The prescription drug Adderall is favored by college students looking to improve academic performance and keep up with hectic schedules. Adderall first entered the market in 1996 as direct competition for Ritalin, which had long been used to help manage symptoms of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Adderall became so popular that in 2001 it produced an extended release form known as Adderall XR. Used to stay alert at school and on the job, it also quickly became the darling of college kids, military personnel, professional athletes and working professionals.
Stimulants were first given to soldiers during WWII to help them stay awake and alert on long missions. Stimulant drugs trigger the flow of norepinephrine and dopamine, which make users feel energized, confident and upbeat. Shire plc, the company which originally held the patent for Adderall, gave the drug a name with ADD right in the title, perhaps to woo parents who may have balked over giving young children a drug used to stimulate soldiers or keep long-haul truckers awake.
Shire also played a shell game with formulation so that it could legally patent the product. Thus, a patented drug just for kids with a specific illness that is actually no different than the speed given to help military combatants.
The drug’s stimulation of dopamine does enable users to pay attention for extended periods of time, which is a real challenge for those with ADD. Its trigger of norepinephrine also boosts the brain’s ability to grab and store information. The ability to study longer and retain more information is why kids on college campuses refer to Adderall as a “study drug.”
For the nine percent of students and children who have diagnosed ADD, taking Adderall really does improve their school performance. But those who abuse it face tremendous risk for addiction. The drug stimulates powerful reward mechanisms in the brain, making it one of the most highly addictive substances. Kids who start off taking it to help them cram for finals or improve their grade in a tough class will soon be craving it, and when that happens students stop eating, lose sleep and become paranoid.
The bottom line is that Adderall is a potent substance. It does help people whose brain actually need a boost, but for others the risks are patently clear.