ADHD OR ANXIETY?
Prescription stimulant use on the rise in college students
Published: Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Updated: Thursday, December 12, 2013 03:12
Long before Emily* (who wishes to remain anonymous for confidentiality reasons) was diagnosed last spring with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the senior public relations and advertising major said she knew she had problems with concentration. Focusing and finishing projects were difficult tasks, and it continued to get worse as she progressed in school.
“I know there’s procrastination, but mine was terrible,” she said. “The biggest thing was (that) I would start
things and then never finish them because I would get distracted.”
Emily first began purchasing Adderall from her friends, or friends of friends, as a freshman. Like an increasing number of American college students, she said she typically purchased the stimulant around finals time—a time infamous for all-nighters and caffeine binges. But prescription drugs may be making their way into the mix as well.A 2011 study by the University of Maryland’s Center on Young Adult Health and Development revealed that approximately 31 percent of college students use stimulants like Adderall at some point in their college careers.
“I never thought about it until I got to college and then it kind of seemedlike everybody else did it,” Emily said. Once her junior year rolled around, she decided to see a doctor about what she suspected was an actual attention disorder. After extensive testing, Emily received her own prescription for Adderall.
“Honestly when I went in there I was not expecting to come out with an Adderall prescription,” she said. “I just went in there to see what my options were (that were) not drug-related,” she said.
Emily said her doctor explained the potential side effects of the stimulant and warned her of its potential addictiveness. However, her doctor did not discuss sharing the prescription with others, which is a felony offense.
NDSU police officer Chris Potter said prescription stimulants are federally regulated, therefore selling the pills is considered narcotics distribution.
“I’ve heard it called ‘poor man’s meth,’’’ Potter said. Adderall and other stimulants like it are considered a scheduled controlled substance because of the potential for addiction.
“Basically there’s this idea out there among young people that if it comes in a pill bottle from a pharmacy, then it’s safe,” Potter said, “and they don’t think that there’s a possibility of an overdose with it or becoming addicted to it.”
Now that Emily receives her own prescription, she said she is aware of the potential consequences of sharing medicine, both medically and legally.
“I’ve had people approach me and ask me if they can buy it from me, and I’ve said absolutely not,” she said. “It’s a drug. It’s a prescription drug.”
Alex* (who also wishes to remain anonmyous for reasons of confidentiality) is a junior majoring in finance. He is not prescribed Adderall but purchases the pills from friends for $2 each. Although he said he is aware of the legalities, he said he only uses the drug when he has multiple upcoming exams or a long paper to finish.
“I know that it is illegal; I agree to an extent,” he said, “but taking an Adderall to help you with school never hurt anyone.”
But some politicians and universities are cracking down on what they deem “academic-doping.” U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer from New York and other advocates suggest that doctors, especially those located on college campuses, must monitor stimulant prescriptions tightly.
Emily said the process to receive her Adderall prescription was no easy task. But she knows several people who have exaggerated symptoms in order to receive an ADHD diagnosis.
“On one hand it kind of makes you wonder how easy it is to get (an Adderall prescription) through some doctors because mine wasn’t,” she said.
NDSU Counseling Center Director Bill Burns said that depending upon where a student seeks treatment, the process of ADHD testing differs. Some family doctors may prescribe a stimulant without any testing, while others will put a student through long hours of assessments. Burns said the Counseling Center is often able to spot when someone is exaggerating symptoms.
“You can try to fake it with us, but we’re going to catch most of them because we’re really conservative when we diagnose,” Burns said. “If it’s anywhere near borderline (ADHD), we’re not going to diagnosis; we’re going to send someone on to get additional testing.”
Burns said that the Counseling Center sees a surge in students near the end of the semester who think they have ADHD. He said they do not diagnose more than one-third of the students with the disorder. More times than not, the students have anxiety.
“We get a lot of people coming in because they’re looking for an answer to why they’re not able to focus and concentrate,” he said. “What we find is for lots of students thinking they have ADHD, they have anxiety instead. The symptoms are very similar.”