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Inside Adderall use at Vassar College

Survey says 10 percent of Vassar students use Adderall


Published: Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, March 24, 2010 16:03


Adderall, pictured above, is given by doctors to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but is frequently misused by individuals who are not diagnosed with ADHD. Adderall is an emphetamine known for its ability to enhance focus.

It's no secret that Vassar students use Adderall. But how much, why and with what frequency remains more elusive. In recent years, Adderall has attracted media attention for its usage as a non-prescription stimulant in workplaces and on college campuses. Several colleges and universities—among them Bates and Bowdoin Colleges and Brown University—have recently addressed the topic in their respective newspapers, and it seems every time midterms roll around at Vassar, murmurs of Adderall use are everywhere.

Adderall is a prescription pill whose clinical use is for the treatment of individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The pill—which belongs to the category of drugs known as amphetamines or, by its street name, speed—enhances these individuals' ability to focus and work efficiently.

It has been difficult for campus administrators to determine the extent of non-prescription Adderall use here at Vassar. Associate Director of Residential Life Richard Horowitz remarked in an e-mailed statement, "I can't say that I know Adderall use to be a serious problem at Vassar… We just don't know. [Compared to] the use of many other drugs it is simply much easier to hide…it takes a second to pop a pill and—even if witnessed—the observer doesn't know what the pill was. It can easily be done quietly, privately and quickly."

The Drug and Alcohol Education Committee conducted a survey in the spring of 2008 that suggests that the vast majority of Vassar students are not using the pill illegally; the study indicated that 10 percent of participating Vassar students admitted to having used non-prescription Adderall in the past. This 10 percent was made up of two groups: Three percent claimed to have taken non-prescription Adderall seven or more times per year, and seven percent admitted to taking the drug fewer than seven times per year.

Chair of the Drug and Alcohol Education Committee Renee Pabst wrote in an e-mailed statement that the Committee has "seen three different [versions of] Adderall misuse/abuse: [students who are using the drug] around exam time as a study aid, students who are using it as a stimulant to lose weight and those who use it recreationally. All present great risks, but the users have different motivations for using."

On the night of Wednesday, March 3 during the stressful season of midterms, The Miscellany News went to the Thompson Memorial Library to talk to students about their relationships, or lack thereof, with non-prescription Adderall. Reactions were mixed, and all students interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity. Information from the visit suggested that Vassar students who use the drug without a prescription tend to do so habiutually: One group of students confessed to being on the drug at the time they were interviewed. Other students said that they sometimes took it, yet others had heard about it but had not once taken it, nor did they think any of their friends had.

Responses varied when students were asked if they thought non-prescription Adderall use actually improved their focus and productivity. One student proudly remarked that Adderall had changed her life, while another said that Adderall enhanced her ability to complete simple tasks, but was useless for more conceptual work. Pabst addressed this issue from a medical perspective in her correspondence: "The students who use it as a study aid are operating under the myth that it will improve their concentration and ability to study," she said. "Adderall is a stimulant, and when not prescribed to a student, it does not promote better cognitive ability, but it will keep them up longer. A common myth is that Adderall will improve concentration—that is only true for students who have ADD [attention deficit disorder]/ADHD."

To further complicate the question of the drug's presence on campus, there are students who are misusing their own prescriptions. One sophomore who asked to remain anonymous explained that she uses her prescribed Adderall when she goes out on the weekends: "It depends what you mean by recreationally. I am prescribed Adderall, but I take it pretty much every time I drink."

Pabst noted that mixing Adderall with alcohol "promotes cross-tolerance, which may lead to dependency on both drugs."

Whatever the reason for use, the dangers of non-prescription Adderall seem to be misunderstood among students. For this reason, Pabst underscored the following: "Whether a student is using this drug a few times a year for studying or recreationally, it is vital for them to understand the risks. For students who are not prescribed this drug, it can result in an irregular heartbeat, dangerously high body temperatures, and/or the potential for cardiovascular failure or seizures. Taking it over a short period of time can lead to hostility or feelings of paranoia."

If you are concerned about your or a friend's misuse or abuse of Adderall, the following campus organizations can be of help: Office of Health Education, Metcalf House Solarium: 437-7769; Counseling Services-Metcalf House: 437-5700; Heath Services-Baldwin: 437-5800.

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Mon Mar 29 2010 11:45
Anonymous, I was shocked to scroll down and read such negative comments in response to what I found to be a well-written, informative article about a real issue on our campus. Had the writer tried to give a more comprehensive "inside" look, this article would have gone on for pages and pages. Most of us know someone who takes or has taken Adderall (with or without a prescription) and it's no surprise (as the writer both wrote in the article and reiterated below) that he found all of the reasons, frequencies, and individual situations to be too different to address here. This article was meant to be an overview of the problem, and to provide students who are unaware of this issue with a succinct introduction.

Also: to say "WRITE BETTER" is nasty and uncalled for (as well as confusing, since the article was written quite well, I thought) and your tirade leads me to believe that you clearly did not read the piece very carefully because he does talk about having spoken to students and even quotes one!

It just makes me angry to read such negative comments at the end of well-written, well-researched, well-intentioned articles. I don't know Matthew personally, but I appreciate his willingness to even begin to tackle such a complex issue, and I thought he did it eloquently. Believe me, I am all for free speech, and I appreciate the discussion that this article has spurred. As a community, however, I feel in general that we should be more supportive of each other. If you have a real problem with something someone has written, why not shoot an email to the person suggesting he write a follow-up article with more of a focus on specific students? I don't think everyone should blindly support or love everything that a fellow student writes (though I personally disagree with you, of course it's completely reasonable for you to have complaints about this article, or any article for that matter), but I think it's really destructive to have such negative, bordering-on-personal attacks become the norm.

2012, thank you for including the New Yorker link. It was a great follow up to Matthew's article, and it clearly demonstrates to me why he had to keep his piece brief: you can see that to write a true in-depth expose took Margaret Talbot 10 pages!

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting article, and I look forward to reading more by Matthew Bock in the future.


Sun Mar 28 2010 15:06

I think you're right about a lack of student perspective in the article. When I talked to people, I found that their reasons for use were all different -- some used prescribed adderall in a "non-prescription" context, some used it for papers, some found they could only use it for simpler chores, some used it when they drank, etc. -- so rather than detail specific stories I hoped to communicate that fact, but I hear you. I wanted the article to present a larger picture.


Thu Mar 25 2010 14:03
Disappointed readers might appreciate the New Yorker article about this same issue.

We shouldn't hold the Misc to the same standards of excellence. And we shouldn't trust ANY source of information to give us the whole picture. Journalists, scientists, doctors, off-label users, on-label users, and drug companies will all tell you a different story about neuroenhancers. The best we can do is weed out false or misleading information. For example, the first commenter claims that neuroenhancers' benefits for non-ADHD people are "dramatic." In fact, they are modest:

Thu Mar 25 2010 10:56
As well, this ridiculous article claims an "inside" look on adderall use on campus. As far as i can tell though, as "in" as Matt got was the office health services and res life. Rich Horowitz and Renee Pabst don't count as insider sources. I'm tired of the misc using sensationalist headlines to grab students' attention to make up for really boring and uninformative news. WRITE BETTER, and when you claim to have to inside scoop on something, at least ask someone who's used the stuff. Would that have been that difficult, i'm pretty sure the writer knows half the kids who use the stuff anyway...


Wed Mar 24 2010 18:24
Interesting how Renee Pabst chose to spin the benefit/ risk tradeoff as benefits being only applicable to those prescribed Adderall, and risks only applicable to those without a script. Example: "For students who are not prescribed this drug, it can result in irregular heartbeat, dangerously high body temp" etc. Those risks are exactly the same for those who have a prescription. Further, ADD is an almost completely clinical diagnosis, there's not any kind of genetic or chemical test to squarely classify an individual as possessing or not possessing the disease. Thus, even for a person with minor attention problems (aka nearly everyone) who may not be diagnosed formally with ADHD, Adderall can dramatically improve focus and performance, and not just "keep you up late without benefit" (paraphrasing) as Ms. Pabst suggests. On a more broad note, if the administration/ institution wants to seriously address drug use on campus, not just Adderall, it would be best for them not to insult students' intelligence by preying on their fear and feeding them misinformation.

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