1. My friends tell me that there is nothing better than Adderall if I need to study all night. I hear about it all the time, but what exactly is it?
Adderall is the brand name (brand names are used by pharmaceutical companies to market their drugs) of the chemical amphetamine. Amphetamines are a class of drugs known to be psychostimulants — they increase wakefulness and attention, and decrease fatigue and appetite. Amphetamines exert their effects by increasing the release of three chemicals in the brain: Norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine. An adequate balance of these chemicals helps to maintain a stable mood, energy and attention. Excesses of them can cause psychosis, panic attacks, severe anxiety and mania.
2. I was trying to get Adderall to study for finals, and one of my friends told me to be careful because it is a “controlled substance.” What does that mean?
Controlled substances, which include controlled medications, are considered high risk for severe psychological or physical dependency, diversion (use of drugs for recreational purposes) and dangerous if their use is not monitored under medical supervision. In the United States, two agencies determine which medications get categorized as controlled substances: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The DEA is in charge of preventing their illegal use and distribution by enforcing the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. There are five categories of controlled substances. The most restrictive, Category I, is for substances for which there is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug. Examples of substances in this category are LSD, ecstasy and heroin. Adderall is in Category II, grouped with cocaine, methadone and PCP.
3. What is Adderall used for?
Adderall is a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only for treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.
4. I have problems paying attention. I am always tired and can’t get motivated to do my schoolwork. My friends tell me I have ADHD. How do I know if I really have it?
The diagnosis is only made by professionals in the fields of psychology and psychiatry after a comprehensive examination — including psychological testing — is done. There are many students who misunderstand their symptoms. Inattention, decreased concentration, lack of energy and motivation could be secondary to other psychiatric conditions. The available treatments for mental health conditions are very effective, but only if the diagnosis is correct. If you have concerns about your mood or other psychological symptoms are interfering with your academic functioning, contact Student Health or Counseling and Psychological Services and make an appointment with a professional. They will help you get better.
5. I’ve heard that Adderall may be the best option when in an academic jam. What are the side effects of resorting to study drugs like this, and is it really so bad to take it every once in a while?
Overall, Adderall and other psychostimulants are very safe if prescribed under the direction of a physician. Taking Adderall on your own can create serious health risks: Severe anxiety, panic attacks, dangerous increases in blood pressure and pulse, mania and even psychosis.
6. My housemate went to Student Health, faked symptoms of ADHD and got Adderall. I don’t like the fact that he is getting an advantage by using Adderall to study. I don’t want to use it because it’s not right. What are you doing to help with this problem?
Many students fake symptoms of ADHD in order to obtain Adderall and other psychostimulants. Then, they use it for performance enhancement — like professional baseball players use steroids to improve their game — to improve their ability to cram for tests. Other students, who actually have the condition, share or sell some of their “supply” to others, not knowing that it is a federal offense.
The illegal use of Adderall is a serious problem on our campus. I have been approached by many students who tell me that they don’t like the unfair advantage this drug gives students that use it illegally. Others have been part of a bad experience that their friends had upon developing psychosis or mania secondary to using Adderall that was not prescribed to them. Often they end up in the emergency room and have to take a year off from school. Well, things are about to change.
Student Health physicians, social workers and psychologists at Counseling and Psychological Services, with the support from the Dean of Students Office and the UCSB Police Dept., have worked together all summer to develop a protocol for evaluation and treatment of ADHD. Since the start of fall quarter, we have started thoroughly testing students requesting assessment and treatment for ADHD. The battery of tests includes obtaining collateral information from others (could be parents) and administering validity scales to “catch” malingerers. Our goal is to effectively treat a valid and disabling condition — ADHD — and prevent the illegal use of Adderall and other psyhcostimulants in order to make our campus safer.
Dr. Edwin Feliciano is a psychiatrist and the Behavorial Sciences Director at Student Health.
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