The Frontal Cortex

Abusing Adderall

Molly Young has a really interesting article on the rampant abuse of Adderall in elite universities in n+1. Essentially, Adderall is a composite of several different amphetamines, which are digested by the brain at different rates. So many kids are prescribed Adderall nowadays that virtually every university has an excess supply, which is then sold or bartered to kids sick of using Diet Coke to pull all-nighters:

It is probably surprising that the drug backfired only once, when I stayed up on Adderall for 72 hours before a philosophy final. My appearance in the testing hall the next day was so tangled and shaky that the professor removed me from the room. I was sent away with permission to return later and finish the exam in his office. Instead, I slept. In the end it didn’t matter that I failed the exam, because a semester of A+ Adderall papers had left me with a decent grade in the class. If the proof is in the transcript, then Adderall is hardly a self-punishing habit. Sometimes I think about how Marion Jones has to return all the prize money she earned while taking steroids, and I wonder whether I should be stripped of all the A’s I received for papers written on Adderall. This is a haunting or a comical thought, depending on my mood.

Of course, I could have studied in college without Adderall, just like I did in high school–I just couldn’t have studied with such ecstasy. Theoretical texts, in particular, were transformed into exercises as conquerable as a Tuesday crossword. I could work out in the gym with a Xeroxed packet of Gayatri Spivak perched on the elliptical machine in front of me, reading and burning calories at the same time. The efficacy of the multitasking was exhilarating. On Adderall, the densest writing became penetrable. I had an illusion of mastery, at least, that lasted long enough to write the necessary papers and presentations. I could never remember what I had written the next day, but I justified this forgetfulness as an accelerated version of what would happen anyway after I graduated.

I’ve never tried Adderall, as my one experience with uppers turned me into a miserable, jittery insomniac for a week. That said, I knew plenty of kids who experimented with ADHD leftovers and I’d always get annoyed before taking an exam that was going to be graded on a steep curve. I’d look around at my competition and see all these sunken eyes and twitchy hands and I’d feel like a pitcher that didn’t dabble in HGH.


  1. #1 asd
    February 26, 2008

    I remember some of my experiences with that ADHD medication (which was prescribed for me). I was able to read and think faster than without it, but if I was stuck on a math problem, I think I was worse off than without it. I tended to go down paths that I would normally “sense” wouldn’t work out, obsessively tracking down the details on dead ends. I think it made me less creative, and more like a machine. In the end, I stopped using it, though I still miss it sometimes when I’m pulling an all-nighter. Nowadays, I drink green tea, which doesn’t work as well for extreme speed and wakefullness, but does seem to aid creativity rather than hinder it.

    I have an theory (supported only by my anecdotal evidence, though probably testable in laboratory studies) as to why adderall decreased creativity. I think that my mind normally has a subsystem which evaluates whether an idea is a good one, and gives me a little kick of dopamine when it determines that the idea is good. Adderall pushed the dopamine levels so high that all ideas seemed like good ones.

  2. #2 DrugMonkey
    February 26, 2008
  3. #3 Rachael
    February 26, 2008

    Gosh I was (and still am) so naive about drug abuse in college. I knew about recreational drug abuse, sure, but the thought that overachievers were overachieving because of chemical stimulants? Never encountered it.

    This is interesting to read about Adderall. It sounds like good old controlled release technology. Drug delivery is my field of research, and I am sad to see that controlled release would be used for such an end. Hopefully many with ADHD have benefited as well.

    What happens after the Adderall is gone? When I study on Caffeine, I still “know” the subject after I study it. Is the academic ability still there after Adderall? And if so, what is the distinction between caffeine as a stimulant or Adderall as a stimulant? There seems to be one, but I can’t pinpoint it. . I suppose Adderall has more of a potential for medical consequences or death upon overdose.

  4. #4 Mike
    February 26, 2008

    I can definitely understand this. I just recently graduated from college and can attest to the fact that adderall use was fairly widespread. I think for a lot of people find the drug to be really helpful, especially if they had to pull an all nighter. The main problem with Adderall is that it tends to downregulate receptors if used too much. So people that over use it may end up having much worse concentration and thus need more of the drug to actually get anything done. As a long term solution, it isn’t the best thing available.

  5. #5 Allison
    February 27, 2008

    Adderall is the only drug that I know I could get addicted to.
    Molly Young’s description is spot-on. Whenever I took the stuff, I felt like Me Version 2.0. I was able to absorb and really live in a text- such that it restored my love of learning- a love that had been systematically beaten out of me through the traditional educational system. I could read Heidigger for hours at a time, happily gliding through his otherwise impenetrable prose. Adderall was also the only way I could ace my senior finals (in neuroscience, natch).

    It truly is a strange and awesome thing- to feel like your brain is working the way it is “supposed” to: efficient, powerful, processing information the way the digestive system processes food.

    It’s high is so seductive- thus I can never, ever use it again.

  6. #6 lulu
    February 29, 2008

    i tried it once. once. and i dunno if it was just placebo, some need for it to work, but it worked with shocking magic. i went into a strange tunnel of clarity. I wouldn’t quite call it “ecstasy” as Molly Young does, but I definitely experienced the strange almost time-warpy efficacy. IN my strange tunnel, i busted out a term paper on habituation of bulls to mating with the same cow. There was lots of cow sex. it was weird. i ended up getting an A on the paper, in a class that had kicked my ass all semester. but i barely remember writing it… it was like some strange, smarter, other brain did it. so as nice as the A was, it wasn’t me who got it.

  7. #7 Michael
    March 3, 2008

    Coincidently, The Issue ( did a feature piece on “Academic Steroids” today that also featured Molly’s “Kick Start My Heart.” As a former college student who knows the pitfalls, as well as the upside, of adderall use/abuse, I recommend checking out the feature, as it not only features Molly’s first hand account, but also an analysis and an expert’s opinion regarding a recent study by the FDA and the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality on the effects of ADHD medication on heart conditions. After all, the stuff is prescription speed.


    Mike McGregor
    The Issue|

  8. #8 Gangster82
    October 22, 2009

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  9. #9 Coder96
    October 23, 2009

    But the knowledge was purely empirical. ,

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  11. #11 Nancy
    July 25, 2010

    That must suck to know you had to resort to getting an unfair advantage over other students to succeed. So basically you’d be mediocre or worse without the addies?

    What happens if you go to grad school? It might work for that rote learning crap as an undergrad. But do you think addies will produce acceptable grad level work? I mean your whole purpose for using the addies is to get good grades for grad school, right?

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