Like many parents across the country, I have given Adderall to a child. I did so reluctantly, after years of pressure by teachers and many visits with ADD experts. Two of our children were diagnosed with ADD. One son took Adderall while another son took a different drug. Yes, there were side effects, including appetite loss and temporary sleep problems. Dosages had to be carefully monitored to hit the peak periods when our children needed to focus, primarily during school and homework times. And yes, the drugs worked. But a sobering segment on 60 Minutes has given me second thoughts.
60 Minutes Focuses on Adderall’s Side Effects and Neuroenhancement Use Among College Students
A recent 60 Minutes show centered on something one of our sons had told us about when he’d first started college. Now I was hearing about the phenomenon again. According to a Katie Couric segment on 60 Minutes, some college students may be popping Adderall and other drugs to help them study. They don’t have to have a diagnosis of ADD and they don’t even need a prescription (although some may fake the symptoms of ADD in order to get a prescription). They may be able to buy the drug from other students who do have prescriptions.
The 60 Minutes segment focused on the University of Kentucky, a campus where students may routinely pop pills to study more effectively. It seems that Adderall or Ritalin or similar drugs could produce an effect known as neuroenhancement, producing an alert and very attentive state of mind. The 60 Minutes segment indicates that students can buy Adderall for around five dollars a pill.
Taking the drug may be a growing trend, affecting as many as 50 to 60 percent of students at some college campuses. But why do students without attention deficit disorder (ADD) take these medications? Because some research indicates that Adderall seems to work on nearly everyone, according to information mentioned on the 60 Minutes segment. Psychiatrist Nora Volkow tested Ritalin on sleep-deprived people and they became alert and able to pay attention.
People who hadn’t been diagnosed with ADD could focus, possibly because the stimulant medication increased Dopamine in the brain. It turns out that Dopamine seems to make everyone able to pay better attention to what is going on around them. In short, it works on those with a diagnosis of ADD as well as those who have never been classified with attention deficit disorder. It seems to be an equal opportunity drug when it come to increased attention and focus.
Does Adderall Actually Help Students Get Better Grades?
Based on my experience, I saw my sons’ grades improve when they were put on Adderall and other drugs. But they had a very real diagnosis of ADD. However, our older son decided he didn’t like the side effects from the medication and voluntarily decreased his use of the drug when he went to college. For awhile, he would take it only during exam week.Then he stopped completely and his grades stayed high. His experience may not be the norm, though, not if the 60 Minutes segment is any indication of how Adderall is being used on college campuses.
Some college students believe the drug helps them achieve better grades and they aren’t willing to take chances. They pop the Adderall and find it easier to study. But are those students getting an edge on the students who don’t use Adderall? Is Adderall the academic equivalent of steroids, especially if those on the drugs get better grades than students who don’t take the drugs? Or are the students on Adderall feeling a placebo effect from the drug?
Scientists, Psychologists and Others Debate Pros and Cons of Adderall, Other Stimulant Drugs
One psychologist, Martha Farah, gave some students 20 milligrams of Adderall while others got placebos. She was trying to discover if Adderall truly helped students pay attention – or if simply believing that it would help made a difference. She was one of a group of scientist, ethicists and others who published commentary in Nature magazine which encouraged people to be open to new ways of enhancing brain function.
But Dr. Nora Volkow is cautious about the drug and points to side effects like heart and blood pressure problems. Our son had a tendency to grind his teeth while on the drug and we still don’t know whether his heartburn is a result of the Adderall or not. I certainly wouldn’t encourage anyone without a firm diagnosis of ADD to take these medications just to study during exam time. Unfortunately, if students fear their grades depend on taking these meds, they may be unlikely to stop using them.
Popping Pills a Popular Way to Boost Brain Power, 60 Minutes, April 25, here