Column: Treat Adderall like coffee not cocaine

The beginning of December means a surge in sales for many seasonal goods. Children's toys, electronics, Santa hats and wrapping paper will all be flying off the shelves in the coming weeks (if they haven't all been snatched up already). Campus is no different, though the demand is driven more by finals than by holiday cheer. Coffee, energy drinks and Adderall are staples of exams weeks at campuses nationwide.

All three of these products are consumed for their effect as stimulants, allowing students to stay awake and focused longer to cram for their tests. Like all stimulants, caffeine (the active ingredient in coffee and most energy drinks) and dextroamphetamine (the active ingredient in Adderall) work by kicking the nervous system into high gear and enhancing the effect of the norepinephrine and dopamine your body naturally makes. These changes are similar to the body's natural "fight-or-flight" reaction to stress; constriction of blood vessels, increased heart rate and increased blood sugar levels allow the body to rapidly respond to potential threats.

Constantly tricking your body into thinking it's in danger can have some pretty serious side effects. Sustained increased heart rates can lead to palpitations and other heart problems. Artificial boosts to norepinephrine and dopamine can cause the body to produce less of these substances on its own, leading to dependence on the drug to replace the lost chemicals or the possibility depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders.

Adderall also carries one other major side effect: the potential for jail time. The Drug Enforcement Agency has classified Adderall in the same drug category as cocaine and meth as "drugs with a high potential for abuse ... with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence." Under federal law, anyone caught with Adderall without a prescription can face up to a year in prison for their first offense.

If you didn't vomit in your mouth a little bit after reading that last paragraph, go back and read it again. In the eyes of the DEA, popping a pill to do better on your finals is just as bad as doing a line of coke off a toilet seat in some sketchy strip club. What world do they live in where both of those things are in any way equal?

Yes, abuse of Adderall or other "smart drugs" has potential for major medical consequences. But so too does the abuse of coffee or energy drinks. Plenty of adults (myself included) weigh the risks for themselves and use caffeine to stay awake during slow days at work or late at night to get in that last hour or two of review before a test. With almost one-third of college students taking Adderall before they graduate, plenty of others do the same with dextroamphetamine. December means it's time for us to study, and time for the DEA to stop trying to tell us how to do so. 


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