Julia Perez, 23, walks around New York City with her head held high knowing she has overcome her battle with addiction. Perez started taking Adderall in high school when an older friend from her work told her about it. At the time, Perez was working double shifts at a tanning salon in Baltimore and was constantly tired. Her friend’s “magic pill” seemed like the golden ticket.
“She was older and prettier and in college. I figured if she did it than it sounded like a good idea,” Perez said.
Many college students just like Perez try Adderall once and love the feeling. More and more students around the U.S. are abusing this drug, doing absolutely anything in their power to get their hands on it, even if it means taking illegal actions.
Perez, like other young women at this age, heard of the effects Adderall has on a person’s appetite and thought it sounded appealing.
“I could take a pill and be energetic and not hungry. Why not?” Perez said.
Perez started taking it randomly in high school and said she felt “amazingly confident.”
“For once, I actually cared about my work,” Perez said.
Before this, Perez had never touched alcohol or smoked, so taking Adderall was her first “drug.”
“I wasn’t addicted until I dated a guy in college who had a prescription he didn’t use,” Perez said. “When we broke up, I got my own script right away.”
Adderall is a prescription medication used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. Adderall, a brand name, is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, which are central nervous system stimulants that increase the ability to focus, pay attention and control behavior.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, ADHD has become the most-diagnosed long-term disorder after asthma. Over 3.5 million American children currently take an ADHD drug, a nearly 500 percent increase since 1990.
College students are among this 500 percent.
“All students think Adderall is the key to academic success, whether they are prescribed or not,” Perez said. “I know first hand, for the first time in my life I made the Dean’s List.”
In 2010, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 11.4 percent of young people ages 12 to 25 used prescription drugs non-medically within the past year. The study also found that full-time college students, between the ages of 18 and 22 were twice as likely to abuse Adderall than those of the same age and not in college.
Emily Sears, head substance education manager at Towson University, said the illegal use of Adderall on college campuses has become problematic and that students believe the drug helps them stay awake longer and concentrate better, especially when studying for exams.
Sears said those with a prescription have it for a reason and take it generally as prescribed or as needed, although not every student with a prescription is willing to give away their medication or sell it.
“Those who seek it can find it,” Sears said. “It’s not hard to find.”
Students who take Adderall on a daily basis begin to rely heavily on it, for both academic and social reasons.
“Individuals who use it illegally though have not been assessed for the use and may not be medically cleared to take it,” Sears said. “There are risks involved.”
Adderall abuse could result in cardiovascular problems, increased blood pressure, headaches, difficulty sleeping and problems with appetite.
When used in a social setting, complications related to drinking alcohol while taking Adderall become apparent.
Sears said the effects of Adderall can counteract and mask the effects of alcohol, resulting in higher alcohol intoxication levels and potentially alcohol poisoning. Alcohol and Adderall both have dehydrating effects, which would be heightened if mixed.
Studies have found that students who abuse Adderall tend to rely heavily on other drugs. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, full-time college students who used Adderall without prescription were three times as likely to have used marijuana in the past year as students who did not misuse Adderall.
They were eight times more likely to have used prescription tranquilizers non-medically, and five times more likely to have used prescription pain relievers without a health professional’s orders or simply for the feeling or experience these drugs cause. Cocaine use was also reported more often in the group of full-time college students using Adderall non-medically.
Spencer Bennett, Coordinator of Student Conduct at Towson University said if a student presents as being addicted to alcohol or other drugs or has behaviors which indicate abuse, University policies call for connecting the student with resources on or off-campus that will help them address those issues.
“We also need to assess their risk to the community based on the behavior they have exhibited,” Bennett said.
Perez knew she needed to quit when her once bubbly personality turned anything but.
She remembers how irritable and irrational she became.
“I began to have break downs at least once a week which brought on awful stress induced acne,” Perez said. “I had to change my life to get rid of it.”
Perez decided to take a semester off school.
“I literally did nothing but sleep, cry and focus on getting my life back in order,” Perez said.
Perez rehabilitated herself completely not with anti-depressants or therapy, but with downtime and love from her parents.
After weaning herself off of the Adderall, Perez lost 10 pounds.
“It was ironic but I think I kept the weight on because all I ate was carbs and was stressed plus I never slept,” Perez said.
Like many other abusers, Perez said she was lazy until she was introduced to Adderall. She said that going off the Adderall was an awakening and a must in order to be a healthy adult.
“It helped my drive and inspired me to live a balanced life,” Perez said.
Kelly, an Exercise Science major at Towson University who would not give her name and is being identified with a pseudonym, claims that her heavy workload led her to the dependence of Adderall.
“I never even tried to get prescribed because it is honestly so easy to find here at Towson, everyone knows who sells it,” she said. “I feel completely lost without it when I’m trying to get my work done, I’ve become dependent.”
Few students realize that giving or accepting even one Adderall pill from a friend with a prescription is a federal crime. Bennett, Coordinator of Student Conduct, said sharing prescription medication such as Adderall with someone who was not prescribed the medicine is illegal and could constitute federal or state charges being brought against both the distributor and the consumer.
“Schedule II narcotics, such as Ritalin and Adderall, fall into the category of drugs that are considered to be habit forming or have the potential for high levels of abuse,” Bennett said. “Because of this they are regulated in ways that many other prescription medications are not.”
Bennett said at Towson University if a student is found responsible for a violation of the Code of Student Conduct for distributing drugs on or off-campus they would go through the campus student conduct process. If a student was found responsible for a violation of any University policy, they would be sanctioned.
“Suspension or expulsion could result from such a violation of the code because of the significant nature of the behavior and its impact on the individual and campus community,” Bennett said.
In addition to a suspension, the student would likely have to complete some type of drug treatment education program and would remain on University probation if they were eligible to return to the university after a period of time.
“Students found responsible for a violation related to drug distribution may also be permanently removed from on-campus housing,” Bennett adds.
Kelly said she was not aware of the policies Towson University enforces.
“I know Adderall isn’t good for me,” Kelly said. “But I feel now, there is no way I can do my work without it.”
Kelly admits that after three consecutive years of taking Adderall she is highly addicted.
“I love the feeling it gives me,” she said. “I don’t think I will ever get caught from buying Adderall, but I guess there is always a chance.”
Sears, head substance education manager, said that the number of Towson students who rely on Adderall when not prescribed is impossible to answer.
“Even if asked, the rate of underreporting and minimizing would be huge,” Sears said. “No student would ever admit to taking it.”
Sears said Towson University can assume and make a hypotheses as to how many students abuse Adderall, but there is no definite data.
“We know it’s on campus, we know students are prescribed it and we know some students have taken it illegally to help them study,” Sears said. “Exactly how many though is not clear.”
Today, Perez spends her day working in SoHo in the heart of New York City.
“It’s funny to think the drug I thought was making my life ‘perfect’ actually only made my life anything but,” Perez said. “I miss it everyday but could never go back.”
Perez is a partnership manager at a digital marketing agency for health brands, beauty brands and fashion. Her job is to connect brands to bloggers and influencing marketing strategies.
“My day flies by,” Perez said. “I never get bored because I love what I’m doing.”
Perez describes her life after Adderall as a dream.
“I would have never been in the place I am if I had not overcome my addiction,” Perez said. “I learned that every struggle is part of a much bigger plan.”