Adderall abuse in college

I was recently asked a question of my ask.fm account (http://ask.fm/MDPhDToBe) regarding how I feel about Adderall abuse in college. Unfortunately, my response was too long to fit in the space allotted for a response because it is such an important topic to address. Therefore, here are my thoughts:

I highly suggest that you do not abuse Adderall or any other prescription drug, especially to help you do well in college. These drugs are only available by prescription for a reason. If you feel you need to take it for self-diagnosed ADHD or narcolepsy, see your doctor to be diagnosed and get a prescription that way.

If you need more convincing, here’s some reasons why abusing Adderall is a bad idea:

1) Side effects and drug interactions. Adderall has plenty of side effects, some minor, some serious. Overdosing can result in cardiac and/or pulmonary arrest, death, severe and lasting mental effects/defects to name a few. If you abuse Adderall, your tolerance to the drug will likely go down so you will likely take more and more of it, increasing your chance of overdosing. If you overdose and you’re anywhere but near medical professionals, your chance of living is slim. This is an extreme case, but it is always a possibility. Other side effects include anxiety, transient depression, heart palpitations, elevation of blood pressure, Tourette’s syndrome, seizures, stroke, and psychotic episodes or plain old psychosis. The negative effects of taking Adderall are amplified by drug interactions. There are 488 drugs that have drug interactions with Adderall, 36 of those interactions are major. Even the common drugs acetaminophen (found in Tylenol) and ALCOHOL can amplify the negative side effects of Adderall. Receiving a prescription from a doctor is important because they will make sure that you can avoid these detrimental drug interactions.

2) Addiction. Adderall is highly addictive, so much that you will find it difficult to ever study again without it. As I previously mentioned, this can lead to a greater addiction as tolerance is increased which increases your chance of overdosing and it can lead to a whirlwind of addiction to other drugs.

3) THE LAW. THE SALE, POSSESSION, AND USE OF ADDERALL FOR ILLEGITIMATE PURPOSES IS A FELONY. FELONIES ARE ON YOUR RECORD. MEDICAL SCHOOLS, FUTURE EMPLOYERS, ETC. CHECK YOUR LEGAL RECORD. THEY WILL PROBABLY NOT LOOK ON IT TOO KINDLY. PLUS, FELONIES ARE PUNISHABLE BY DEATH OR IMPRISONMENT IN EXCESS OF ONE YEAR. DON’T RISK IT.

4) Violation of honor code. While this isn’t a thing at every school, some schools like Wesleyan University are taking the stance that the use of pharmaceutical study aids, like Ritalin and Adderall by students without a prescription is a violation of the university’s academic honor code.  Many other universities hold a similar prohibition through their non-academic honor codes. It’s not even that you will get caught, but you will then have to live with knowing that your academic success is partially attributed to taking an illicit drug. It’s not fair to your fellow students who are not taking drugs to help them study and it’s not fair to you because of its negative effects on your body and it will likely lead to dissatisfaction with studying without it. If you ever run out of it, you’re screwed.

BOTTOM LINE: DO NOT ABUSE PRESCRIPTION DRUGS. Strive for academic success in an honest way. If you need to help yourself focus on studying, drink coffee. Caffeine is still a drug but it a legal drug that is less potent, less dangerous, and available to all. Even better yet, EXERCISE. Exercise has been shown to boost your mental focus and cognitive performance for any challenging task you face that day. Plenty of us have made it through college without using prescription drugs to help us study, so it can be done without drug abuse.

Related articles:

Adderall: The Most Abused Prescription Drug in America. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-ronald-ricker-and-dr-venus-nicolino/adderall-the-most-abused_b_619549.html

Are study drugs a form of cheating? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10/13/wesleyan-university-answe_n_761495.html

4 Ways to exercise to boost brain power. http://www.boston.com/dailydose/2013/03/07/ways-exercise-can-boost-your-mental-performance/nI4DA55GaKDZbdrAk9EmiO/story.html


Featured image: Instagram | Hanna Erickson

College graduation: An educational privilege and charge

Think of your thirteen or fourteen closest friends and family members. How many of them have college degrees or are pursuing a college degree? If you’re someone like me, it’s most of them.

As a recent college grad soon bound for medical school and graduate school, my world has been focused on those within higher education. This narrowed view has made me feel much less successful with my A- GPA than those who graduated with highest distinction and honors, and I feel much more capable than those with any lower GPA in my graduating class. Same goes for any other matter of comparison – test scores, experiences, etc.

But if those fourteen or fifteen people that you first thought of represented the world, only one of them would have a college degree. One.

That’s right, just 6.7% of the world has a college degree. Many more were likely accepted to college and didn’t finish and even more than that want to go to college but don’t have the capability.

While we may not be the top of our class, we are still learning and achieving something not a lot of people get to do, and it educationally sets us as leaders of the world. But to have the opportunity, the skills, and the determination to receive a college education is something so many of us take for granted.

Now a college degree isn’t required to be highly successful or to do what you are passionate about, but for many of us it helps us along a career path that can hopefully make a difference in the world if we use our education to its fullest potential.

College graduates, welcome to the 6.7% percent. What are you going to do with this opportunity? Will you accept the charge to use it to its fullest potential?

Can you have good grades, a social life, AND sleep?

Let’s just call it my worst semester ever. My extensive coursework, work in a research lab, extracurriculars, desire to exercise at the rec center at least 4 days a week, and barely there social life pushed back my sleep to a mere average of 3-4 hours a night. No joke. It even had a hashtag on twitter, #sleeplesssemester. Sure I started drinking espresso straight, using my shot glasses for shots of espresso rather than alcohol, but still I was able to stay up late at night, sleeping on the couch for just 15 minute naps then continuing with my work. Now I try to stay up late, but those 15-minute naps on the couch often turn into hours and when I finally wake up, I realize it’s time to simply go to bed. I miss having those extra hours to be productive while the world slept. This leaves me wondering how can I do it again?

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As usually said with the pyramid above, “Welcome to college, you can only pick two.” Prioritizing grades and a social life, it is generally known that the college years are those of likely little sleep, or at least little sleep when it is most appropriate – staying up late to finish school work just to have class early the next day. Coffee, pop, and energy drinks can only help us stay awake for so long. We find sleep when we can in the midst of our lives, but far too often it is sacrificed. Instead, we use our time to master knowledge for our classes, but we forget to master the most important lesson – how to sleep effectively.

Not all sleep is equal; this is easy to forget. When you sleep, you’re not like a battery being charged at a constant rate. How well recharged you feel and how easily you can wake up is dependent on the length you sleep as well as how well you sleep and the consistency of your sleep pattern.

Back during my #sleeplesssemester, I got in a habit of going to bed at 3-4 am and getting up at 6-7 am each day during the week with just a little fluctuation. Now that I work overnight shifts, some nights I sleep 12am-8am, some I sleep 6am-10am, and some I sleep 7:30pm-3:30am (like last night… oops!). This inconsistency makes it hard then to wake up in the morning, which is one of my bigger struggles of the day and makes it very tempting to skip class or go in to work later.

Also back during my #sleeplesssemester, I studied on one couch but I slept on another, but in my new apartment, I now nap on the same couch that I study. It is said to help people fall asleep at night to only use the bed for sleep – no studying or anything else in the bed. Perhaps that can go the other way as well to say ONLY sleep in bed. It may be hard to do when tired and the couch is so convenient, but it helps remove the association that it’s ok to stay asleep on the couch for long periods that could result in 15 minute naps turning into hours.

Sleeping on the couch for so long also gets me into deeper sleep than the 15 minute naps that I intend. After sleeping for hours on the couch and going through the sleep cycle, waking up at some point in it and having to then get ready for bed, climb into bed, and fall asleep again disturbs the sleep cycle making it much less effective. It is as if that time spent sleeping on the couch did nothing to help me feel more rested.

It seems counterproductive to focus on sleep when trying to figure out how to stay up later. But from noticing my sleep habits, I now know of ways that I can try to sleep more efficiently so that I can be able to stay up late when I want to. Only sleeping in my bed, napping on a different piece of furniture than I study, realizing when I need sleep and actually going to bed, trying to wake up at a consistent time each day will all hopefully help me feel more rested and will help me get the time back in my day that I want.

Mastering sleep can begin with acknowledging the faults in your sleep schedule and figuring out how you can fix them. Each person is different and so it may take some trial and error to figure out what works best, but being more aware of your sleep patterns and sleep quality can help improve your sleep efficiency, your energy level, and your overall productivity level. In turn, this can help you reach a little closer to the sleep corner of the triangle without having to sacrifice good grades or a social life! Yes you don’t have to just pick two!

Update 2/5/14: I am now in a combined MD/PhD program and I no longer work random overnight shifts. This previous summer, I went cold turkey on my caffeine addiction and focused on sleeping more each night. While my daily cup of coffee routine has returned as a student (because I originally started drinking coffee simply because I like the taste of coffee), I am sleeping 7-8 hours every night and I haven’t felt so awake in many years! While I have a lot on my plate currently, I have found that getting extra sleep hasn’t affected my ability to get everything done at all, in fact I feel that it has helped immensely!