“It was a parachute remedy,” said Maverick, who before coming to Baylor had never had the urge to take pills. “I was about to hit the ground hard, mess up the entire semester. So what did I do? I took the pill.”
Maverick hesitated as he opened his hand to accept the small, clear bag from someone he had met in a marketing course the day before. He thought he would never do this; he thought he never needed to do this. Reluctantly, he pocketed the bag and handed his new friend a $20 bill.
His thoughts raced during the drive back to his apartment close to campus. Unsure of what would happen, how he would feel, how this contradicts everything he had learned, Maverick went to his room and pulled the bag out of his pocket; his eyes remained fixed on the four small, orange pills inside the bag, each marked with the number 20.
Amphetamine, known by its brand name Adderall, is classified in the group of drugs called stimulants, along with cocaine, according to Dr. Diaz-Granados, chair of the department of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor.
“It’s widely prescribed for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),” Diaz-Granados said. “It’s also used off-label for depression, weight control and weight loss.”
Growing up in a close, somewhat traditional and Christian family, Maverick’s hard-working parents had greatly influenced him and his brother in their work ethic, always pushing them to give 100 percent in everything they do. His parents believed in achieving things on their own merit, not using anything other than their genuine hard work to get ahead. Maverick had just as expectedly adopted their morals and values, especially pertaining to his academic pursuits.
This changed for Maverick however, during his time at Baylor. Following his academic advisors’ suggestions for finishing his degree program in four years, Maverick took his basic classes during his freshman year, never feeling that they were too rigorous or difficult for him.
After his first semester at Baylor, he began to notice that the workload and what was expected of him were far more than he had foreseen or was prepared for.
He was overwhelmed by the progression into upper-level courses and noticed his fellow students put in less effort and received higher marks.
It was then that he made the troublesome decision to rely on a drug to help him in school. Discouraged by the results of those who take the drug Adderall, compared to those who use the old-fashioned method of coffee and caffeine, Maverick represents a growing number of students who use the drug for academic gain.
“I was barely able to stay awake and I wasn’t retaining anything even though I knew the material better than they did,” Maverick said. “I hadn’t studied, so I bought some Adderall. I put my headphones on, listened to Pandora and sat there. I didn’t text, I didn’t talk to anyone, I just sat in the library for eight hours,” he said. “I knocked out every chapter, every question and every problem that could have possibly been on the test. I aced that test.”
“It helps to increase dopamine and norepinephrine,” Diaz-Granados said. Adderall works on the brain by increasing chemicals, dopamine and norepinephrine, heightening sensory and motor effects. Essentially, the drug releases adrenaline into the user’s brain, causing the body to feel a rush.
The initial period results in dilated pupils, an increased heart rate and an overall sense of well-being in the user, as if naturally feeling a rush of adrenaline. In short, it makes the user feel unusually good by heightening sensory and motor effects.
Diaz-Granados says that the majority of psychologists agree that the affirmation of higher scores is the fundamental factor to continue using Adderall for academic purposes, but this, coupled with its euphoric effects, can lead to abuse or addiction.
“A positive incentive of taking the drug is to feel good by increasing your levels of dopamine,” said Diaz-Granados. “Dopamine plays a large role in mediating pleasure. There’s the fact that students are able to use it to study. They see the benefits of being able to stay focused or work long hours.”
Like many students at Baylor, Maverick is not prescribed Adderall, but he finds ways to obtain it through fellow students that have prescriptions.
He said students will pay anywhere from $2 to $10 depending on the milligrams. Certain times of the semester, such as finals or midterms, can also drive up demand and prices.
“I know I’m getting ripped off paying $10 a pill, but there’s nothing I can do about it,” Maverick said, saying even students like him that do not have an addiction to Adderall will pay a large amount of money for the drug.
Maverick continued his use of Adderall through his sophomore year and into his junior year, progressing from using it for academic purposes only to occasionally using it for other activities. Even through his nonmedical use of Adderall, Maverick does not see his use as a problem, but now he sees problems with his use.
“I never thought about the risks or what it did to me. I could take one during the day, go to sleep, then wake up and take another one,” Maverick recalled after recently taking two stress tests to monitor his heart. “And now in my senior year at Baylor, I’ve realized that there are some really bad consequences to taking Adderall.”
Diaz-Granados confirmed Maverick’s fears of heart troubles being potential long- or short-term ramifications of Adderall use, saying that one key negative effect that many patients, abusers and doctors alike often overlook is cardio myopathy: the weakening and deterioration of the heart muscle.
“The population that we are most concerned about is the one that is less regulated,” Diaz-Granados said. “They’re taking it when they’re not supposed to be taking it, it’s not prescribed to them, they’re not taking it under the care of a doctor, or they’re taking too much of it.”
Some users of Adderall however, came into contact with the drug long before they stepped onto the Baylor campus.
While most students like Maverick were attending grade school, making new friends, riding their bikes and just having fun, Victoria was experiencing something much different than the typical 11-year-old sixth-grader.
As she arrived at the institution with her mother, apprehensive and scared, she thought to herself that at least the men in white coats were kind to her.
She was given many different tests that took hours to complete, certainly not her favorite thing in the world. She returned for what seemed like a week, but was only four days, and took tests. Finally, the doctors made a diagnosis. She had ADD.
Over the years before this, her parents had tried countless ways to correct her behavior in school and were initially skeptical of putting their daughter on medication at such a young age.
After a prolonged time of watching her struggle, unable to pay attention and missing assignments, they felt it necessary and decided to follow the suggestions of the doctors.
“My parents saw my grades improve, so they kept me on Adderall for as long as my doctor said I should be,” Victoria remembers. “They noticed that I could focus and finish my work better than before.”
Now nearing the end college at Baylor, she often looks back and wonders what life would have been like without Adderall.
“I didn’t really know what it did to my body since I was so young,” Victoria said. “I wonder if my brain ever got a chance to fully develop. I always felt like I might have turned out different, but my parents trusted the doctors, so they decided to keep me on Adderall.”
Diaz-Granados agrees with Victoria’s concerns, stating that adolescence is considered before the age 25 and this is when the brain stops developing.
He also says that despite the current research, long-term ramifications of Adderall use, even under doctor supervision, has risks and concerns and some are still unknown. The largest of these concerns is the stunting of the brain’s development, which can lead to a major difference in the perceptions of happiness, excitement and enjoyment.
Because Victoria hates the way the drug makes her feel now, she only takes Adderall when she feels she needs to focus.
Anxiety, restlessness, depression or even anger, among many other negative side effects, can occur while on Adderall, Diaz-Granados said. In Nahel Kapadia’s “Adderall Abuse and its Implications for the College Academic Community,” other side effects of Adderall include insomnia, weight and appetite loss, nausea, hallucinations and, among other dangerous side effects, an increased chance of death.
These effects were the reason Victoria cut back on her dosage, allowing her to sell her prescription.
Often times she will only use half of the pills given to her; the other half she sells to friends at Baylor that need an extra pick-me-up or need to study.
Eight years ago, Houston native Michaelyn Wagner was prescribed Adderall for ADD.
Now a senior at Baylor, uses the drug only to help treat her depression, which she believes works better than any other drug she’s been prescribed.
Wagner represents the student population that is prescribed Adderall but uses it as directed.
Although these students indeed need the drug, they also see great increases in GPA and general daily functioning.
“I think that Adderall has a significant effect on my grades,” Wagner said, “It helps me to study and stay focused. It helps me get through the day, gets me out of bed, gets me going, allows me to focus and keep a conversation.
Like many students with ADD, Wagner feels that Adderall not only keeps her focused on her school work, but it is also essential for daily tasks. Her ability to function in society is dependent on it, and her sleep cycle can also be disrupted if she forgets to take it occasionally.
Her friends offer money to buy her prescription, but since Wagner takes it as prescribed, she rarely has any extra to spare, and she believes that without it she would not even be able to function properly at all.
It may come as a surprise to know that a large portion of the student body, at any given school, is either prescribed to a stimulant or takes one illegally.
For some, even the thought that one pill can help to complete the seemingly impossible, conquering topics as organic chemistry or Calculus 3 in one night, is enough to hand over their cash for the magic pill.
This is the choice many students, including many at Baylor, make. They only take one pill.
For others, the thought of a felony on their record for carrying an illegal drug (illegal if not prescribed), is enough to make them study the old-fashioned way.
Written by: Liz Hitchcock
Photo Illustrations by: Matt Hellman
Illustration by: Asher Freeman Murphy