Adderall only makes you think you learned more, when you actually didn't

Adderall only makes you think you learned more, when you actually didn't

VicesApril 13, 2018 By Emily Ludolf

As pressures mount for students to perform at a perfect level, Redbull and coffee just aren't doing it for them any longer. College these days requires meth … er, sorry, Adderall.

Yet according to some studies, it isn’t the “wonder study drug” that students are embracing as the new high-firing, high-functioning hack of American education.

Research shows that Adderall — speed, meth, whatever you want to call it — doesn’t actually make students study better as many believe. What the drugs actually do, is make them feel an inflated sense of how well studying went. On Adderall, you might feel like you totally nailed it, but when compared to someone not on Adderall, your scores are likely the same.

The increase in performance is illusory. It is just chemical confidence — similar to the feeling of eleation people get from using other uppers, like cocaine.

The sobering reality of the drug’s rising popularity likely isn’t great news for Mommy and Daddy suburbia either, who don't want to believe their little Johnny is a prescription runner for jaw-gurning speed. But the fact is, that’s exactly what he is. Just because it came from a government-approved pharmacy, instead of being baked in a trailer park, doesn’t change what it is: a dangerous drug, with few benefits to the millions of college kids using it to study.

According to National Survey of Student Engagement, the average time spent studying by students now is 17 hours a week, and that’s outside of class. Not only is the standard unattainable (no matter how smart), coupled with the necessity to work, it’s also incredibly unhealthy both physically and psychologically.

The speed freak students who clammer to score seats in the library have no idea what they’re sacrificing in the endless pursuit of perfection.

While Adderall does facilitate long days and nights hitting the books hard — and it’s true that studying for longer periods can sometimes help you perform better in exams — this is counteracted by the lack of sleep, which study after study shows creates poor performance at cognitive tasks.

Many may read this and say, well what’s the harm in taking Adderall then? Even if it doesn’t help you perform better at cognitive tasks, it makes you feel motivated and better about studying. Sure, it may be hard to think of Adderall as a “secret killer,” but there a potential real dangers from taking the drug, not just in the short term — like having a seizure from exhaustion and total mental “breakdown” — but in the long-term as well.  

Studies have revealed the link between not having enough sleep and Alzheimer's. Research has shown that not sleeping increases your chance of Alzheimer's later in life, so studying all night really is burning the candle at both ends.

The science suggests that sleep is a necessary process that you need in order to keep you brain functioning. During the day “junk” molecules build up, and sleep is the only thing we know cleans them out. Missing sleep may not seem like a big thing, but it is, especially for teenagers, who need more sleep because brains are still developing.

Ironically, all those eager students on Adderall could possibly end up losing their well-educated (read: expensive) minds, thanks to a “wonder study drug.”

And it’s not to say you’ll need to go "sober" for higher learning. There are still study drugs out there that are safer and more reliable. Ones that actually have data supporting the notion of helping students study better, instead of just staying awake a long time.

One such drug is Modafinil, also called Provigil by the Army. Modafinil was previously used to treat narcolepsy, but then it ended up being used by the U.S. Air Force to keep pilots awake for days on end.

Now, it’s available worldwide to help cram for exams. Unlike Adderall, Modafinil is not the chemical brother of speed, and affects the brain with different mechanisms. There is a measurable increase in cognitive performance, as well as a reduced need for sleep when taking the drug.

Some will still call the use of study drugs cheating. However, the world would be fit to question why so many U.S. students feel the need to use study drugs to compete in the first place. But the introspection is unlikely, trends continue to show a big increase in drug use, predictably during exam time.

Let’s just hope little Johnny has a plan B.

[cover photo Andrew Neel via Unsplash]