According to a recent study, approximately 20% of college students rely on prescription stimulants like Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse to help them navigate the stressful and study-focused world of academia. While these drugs are often used to treat patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a large and growing portion of users have never been diagnosed with the condition. These stimulants serve as a vital drug for some, while others use them to boost their performance in the classroom in order to achieve the academic excellence they want.
But what happens when a graduate attributes much of their success to the enhancements provided by amphetamines like Adderall? Do they stop taking the drug once they enter the workforce, or do they double down and keep going down the same path that led them to where they are today? For students like Raphael, whose last name was not listed in his interview with Quartz, the choice was easy.
He began using Adderall his freshman year of college while struggling through finals. A fellow student offered him the “study drug” which he used to help keep him focused while hiding out in the library like so many college students are wont to do.
“I was a little surprised by how much I loved it,” he said in his interview. “It made me feel like a philosopher king.”
While his first dose came from an unlicensed dealer, it didn’t take too much effort to secure a legitimate prescription from a psychiatrist.
“I don’t really have ADHD. But after freshman year, I found a drug dealer with a PhD [the psychiatrist]. I said that people thought I had ADHD in high school, and the psychiatrist just said, ‘Okay,’ and took out her little pad. I’ve had a prescription ever since.”
Raphael now works as a full-time web developer making a comfortable salary after using Adderall to help keep him focused while learning how to code, and remains on the drug to this day. He told Quartz that he feels “totally dependent” on the drug – without it, he feels like he just can’t function at the same level.
Alan Schwarz, a National Correspondent at the New York Times, wrote ADHD Nation: Children, Doctors, Big Pharma, and the Making of an American Epidemic, a book that takes a deeper look into the use of prescription stimulants as a way to increase job performance. Losing this boost in productivity can seem like far too much of a risk for users to give up when they transition into their professional lives.
“It stands to reason that if you feel as if you succeeded in college partly because of these drugs, you’re more likely to feel as if you need them to succeed in the workplace,” said Schwarz.
While the enhanced performance certainly plays a part in users’ reluctance to quit the drug, the addictive properties of Adderall and other amphetamines plays more than a small role. They’re currently listed as Schedule II-controlled substances, the same category drugs like cocaine fall under.
Right now, nearly 5 million people have a prescription for these types of drugs, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to hear that a recent study of 11 million workers in the United States found that positive drug tests were at the highest they’ve been in a decade, and the numbers just keep growing. The only drug that showed up more frequently than amphetamines like Adderall and Ritalin was marijuana, a drug that is quickly becoming more legal with every passing election. In his book, Schwarz noted that despite the positive impact some users see on their ability to perform in the classroom and workplace, many more are seeing the downsides of addiction.
“The number of people entering drug rehab specifically for abuse of Adderall and other ADHD medications has risen substantially.”
Despite the clear dangers associated with these drugs, it can be difficult to give them up.
“If several of your competitors in the workplace are using Adderall, and if you feel as if your competition is getting an advantage—that they’re staying up three extra hours working, or billing more hours, or developing more ad campaigns, or whatever it may be—you might feel compelled to take the drug, too, even if you’d prefer not to,” said Schwarz. “These are serious drugs with great addictive possibilities. You start to play with fire.”
There is a serious lack of research into the affects drugs like Adderall have on people in the workplace, though that is slowly changing as people begin to realize the true dangers of dependence and addiction associated with them. While we may not have a clear picture on the exact affects prescription stimulants have over an extended period of time, it is clear that addiction plays a major role in keeping users dependent and at risk of suffering from the potentially life-threatening side effects.
At Schick Shadel Hospital, our team of professionals has helped more than 80,000 patients over the past 80 years using our counter conditioning treatment method. If you are looking for help to break free of your addiction and reclaim control of your life, give us a call at (800) 272-8464 to speak with a member of our staff, of feel free to send us a confidential message through our online form.