bad studier, [and] I had to sit down and study. There are so many Stuyvesant students who pop caffeine pills or are addicted to Tylenol or Advil.”
Jenny said, “The people you would never expect to be on it are.”
Senior Mike Cartusciello, who was unaware of students taking Adderall prior to the interview, said, “That’s definitely not fair. In order to compete with them to get into the college I want to get in to I need to work extra hard to get a better SAT score. Maybe if we both did it without the drugs I’d do better, but because of the drugs, I’m below them with my scores.”
Senior Mia Khatcherian said that she knows people in Stuyvesant who take Adderall “just to focus [or] even just to get through homework.” Khatcherian is against students using Adderall just to study because she feels it can lead to the use of other, more harmful drugs. She said “I know some people who think of those ADD medications as ‘baby speed.’ They might end up wanting to try the real thing.”
Drug use to enhance performance on tests is not an issue specific to only Stuyvesant students, but rather it occurs in many other highly competitive academic institutions as well. Jenny said that, while many students here use Adderall to study for SAT’s, the drug is also in “pretty high demand in college. College kids will call me up and ask for a huge supply.”
Many college newspapers have printed articles about Adderall abuse in their schools. Mike Scokay of the Tufts Observer wrote an article on February 6, 2006 that said “students use these [abused prescription drugs] to concentrate when studying for tests or during all night homework marathons. This is a newer class of drugs that [is] often seen as benign, harmless, and [is] widely abused on college campuses and high schools nationwide.”
In response to criticism from those who, like Cartusciello, think Adderall can give some an unfair advantage on tests, Marie said, “It’s not as if it gave me extra brains. It helped me study. It made me sit in one place and focus. But I don’t condone my actions in taking it.”