ADD Meds Help Non-ADD Students

Watching 60 Minutes tonight was eye-opening. Apparently a big thing on college campuses is to take an ADD drug (Adderall or Ritalin) when studying for tests or writing papers. The belief is that it sharpens your focus and you are able to get more done. The kids they interviewed seem to swear by it and one researcher thinks it's the wave of the future (neuro-drugs).

Naturally, there are the old problems of addiction and side effects.

How do these kids get this stuff? Lying to doctors or getting the students with real ADD to sell them a tablet or two.

Here are some articles about this issue.

A Drug Recall
Serendip (a student's blog at Bryn Mawr - eye-opening) One student called the usage "A prescription pat on the back that can help cheer me on."

I hope this idea doesn't trickle down to high school.


Snoop said…
How do these kids get this stuff? Lying to doctors or getting the students with real ADD to sell them a tablet or two.

Are you kidding? Do you think ADD is like strep throat? You take a test and get some ritalin? Do you think everyone who takes the meds is either ill or a liar?

No, you tell the fine doc, you're having some problems paying attention.. and you get the meds. It is an extremely fuzzy diagnosis. Furthermore, why shouldn't people take meds if it enhances their performance? ADD isn't really all that different than "normal". Yes it is in high school, and even elementary school.
Josh Hayes said…
IIRC, this was a topic on the TV show "ER" about 15 years ago.

Plus ca change, plus c'est le meme meds.
zb said…
"ADD Meds Help Non-ADD Students"

The rest of your post only says that students think it helps them -- was there evidence that it does? The belief is a wide-spread among people who know of Ritalin (doctors, scientists, etc.). As snoop mentions, ADD is not a physiological diagnosis, it's a behavioral diagnosis.

I've never been certain myself it the belief is true or not, but self-medicating by people with access is fairly common (folks often use beta-blockers, too, in a temporary way).

And, people who use this way aren't particularly more likely to become addicted than people who get diagnoses.
seattle citizen said…
Yet another problem with high stakes testing culture: are we soon to be like some other places in the world where certification and advancement through testing is seen as make or break?

If so, then "performance enhancing" brain boosters will likely become more prevalent.

If so, and if they work, then the tests aren't testing everyone equally (something we already know is a flaw of these high stakes tests - hunger, lack of sleep, emotional distraction already contaminate high stakes test scores)

Will we be blood testing students after high stakes tests?
Jet City mom said…
Melissa- I hate these articles.
The problem has been around at least since I was in high school- only we didn't have the diagnosis of ADD.
( which I have)
However- when we would get , speed , I would find that I could function, I didn't realize I could have mentioned that to a Dr, and perhaps get treated though for many years therafter.

Caffeine pills have been around for decades- look at how many drinks are spiked with caffiene- other stimulants.
I assume you know that Coca- Cola originally had cocaine as an ingredient- it wasn't completely taken out until 1929.

I agree it is already in the high schools and the middle schools at least- and I think parents should be aware- ( and Drs should not be prescribing it unless they are a psychiatrist or neurologist), but I also realize that medication has legitimate uses.
owlhouse said…
This issue is touched on in the recent documentaries, "Race to Nowhere" and "War on Kids". I don't think it's a new thing, and unfortunately, it has already "trickled down" to our high schools.

It makes my think of the Family Ties episode- where Alex takes Mallory's friend's "diet pills". Something like that... essentially, he takes speed so he can write all his papers, study for tests.
Snoop, I would tell you to read about the side effects and addictions. Read the student's blog with the varying opinions of students who have tried this. The students in the 60 Minutes piece said it is very easy to lie to doctors. That students choose to do this and doctors buy it isn't my fault.

ZB, I put in links to flesh it out because I didn't have time to write an article.

Also, I didn't say it doesn't have legitimate uses (and this may be one if not done over and over) but I was only reporting a trend that is rising.

I'm almost sorry I bothered writing this one.
Anonymous said…
This isn't just "not new", it's really OLD. My father was a pharmacist who was in college in the early 1950's. The students THEN were often asking the pharmacy students to concoct something to help them focus and stay up etc. This SO predates "high stakes" testing, although I can see how it would be easy to assume that's to blame.

Bringing it up into the more recent decades, use of ADD meds by NON-ADD students is ALSO not new, it was a focus of a court case at least 15 years go when I lived back east. And drugs in middle school? I was aware of them in middle school in the 70's.

60 Minutes really had a non-story here.
Snoop said…
Melissa, I know all about the stuff personally and first hand. Really. It is not a big deal. It is not new. It is not a problem. Drugs, and stimulants in particular, are deeply ingrained in our culture. They are in our breakfast drinks, used for breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. They are in our desserts. Why is wouldn't people want to use them for performance enhancement? Why do we think they won't trickle down to any age? And most importantly, why do we think some all mighty doctor can prescribe them for a certain population (but it won't work for others)? That is the most ridiculous of all.
seattle citizen said…
agibean, I know it's not new: students have, for years, used these things. Also, for years, some proportion of students have felt they need to have the edge: desire to get into some program or school; parent pressure, whatever.

BUT - if high stakes tests become the be-all and end-all (as they certainly seem positioned to in many instances) then there might be the concurrent pressure to perform on them, rather than education for the sake of education.

I just worry that we become a place where people kill themselves if they are not "successful," and use drugs to find that illusory success.
Jen S. said…
In my experience in college, students used these drugs (easy to come by) during exam season. I didn't know any addicts; it was a one-shot (or several-shot) deal. The attraction was that the speed effect helped them to stay up later and concentrate longer and continuously. I never took any, but saw friends who were studying under the influence. It wasn't that they got better grades or were more "successful" in that regard, it was that they had several difficult tests and papers in a short period of time, lots of material to review, and a need to focus. With the upswing in ADD diagnoses and drugs, these occurrences should be fairly widespread. And it certainly is already at the HS level - you drop a few bucks to a friend who has a prescription and get yourself a few pills. Aren't prescriptions more abused than any other drug in this country?
Maureen said…
It's in our HSs, my kid apparently looks like a drug dealer--some other kid walked up to him in the hall and asked if he had any Adderall a few weeks ago, my kid was so surprised he just laughed in his face.

It's interesting to me what a nonstory this is to posters like snoop. If the drugs do improve performance then why should my nondrugged kid have to compete head to head on AP exams and the SAT with your enhanced kid? Shouldn't we look at this like we do doping in sports? Maybe your blood test results should be forwarded to colleges with your exam scores?
Maureen said…
The problem with my drug testing idea is that some kids really do need these drugs to function on a basic level. My problem is with kids who do just fine day to day and use them as a power boost. I suppose I'm being naive here--caffiene and sugar are legal enhancers, but using someone else's prescription is illegal--that's why I draw the line there.
seattle citizen said…
The underlying question here is what, exactly is "performance" and how does it relate to education? Should we define it in such a highly competitive fashion that students feel they have to "perform" or "fail"?

The corollary question is whether it's wise to start quantifying the various drugs, proteins, etc etc that might possibly "enhance" this does one do that?

The third (second? haven't had my coffee ;) corollary is the question about diet: Many students eat the crappiest diets modern science can produce, and this surely effects their academic performance and, worse, brain development.


WV, being computer based, doesn't go down the hall to to make copies it needs, it instead goes to its copyrom
hschinske said…
When my dad was working on the Korean Airlift, it was standard for the air crew to take speed to stay awake. My mother was also prescribed amphetamines during two of her pregnancies so that she would not gain too much weight.

Incidentally, there are still doctors using the line "the only way to tell is to try the medication, and if it works, that means you have ADD."

Helen Schinske
ttln said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
ttln said…
It is how it works that makes the difference. I have an article on my wall in the classroom titled, "Naked, Asleep, on Crack, and in an Alligator’s Mouth" (or something to that extent). It is about a man in Florida who routinely takes meth and falls asleep. This time, he happened to find himself naked and in the mouth of an alligator.
If the stimulant puts you to sleep, calms you down, that is where you "know" you have a chemical imbalance. Seek help, naked guy!

This whole thread reminds me of a staff meeting this year where we reviewed last year's individual student's WASL successes. We were to look at our list of kids who did well and share what we thought may have worked/helped that student grow so much. On my list was a student who happened to OD on energy drinks (five in 20 minutes, we sent him to the nurse, poison control was called, etc.) just before taking the test. He jumped an incredible 20 points! Thinking back to his year in my room, where he did little if any work, I would have to say, it was the energy drinks. It had to be!
Lori said…
ttln's story reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a therapist friend about psychopharmacology.

She has a client who finally, as an adult, decided to seek treatment for ADHD. However, he also has an underlying depressive disorder, and when he started on the stimulant, it had the paradoxical effect of "unmasking" his depression. He was finally able to "focus" on the life event at the root of the depression. In fact, the ADHD probably had a protective effect all this time because it kept him scattered and unable to dwell on his suffering.

Fascinating stuff. Not really related to the topic at hand, except perhaps to say that those who self-medicate with prescription stimulants may experience a variety of unexpected outcomes.
"Not really related to the topic at hand, except perhaps to say that those who self-medicate with prescription stimulants may experience a variety of unexpected outcomes."

I disagree. That is precisely the point. Good call.
rugles said…
Out of the group of 12 or so students on the program only one had used them, doesn't seem like an epidemic.
Rugles, did we watch the same show? I only saw 1 girl (a blond) say she hadn't done it and all the others had.
Maureen said…
Survey quoted in program said that 34% of college students had taken it w/o a prescription, 50-60% by the time they are jr/srs, 80% of fraternity/sorority members.

It costs $3-$5 per pill. It's very available because kids with prescriptions generally don't take it every day.

In the group, Blond girl hadn't taken it. Dark haired girl was only one in the group who "admitted to taking it with out a prescription" the written comment said "Katie Couric spoke with a group of University of Kentucky students, some of whom have tried the drugs while some have not."
hschinske said…
Lori, it often happens that people who seek treatment for depression become more focused and able to function, too -- sometimes, alas, before they begin to recover from their despair, which can be quite dangerous. There have been accounts of people who'd just gone on antidepressants who finally had the energy to attempt suicide. I would have the same worry about a depressed person starting ADD medication (in addition to which antidepressants and stimulants often mix badly, though no doubt quite a few people take both).

Helen Schinske
Anonymous said…
Snoop said: "I know all about the stuff personally and first hand. Really. It is not a big deal. It is not new. It is not a problem. Drugs, and stimulants in particular, are deeply ingrained in our culture. They are in our breakfast drinks, used for breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. They are in our desserts. Why is wouldn't people want to use them for performance enhancement? Why do we think they won't trickle down to any age?"

Are you for real, or are you just spouting off to get a response?

What else is deeply ingrained in our culture? Hmm... robbery/theft, poor educational outcomes, serious drug addiction, tax evasion, alcoholism (rampant), athletes who cheat via drugs, politicians who cheat period, the list goes on. Just because bad stuff is in our culture does NOT mean that we should accept it or treat it lightly, and especially not with our children. What a ridiculous justification.

Why is it that we penalize athletes who are caught using performance enhancers? First, it's cheating, even for adults in a professional environment, let alone children. Second, in most cases, performance enhancers are NOT good for you, especially over the long run. Third, it teaches kids that when they can't do something easily on their own that turning to drugs is a good solution. Bullshit. How about stepping up and doing your best, whatever that may be. This is just laziness. Unacceptable.

To say it is not a big deal tells me that you are in denial about life around you, and perhaps about your own life as well. I've known my share of "casual drug users" of all kinds throughout my life, and almost all of them are operating at a reduced capacity at this point, and ALL of them THINK it's not a problem. They just can't see reality anymore.
Snoop said…
Look None... people drink coffee, coke, diet coke, Mt Dew, tea, and lots of other stuff all day long. Do we cry about it? People eat and enjoy chocolate in every concentration. Do we lament it that little school children might get some too? No. We enjoy it as part of our culture. When we need a lift, or need to concentrate and focus... we take a stimulant break and then get to work. And we learn to moderate it. In other cultures, they do something very similar. Some people even smoke nicotine.

The fact that some people prefer their stimulant in a very controlled doses, because they have a particular challenge... should be of no shock to anyone else. Did you know Ritalin is now used as an anti-depressant for the elderly now? Oh the horrors.

And None, how about you stepping up as well? How about using your own brain to think about the issues instead of moralizing to others, using a random belief system you picked up somewhere?
It's a difference of opinion, not a spite match.

Please, let's be civil.

P.S. Told my high school son who shrugged and said he knew kids at school who sold their "drugs" to other kids.
Anonymous said…
Yes, civil would be nice. I'll try, but I do need to respond.

Snoop left a rude comment mentioning: "a random belief system you picked up somewhere".

That "somewhere" is the hard streets of life, watching lots of people mess up their lives and the lives of loved ones. If you've lived such a sheltered life that you haven't seen that, good for you. But don't try to compare drinking tea with kids illegally buying and selling pharmaceuticals. It ain't the same thing. It's been many decades since anyone's life has been destroyed by drinking Coca Cola. And from your comments it sounds like you think a pro athlete using HGH is no different than having a diet coke with lunch? These pills aren't crack cocaine, but neither are they chocolate bars. They're pharmaceuticals that need to be taken seriously, not to mention teaching our kids to lean on drugs as a crutch sets a very dangerous precedent.

Also, Melissa said: "P.S. Told my high school son who shrugged and said he knew kids at school who sold their "drugs" to other kids."

Does this bother you?

Other than Snoop, for whom I have little hope at this point, I hope this does bother a lot of people, and starts some conversations. The best way to know what's happening with, and around, your kids is to talk with them. Regularly.
Jet City mom said…
I am perhaps extra touchy about this topic-
WHen the " new" SSRI's ( anti-depressants) were introduced- there was a spate of articles about how much they were being prescribed and how Americans just couldn't stand dealing with any kind of stress on their own so they popped a pill.

I have a history of mental illness in my family (it killed my dad when he was 44), I had tried many different anti-depressants and the SSRi's had fewer side effects, yet the articles and op-eds on the topic had such an impact on me, that I suddenly stopped taking my medication and ended up hospitalized from the rebound effect.

Any medication can be over prescribed- look at what expecting an antibiotic for a cold virus has done to the state of health in this country, but it is also too common for the media to recycle ideas that they use to whip up interest and hysteria in order to attract readers or viewers/+ advertising dollars
Snoop said…
Peformance medications, in many forms, are used by lots of people... because they are effective. Athletes use them all the time, because they work. Students and families use them, because they need to use them. Should athletes be allowed to use them? Well, they are banned because we want a level playing field based on athletics. We don't drug discovery to be the parameter of the competition. Should body-builders be allowed to take steroids and other enhancements to improve their appearance? To me, that is like asking if people should have costmetic surgery. It isn't really any of my business. It isn't a choice or tradeoff I would make.

As to "teaching kids to lean on drugs as crutches", very often it's the teachers who recommend the drug usage. Why? Because students need them. Sure there can be abuse, as with lots of things, but mostly people are addressing their real needs.

As to opening up the conversation, when you start from the presumption that people use medication to overcome laziness... well, you probably won't get too far with that one.
"As to "teaching kids to lean on drugs as crutches", very often it's the teachers who recommend the drug usage. Why? Because students need them."

Since when are teachers doctors? I'm sorry but when this happened to me, I practically laughed in my teacher's face. No teacher has any business recommending drugs. They can certainly say what behavior they see and what they recommend but they no qualifications to be recommending drugs.
seattle said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Snoop said…
So, we're back to the strep throat test again. Wheew, we passed, what a relief my kid doesn't have that. ??? Obviously, your kids have some problems or you wouldn't be spending all that money on tests. And by the way, psychologists aren't doctors either. There is NO test for ADD, (now called ADHD inattentive type) and the whole psychological testing is a very fuzzy science at best. It wasn't that many years ago when "gay" was an illness, and autism was caused by bad mothering. We haven't really come that far since then either. Currently, psychologists are run more like a business, and they tell the customer whatever they think you'd like to hear (within reason of course). So, if you believe that drugs might work... you'll get them. If you oppose them, well you'll be diagnosed: bored (probably gifted), with behavioral modification suggested. Lots of psyches (and well-known doctors) even go so far as to recommend schools... without ever even seeing the schools. That's the new fad in psych testing these days. Many kids I know have been told by these people that the "should" go to SAS or some other school... because it fits their profile.

Neither psychologists, doctors, or teachers are gods... devining the appropriate use of psychological drugs, particularly stimulant attention medication. It is really all experimental and a matter of personal values.
Snoop said…
By the way, I'm not suggesting that people should follow a teacher's recommendation that a child use medication, or that they're even correct about any diagnosis. But, it does happen for a reason, and it is worth considering and following up on.
"It is really all experimental and a matter of personal values."

After reading thru this thread, no kidding.
Snoop said…
Maureen says, If the drugs do improve performance then why should my nondrugged kid have to compete head to head on AP exams and the SAT with your enhanced kid? Shouldn't we look at this like we do doping in sports?

First of all, we aren't competing on the AP exams are we? Both the drugged and the undrugged can get 5's on the AP exam. Right? Nobody is saying if you're well prepared, unchallenged un-drugged kid that you can't do well. I believe the stimulant medication would help everybody's concentration and focus. But, some people don't have a problem concentrating, so it isn't needed. Why would anybody take ritalin if they didn't need it, or if the extra "focus" was more than necessary. Extra focus doesn't provide you an answer you don't know. It doesn't make you smarter than you are.

Secondly, sporting events are competitions based on athletic preparation. The basis of competition matters, and we don't want that to be pharmacology. Nobody cares about how you got your academic skills or life skills do they? Either you've got skills you need (obtained however you had to) or you don't. Similarly, nobody cares how you got your beauty. Those on psychological drugs aren't competing for the joy or pride in competition. People take psychological drugs because they feel they need them to survive reasonably. It isn't a sport. I think it's pretty obvious and has been shown before, that the people using the drugs aren't the ones winning the academic competitions, or at the top of their class.. it's basically people trying to do their best in spite of challenges.

To me the surprising thing in all this... is the unwarranted deference given doctors, as if they somehow had a lot of expertise. Sure, they have some... but it is highly over-estimated.

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