It’s around halfway through the college semester, which means one thing: midterms. For extra help, many college students turn to “study drugs,” or stimulant medication. A 2015 study found that one in six college students misuse these drugs, which are prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
Utana, a junior in college, takes these drugs every day. She struggled in school growing up, and had always thought she might have ADHD. Once she got to college, things only got harder.
Utana: I had a lot of difficulty my freshman year dealing with schoolwork…Once I got here I was like, wow, I suck at this. I suck at school. Being a freshman, I thought, this is proof I shouldn’t have gotten here anyway.
Towards the end of her sophomore year, she was diagnosed with ADHD. She was prescribed Concerta, a long-acting drug that works for 10 to 12 hours, and later Ritalin, a short-acting stimulant. It took her some time to get used to the drugs and their side effects, but now they’ve helped her feel much more confident in school. She takes her pills almost every day, but she doesn’t always follow the prescribed dosage, especially around exam time.
Utana: Sometimes I’ll take them and I’ll be like oh my god, I need to stay up to finish work. And I’ll take double. And I’ll take another. I’m like well I’m just gonna pull an all-nighter anyway, I need to focus. But really, I’m kind of just using the pill to not fall asleep. That kind of stuff when I use it not exactly in the way that it’s prescribed I’m like okay, maybe not the best. I know during finals week when I’m really pressed for time I’ll do that for two days straight. I won’t be sleeping, I’ll be back to back taking these pills. I’ve had moments where my heart is beating really fast or I just feel very uncomfortably wired. I definitely think there is something that you give up when you abuse it.
A study out of Duke University found that 50 percent of college students diagnosed with ADHD are asked to sell, trade, or give away their meds. Utana is part of that 50 percent; she’s sold a few pills to her friends.
Utana: I’ve never sought out to sell any of my prescriptions, but if my friends ask for it, I’ll slide them a few. It’s usually because their go-to people are out. I’ve had my friends buy these pills off of other people and they don’t know if it’s long-acting or what the dosage is. And as a friend, I’m happy to provide it to them and say this will last you five or ten hours.
Utana isn’t sure if she’ll continue using the drugs after she graduates, but she knows they’ve helped her overcome her fears of being lazy or stupid she had before she was diagnosed.
Utana: College is a time when you learn how to live with yourself and with your flaws. It’s about knowing, this is who you are, and this is how you make the best of it. I feel like me needing to have these drugs to go to class is just an interaction of that. Maybe I’ll keep using them when I work post-grad, or maybe not. But the goal is that I’m working towards healthy habits and routines.