In face of rising pressures, UT students turn to study drugs

Sydney Mahl

Editor's note: Names have been changed for the purpose of anonymity.

It’s 9:00 on a Monday night. Allison's phone lights up: “Do u have addy?”

After the biology junior, whom we'll call Allison S., began to notice she was falling behind in her classes, she got prescribed Adderall and Vyvanse last January. It only took a couple months before she started selling. 

“I first started selling last March when I realized I had a bunch of extra and my friends needed them,” Allison said.

Allison's circumstances aren’t uncommon on UT’s campus. According to data on the HealthyHorns website, 58 percent of non-medical prescription drug users reported receiving the drugs from peers. In a survey published by the American College Health Association in spring 2017, 7.7 percent of males and 6.8 percent of females at UT reported using non-prescribed stimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse and Concerta. 

If caught selling her drugs, Allison could face felony charges and suspension from UT. 

Despite the risks, Allison continues to sell because of the financial benefits of doing so. Allison charges $5 for Adderall and $8 for Vyvanse. Though she only makes an average of $30 per month selling pills, she said she once sold an entire bottle of Vyvanse to a friend for $200.

“I’m not worried about the legality of it because I generally only sell to friends who are responsible and don’t give out too much at a time,” Allison said. 

Stein’s customer base includes fellow students such as electrical and computer engineering junior Brian M., who spends roughly $25 per month on study drugs. 

“It’s pretty easy to find someone who sells them,” Brian said. “If it’s not a test week or there’s nothing majorly pressing due, I’ll probably take study drugs only once a week, but if it’s a test week it’s everyday.”

Understanding why students like Brian turn to illegal study drugs and educating them on healthier, legal study habits is part of a day’s work for Jessica Wagner, the manager of the University Health Services’ Office of Health Promotion.

“We really like to focus on trying to understand why a student is misusing prescription stimulants,” Wagner said. “Is the need more time management or a reduced course load? We want to have a better understanding of why it’s happening.”

The answers vary, from stress to a matter of staying up later and later.

“I feel like there’s pressure at UT to be better and better every year,” Allison said. “There’s a limit on what you can do, so people look to study drugs.”

Brian said he takes study drugs not because of pressure, but because he just needs to get a lot accomplished every night. He said he remembers things better, focuses more and doesn’t get off task. 

While these are potential benefits for people who are legally prescribed these drugs, Wagner said taking the drugs can cause increased heart rate, high blood pressure, a lack of appetite, insomnia and sexual dysfunction. These side effects can be compounded when the drugs are paired with caffeine and energy drinks, which are other stimulants students use to increase the power of the study drugs. 

Wagner also cautions students that study drugs have an addictive potential, especially for college students whose young adults brains are still forming and wiring themselves to learn. Wagner said it can change your brain chemistry, although there is not a lot of long-term data.

“There’s a misperception that misusing study drugs makes you smarter,” Wagner said. “You don’t magically get more critical reading skills. It’s simply a stimulant to make you stay up and consume more information.”