The Adderall Epidemic: Study Drugs at UBC

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The first time I heard of Adderall use for school was in my second year at UBC. I was sitting in a large lecture accompanied by a friend who happened to be in a fraternity on campus. He mentioned to me that it was common in the frat house he belonged to, but he had heard troubling stories about the ill-effects of the drug. I, being a person who had always distanced myself from drug use, cringed at the idea of popping pills to stay focused in the library.
Now in my fourth year, I have made it through most of university without hearing too much chatter about using Adderall to improve my efficiency, but last term during finals I witnessed a couple men in the library swallowing the pills. That got me thinking.
Adderall is usually prescribed to patients with ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The drug, which contains amphetamine, affects the mesolimbic reward pathway of the brain much the same as methamphetamine (Crystal Meth) and cocaine. For patients who suffer from ADHD, the drug improves focus and performance throughout the day by increasing dopamine levels.
Adderall is a prescription drug, therefore it’s availability on campus is somewhat illusive. However, some studies show up to 25% of students at certain universities abuse the drug to cram before an exam and write term papers. A
2011 National Post article claimed that a recent survey suggested 5.4% out of 400 students at McGill had used a “study drug” at least once. Other studies claim that higher use of Adderall correlates with more difficult admission standards, making it popular among east coast American “Ivy League” schools and the prestigious Canadian institutions McGill, Queens, UofT, and UBC, in particular.
In fact, a quick Google search proves just how popular Adderall use at UBC is. On one pre-med discussio
n board, a student asked where he or she could find Adderall on campus and how prevalent it was. Pages of comments rolled in. One user admitted: “I know tons of undergrads and med students who take these drugs. It has nothing to do with time management, as some of you may think. The people I know are extremely organized, efficient people. It’s just that the drug helps them achieve a lot more than they would have without it. Why waste 4 hours memorizing your med lectures when you can do it in 2? Use the extra time for something else (work, exercise, friends).” Another projected frustration: “During my undergrad at UBC, I knew quite a few pre-meds who took Adderall. Oddly enough, I found this out in my last semester in 4th year. Turns out most of them had been taking it since 1st or 2nd year. I was kind of upset, considering it gave them a huge advantage and ultimately all of them (with the exception of one) got into UBC med.”
One UBC blogger wrote about her experience with Adderall in 2008 and claimed that while under the drug’s power, she decided to drop out of school and read the Bible cover to cover – something she had never thought about doing before.
Even a search on Craigslist returns numerous results of people both buying and selling Adderall and other study drugs. The pills are sold by those with a prescription for anywhere between $5 and $25 a pop.
After speaking to a few students I know who had experience with the drug on different levels, I began to understand the study drug culture that proves to be much more prevalent at UBC than I expected.  One former UBC student who now studies medicine at the University of Calgary claims that it is the competitive culture of programs like pre-med that drives students to get ahead in any way they can: “The use of study drugs (adderall/dexedrine/etc) is extremely common amongst premedical students. I know this because as a pre-med, I have spoken to countless classmates and even friends who use it… it seems that the more competitive one’s program is, the more students are looking for this stuff.” She also mentions that the drugs are used commonly to prepare for the MCAT and that some students even snort Adderall like cocaine for a more extreme effect. Because of this, she admits that she is “scared to compete with people like this”.
Another student mentioned that she had witnessed a friend battle with a dependence on Adderall: “The medication did in fact help him buckle down and do all of his work, however he did become a little dependent on it… In the way that he wouldn’t be able to sit and concentrate on his work without the drug.”
I have heard similar rumours about the adverse effects of stopping medication. The most common problem seems to be the inability to focus at normal levels without the drug. More specifically, a student who does not have ADHD and has a normal attention span and ability to focus and who takes a study drug for increased efficiency, will not easily return to pre-drug attention levels. They will find that they cannot study without the drug, leading to a long-term dependence that can last through their entire university career and return in the professional sphere.
The discussion of the use of study drugs like Adderall also raises a question about morality. While the university has no policy on the use of performance enhancing drugs for academics, many believe those who use these drugs are in fact cheating. One argument compares the use of performance drugs in sports compared to universities. Athletes are banned from using steroids, and interestingly Adderall, to improve their game and achieve an unfair advantage over the other players. However, students whose marks skyrocket thanks to Adderall are ultimately able to achieve more (i.e. admission to graduate schools, law school, med school, higher income) than those who don’t take the drugs, yet they face zero consequences. Sometimes it is this question of morality that hinders a student from the temptation to take the drugs, but depending on the competitiveness of that student’s program, morals only go so far.
If you’re thinking about using study drugs, make sure you do plenty of research before you make your decision. Make sure to check out your other options on campus if you’re feeling stressed about your studies. There are plenty of ways to improve your grades legally.
What are your thoughts about the use of study drugs at UBC?

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