With finals and big end-of-year work projects approaching, students are breaking out the study pills — and they aren’t the only ones.
Both legal and illegal uses of prescription stimulants like Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, and Vyvanse continue to rise for everyone from young children to adults in the workplace.
For people with ADHD, these drugs can be lifesavers.
But before jumping on the bandwagon, here are some facts about Adderall and other stimulants you should know.
Although stimulants help people focus and pay attention, they don't necessarily improve academic performance in students with ADHD.
They may help people sit still longer and lessen disruptive behaviour in class, but not many direct cognitive improvements have been shown.
Researchers recently had a small group of young adults perform a series of tasks related to creativity to see what impact Adderall might have.
Adderall didn't affect performance on all tasks, but on the tests where it did have an effect it seemed to help those who were low-performing.
However, people who had performed well on the test without taking stimulants showed either no change or did worse while taking Adderall.
Lots of college kids and young adults take stimulants like Adderall when they go out, either to stay up or just for the euphoric effect.
But drinking may increase the risk of heart problems for people taking stimulants, even when they don't take an excessive amount of medication.
In at least one case, researchers documented a heart attack in an otherwise healthy 20-year-old who took 30 mg of Adderall after drinking.
According to The New York Times, the FDA has 'cited every major A.D.H.D. drug -- stimulants like Adderall, Concerta, Focalin and Vyvanse, and nonstimulants like Intuniv and Strattera -- for false and misleading advertising since 2000, some multiple times.'
That story quotes experts who argue that marketing -- and, in some cases, false marketing -- by pharmaceutical companies is behind much of the rise in the number of people taking Adderall, Vyvanse, Concerta, and Focalin.
They note that sales of stimulants have quintupled since 2002, and point to potentially misleading quizzes that let adults test whether they have ADHD. The Times polled more than 1,100 adults and found that more than half scored in a range that said they 'possibly' or 'likely' suffer from ADHD.
In the FDA's medication guide to Adderall, they warn people to call doctors immediately if they experience mental problems, 'especially seeing or hearing things that are not real, believing things that are not real, or are suspicious.'
Worsened mental illness for adults and psychotic symptoms for children are among the listed side effects.
The medical literature includes case reports of methylphenidate, the active ingredient in Ritalin and Concerta, triggering depression in a 7-year-old and terrifying hallucinations in a 15-year-old. And The New York Times reported on the highly unusual but tragic case of Richard Fee, a 24-year-old from Virginia Beach. Fee developed very serious mental-health problems while battling a severe addiction to prescription stimulants and ultimately took his own life.
Almost 20% of high-school boys have been diagnosed with ADHD, and more kids are prescribed stimulants than ever before.
Last year, a CDC report showed that the number of kids age 4 to 17 who received a diagnosis of ADHD rose 41% over the last decade. About two-thirds of kids with a diagnosis are prescribed stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin.
Boys receive ADHD diagnoses at more than twice the rate of girls, and are also more likely to receive prescription stimulants. Almost 20% of high-school boys have received an ADHD diagnosis.
Some people argue that this reflects better recognition and diagnosis of ADHD, but others say that it's a dangerous overuse of medicine to calm kids down and help them out in school. A big feature in Esquire argues that the high rate of ADHD diagnoses among boys in particular is due to both a misunderstanding of boys' behaviour and increased marketing efforts by pharmaceutical companies.
One survey of undergraduates found that only 2% thought using Adderall was 'very dangerous.'
Students told researchers that Adderall was 'not a drug' but instead 'a study tool.'
Others compared it to drugs like cocaine and said Adderall was 'kinda the opposite' since they used to be better at school and it was perfectly safe since doctors prescribe it.
While it's hard to estimate illegal or off-label usage of prescription stimulants, one recent study showed that almost 20% of Ivy League students used an unprescribed study aid at least once while in college.
Overall, estimates of the percentage of college students that have illegally taken stimulants range from 6.9% to 35.6%.
Of the Ivy League students surveyed, 33% did not view using stimulants as cheating, though 41% did. The remaining 25% were unsure.
Since students don't consider Adderall use a big deal, they talk about it freely on social media -- giving researchers plenty of data to analyse.
People aren't scared to mention on Twitter that they are using Adderall, and though there are questions about how reliable behavioural information gathered from Twitter is, data scientists are taking note.
Computer-science researchers at Brigham Young University analysed tweets that mentioned 'Adderall' between November 2011 and May 2012. There were an average of 930 Adderall-related tweets a day, but that number rose to 2,813 on Dec. 13 and 2,207 on April 30 -- a spike the researchers attributed to finals cramming.
And geotagging revealed where people were tweeting about Adderall most: The largest clusters of tweets about Adderall per 100,000 students were near universities in the Northeast and South, a finding that matches previous research on where students are most likely to use 'study aids.'
FDA warnings that Adderall, Ritalin, and other prescription stimulants are addictive and can have potentially dangerous side effects also haven't deterred doctors from prescribing them.
Four years after a 2004 FDA advisory about possible cardiac risks, doctors hadn't significantly changed the way they prescribed stimulants.
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