Artist: Phil Kiner / Daily Nexus


“Within the last 12 months, have you taken any of the following prescription drugs that were not prescribed to you: Stimulants (e.g. Ritalin, Adderall)?”

This was one of the questions asked in the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment that was administered to a random sample (~1,000) of UCSB students last spring. Nearly 14 percent answered “yes.” If we generalize that to represent all UCSB undergraduates, 13.7 percent would mean approximately 2,500 students reported using these prescription drugs illegally.


A recent study, “Adderall is Definitely Not a Drug: Justifications for the Illegal Use of ADHD Stimulants” was published in the journal Substance Use & Misuse. They interviewed 175 undergraduate students who used Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) stimulants like Adderall without a prescription. These students thought the stimulants were physically harmless and morally acceptable. Let us examine and challenge some of the justifications that helped them come to those conclusions:

1) “It’s the same as drinking a lot of coffee.”

Let’s see, in a latte, there is water, coffee beans (containing caffeine) and steamed milk. Perhaps you add sugar and other flavorings. Adderall is made up of dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine aspartate monohydrate, dextroamphetamine sulfate USP,and amphetamine sulfate USP. These increase levels of the neurotransmitters: dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Adderall is not the same as coffee, diet coke or even caffeine pills.

2) “I have trouble focusing and/or concentrating, I daydream, I get bored easily, I have low reading comprehension — I probably have ADHD. So I’m just taking what I need.”
Drugs like Adderall and Ritalin have made life for many people with ADHD better. Under their doctor’s care, these drugs can help a person function and cope better with their symptoms. But you are not a doctor. ADHD is more than just an occasional inability to concentrate. If you think you have ADHD, consider getting tested. Contact the Disabled Student Program at (805) 893-2668 to make an appointment with the ADHD specialist to discuss your options.

3) “Adderall is prescribed and regulated by medical experts, so it must be safe.”
Adderall is a Schedule II drug, meaning it has accepted medical use for treatment but it has a high potential for abuse, and abuse of the drug can lead to psychological or physical addiction. All Schedule II drug prescriptions are limited to 30 days worth of doses with no refills. The Adderall prescribing information handout states, “Amphetamines have a high potential for abuse.” That sheet’s “warning” and “adverse events” sections list serious cardiovascular adverse events, hypertension, worsening mental illness, headaches, insomnia, loss of appetite and mood changes. Just because a drug is prescribed to one person doesn’t mean it is safe for another person to use.
And always keep in mind that the mixing of two or more drugs can cause a greater reaction than the simple sum of the individual drugs. Sometimes these combinations can be deadly.

4) “I only use it in moderation, during midterms, finals.”
How do you define moderation of a prescription drug that was not prescribed to you? By dosage? 5mg, 10mg, 15mg, 20mg, 25mg, 30mg? How often? There are no responsible answers to these questions because the drug was not prescribed to you. Words like “moderation” and “not using in excess” can’t be defined when talking about nonprescribed use.

5) “I’m doing Adderall for the right reasons: not to get high, but to get higher grades.”
I call this the “end justifies the means” argument. “Doing well in college is the reason I’m here, so anything that helps me achieve higher grades is good.” But what defines “doing well in college” for you? Is it just the grade? What does the process of preparing for a test, discussion, lab and paper teach you about yourself? Does the knowledge that it is a federal crime to use a Schedule II drug without a prescription have an influence on your decision to use or not use? Those are questions you have to answer for yourself.

It’s worthy to note that the majority (86.3 percent) answered they did not illicitly use Adderall and Ritalin in the past year. If you generalize that finding to our UCSB population, it would be over 15,000 undergraduates. The more strategies you possess to fulfill your academic responsibilities, the more options you have to succeed. Don’t limit yourself to one strategy. Take advantage of study groups, Campus Learning Assistance Services, Educational Opportunity Program, faculty office hours, mentors, etc. Good luck with wrapping up the quarter and congratulations to our 2010 graduates!


Michael Takahara is an educator with UCSB Health & Wellness.