Adderall use and college students

All About Addiction has profiled stories of college addiction in the past, but most have centered on illegal drugs and the rampant problem of alcohol abuse. Education blogger Valerie Harris joins the community today to talk about a very disturbing new trend: the rise of “study aid” dependencies, usually in the form of prescription ADHD meds like Adderall. Valerie writes a student resource website for those looking into different college and grad school options, and is an expert in many of the issues modern students face.  As prescription drug abuse is a major problem in our society, a specific focus on prescriptions relevant to college studentsis noteworthy.Study Drug Addiction Plagues Students From Masters Programs to Community College Illicit Adderall usage on college campuses has been on the rise in recent years, mostly stemming from its use as a study aid. The amphetamine salts that make up Adderall accelerate the heart rate and increase alertness, enabling students to put in long hours of continuous and focused study. However, due to its amphetamine base, Adderall can also be addictive, leading some students to use the drug as a crutch, causing long term issues both academic and social.

Increasing Use
A 2009 article in the Cornell Sun stated that Adderall was estimated to be used by 6% of college students, while a 2011 survey in the journal Addiction reported that on some campuses, as many as 25% of students were abusing the drug. A study conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 15% of college students have illegally ingested Adderall, Ritalin or another stimulant in the past year, while only 2% of these hold a prescription for the drug. This suggests that there might be an overall increase in Adderall abuse although longitudinal data from single sources is relatively scarce.

Campus Responses

In light of this possible increase, and the problems associated with it, universities are beginning to fight back. Recently, Duke University added “the unauthorized use of prescription medication to enhance academic performance” to its student conduct policies that equate to academic dishonesty. Wesleyan and Dartmouth have also amended their policies to include a ban on prescription drug abuse, while students with ADHD prescriptions at George Washington University are told to purchase a safe for their dorm. Other schools more aggressively target potential dealers.

The Illusion of Safety

Due to its prescription drug status, many college students believe Adderall to be safe and non-addictive. It’s true that when used with a prescription and with the supervision of a doctor, Adderall can be safe. However, when used without a prescription Adderall use  is essentially akin to unregulated speed abuse. As an amphetamine drug, Adderall is listed by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule II Controlled Substance, meaning anyone caught with pills not prescribed by a doctor is subjected to the same criminal charges as those possessing opiates or methamphetamine. Schedule II drugs involve an extremely high risk of addiction and overdose, as well as a potential to lead to depression or heart failure.

A University of Pittsburgh newspaper notes that side effects can include irregular heart rate, increased blood pressure, headaches, sleep deprivation, and loss of appetite, among others. When abused, the adverse effects of the drug can be substantially exacerbated. Instances of acute exhaustion or psychosis during withdrawal have been documented, and when it’s mixed with alcohol, Adderall can even cause death. Among young people with developing prefrontal cortexes, the effects can be even more pronounced and long-term, essentially changing the chemistry of the brain.

Safer Solutions
Perhaps the biggest hurdle schools and medical professionals face in weaning students away from prescription drug addiction in their genuine effectiveness. Still, statistics show that students using Adderall illicitly are often far from the highest achieving, with an average GPA among abusers of less than 3.0. The fact that the vast majority of students who take Adderall use it legally and likely suffer with learning disabilities clearly affects these performance numbers, but it is clear that Adderall is not a panacea. Students who truly achieve long term success usually do so by disciplining themselves and utilizing time effective time management skills. “The most important thing to have for time management is some kind of system” says Kelci Lynn Lucier, author of The College Parent Handbook. “Some students use the calendars are their phones: others use things like Google Calendar; others still use the classic paper-calendar model.”Lucier also asserts the importance of maintaining a regular and appropriate sleep schedule. “While it may be common among college students, a lack of sleep is more detrimental than you might think,” says Lucier. “It can throw everything out of whack: your mental health, your physical health, your stress level, and, of course, your schedule.”There is no doubt that Adderall offers a short-term solution for students that are behind in their studies, their sleep, or generally overwhelmed by their many burdens. However, the adverse effects of continued use on one’s mental and physical health, as well as the potential risks towards one’s education and future success, can prove devastating. Students who are genuinely invested their academics and career training are often best served by taking the time to study while maintaining a disciplined and manageable lifestyle.

Teens and drugs: Drug use statistics and treatment that works

Here are some drug use statistics:

  • Over 80% of teens engage in some form of deviant behavior (1).
  • Over 50% of high-school seniors admit to having used drugs (2).
  • Only 10%-15% of the population develop drug addiction problems related to their drug use (1).

The question is:

If the majority of teens experiment with drug use, and so few eventually develop drug addiction problems, should we be focusing on something other than stopping kids from trying drugs? Continue reading “Teens and drugs: Drug use statistics and treatment that works”

Bath Salts – Pressing the Issue

Q &A – Dr. Adi Jaffe PhD Interviewed By Tony O’Neil of The Fix

“A man was attacked on the side of the highway, authorities find the attacker eating a the victims face, and only after multiple bullet wounds is the attacker stopped.” This Zombie-like behavior is common in Hollywood scary movies, but as of late the new “Bath Salt” epidemic has turned places is like Miami into a real life Zombieland, or at least that’s what we have been told.

UPDATE: We now know that the assailant in this case (Rudy Eugene) had only traces of marijuana in his blood and no evidence of bath salts use. However he was previously diagnosed as schizophrenic and we know that especially for those at risk, marijuana use is associated with psychotic breaks.

What are “Bath Salts”?

Bath Salts are a street name given to a number of meth like drugs, so we’re not talking about your everyday Epson salt here. Although drugs like MDPV have just been made illegal, most of these substances seem to be cathinone derivatives and are central nervous system stimulants that act through interruption of dopamine, norepinephrine and to a more limited extent serotonin function.

It’s very important to note that research on this is still in its early stages and so reports are limited. However, it seems that at low to moderate doses the most common effects for MDPV can be thought of as either meth-like or like very strong adderall or ritalin – so users experience stimulation, euphoria, and alertness. Mephedrone seems to act more like MDMA (ecstasy) than meth, at least in early animal research with these drugs. At high doses however, and obviously there is no one regulating the dose since these drugs are sold as if not for human consumption, the effects can look like psychosis. These are not necessarily very different from meth induced psychosis which can include panic attacks, severe paranoia, self-mutilation, and violence.

There are several confirmed research reports (individuals who had only MDPV in their system) of people injecting or snorting MDPV and developing severe psychosis, “running wildly throughout the local neighborhood,” foaming at the mouth and being combative when approached. Worse still, these individuals can develop severe organ failure, require intubation (breathing tube insertion through throat), and at times die even in the face of extreme medical intervention.

How do Bath Salts affect the nervous system?

These drugs tend to be sympathomemetic, which means they induce sympathetic nervous system activation – the increased heart rate, temperature, etc. This is also where they can be most dangerous even when people don’t develop the possible psychotic effects (due to organ failure from the hyper activation).

Can one become addicted to Bath Salts?

I think that there’s no question that this stuff can cause physical dependence. I personally know of a client at matrix here in west la who came in specifically for “over the counter stimulant addiction” to drugs like these. He was snorting, then injecting them and stayed up for days. Eventually he was hospitalized with severe agitation and mild psychosis. These high doses are almost certainly, based on what we know with meth and MDMA, also causing neurotoxicity (some of the effects irreversible).

What Harm Reduction model should be used for Bath Salts?

It seems that MDPV and mephedrone are indeed drugs worth worrying about, at least in so much as they are completely unregulated when sold “not for human consumption.” While their effects at low/moderate doses are not severe are can be thought of as related to those of other stimulants, at high doses they can be lethal and can certainly bring about serious negative psychological effects. I always think that there is some room for harm reduction when trying to get some control over abuse of such drugs. In this case, while it’s probably best to stay away completely, I would urge people who are going to use to be careful and not to use large amounts of this stuff before seeing how they react. The neurotoxicity and cardiac effects can be too extreme and may lead to severe irreversible consequences at high doses.

How can the media help resolve this epidemic?

Press coverage always makes more people aware of an issue than they were before the topic was covered. In this case, especially if we can sneak in some of the above harm-reduction messages along with the overall “don’t use this stuff” text we normally see, we might be able to use the opportunity to save some lives. I think, as I’ve said before, that people (especially kids) are going to be on the lookout for ways to change their experience no matter what. The question is how we react when they do things we don’t like and how does our reaction affect their future behavior.

I think that we can use the real information – possible death and psychosis, especially when snorted or injected – to alter the ways people use Bath Salts, allowing for a campaign that isn’t only looking to stop the use of the drug but that is focused on minimizing consequences. However it seems that the press isn’t covering the range of possible effects but is choosing instead to focus on the most outrageous. These types of scare tactics haven’t worked too well in the past for curving drug use, but it doesn’t hurt TV ratings so I don’t expect it to stop.

Will banning bath salts help?

I believe that in this case, as we can already see, we are once again going to be playing a cat and mouse game that congress seems happy to play. They’ll outlaw more components of Bath Salts (MDPV, mephedrone, and methylone apparently already are controlled) but new ones will continue to come out. To me, the question is whether we believe we will one day ban all psychoactive substances we have issue with or whether we will be successful in developing a strategy for dealing with their abuse in a way that helps recognize and intervene early.

I think that the banning approach makes it less likely that people with abuse problems, or even acute medical problems, will contact authorities for help. Worse yet, it makes it nearly impossible for us to get a handle on safer use practices for a specific drug as they all get replaced by new variations – often ones that are even more dangerous.

Although the press has made the Bath Salt epidemic much more like a Hollywood production than reality, there are issues that need to be addressed. I just don’t believe in scaring the public into action, I’d prefer if popular media were just honest with the public about these drugs so that people can draw their own conclusions.

Addiction stories: How I recovered from my addiction to crystal meth

By the time I was done with my addiction to crystal meth, I had racked up 4 arrests, 9 felonies, a $750,000 bail, a year in jail, and an eight year suspended sentence to go along with my 5 year probation period. Though I think education is important to keep getting the message out about addiction and drug abuse, there is no doubt that addiction stories do a great job of getting the message across, so here goes.

My crystal meth addiction story

The kid my parents knew was going nowhere, and fast. That’s why I was surprised when they came to my rescue after 3 years of barely speaking to them. My lawyer recommended that I check into a rehab facility immediately; treating my drug abuse problem was our only line of legal defense.

cocaine linesI had long known that I had an addiction problem when I first checked myself into rehab. Still, my reason for going in was my legal trouble. Within 3 months, I was using crystal meth again, but the difference was that this time, I felt bad about it. I had changed in those first three months. The daily discussions in the addiction treatment facility, my growing relationship with my parents, and a few sober months (more sobriety than I had in years) were doing their job. I relapsed as soon as I went back to work in my studio, which was a big trigger for me, but using wasn’t any fun this time.

I ended up being kicked out of that facility for providing a meth-positive urine test. My parents were irate. I felt ashamed though I began using daily immediately. My real lesson came when I dragged myself from my friend’s couch to an AA meeting one night. I walked by a homeless man who was clearly high when the realization hit me:

I was one step away from becoming like this man.

You see, when I was in the throes of my crystal meth addiction, I had money because I was selling drugs. I had a great car, a motorcycle, an apartment and my own recording studio. After my arrest though, all of that had been taken away. I just made matters worse by getting myself thrown out of what was serving as my home, leaving myself to sleep on a friend’s couch for the foreseeable future.

Something had to change.

homelessI woke up the next morning, smoked some meth, and drove straight to an outpatient drug program offered by my health insurance. I missed the check-in time for that day, but I was told to come back the next morning, which I did. I talked to a counselor, explained my situation, and was given a list of sober-living homes to check out.

As I did this, I kept going to the program’s outpatient meetings, high on crystal meth, but ready to make a change. I was going to do anything I could so as not to end up homeless, or a lifetime prisoner. I had no idea how to stop doing the one thing that had been constant in my life since the age of 15, but I was determined to find out.

When I showed up at the sober-living facility that was to be the place where I got sober, I was so high I couldn’t face the intake staff. I wore sunglasses indoors at 6 PM. My bags were searched, I was shown to my room, and the rest of my life began.

I wasn’t happy to be sober, but I was happier doing what these people told me than I was fighting the cops, the legal system, and the drugs. I had quite a few missteps, but I took my punishments without a word, knowing they were nothing compared to the suffering I’d experience if I left that place.

Overall, I have one message to those struggling with getting clean:

If you want to get past the hump of knowing you have a problem but not knowing what to do about it, the choice has to be made clear. This can’t be a game of subtle changes. No one wants to stop using if the alternative doesn’t seem a whole lot better. For most of us, that means hitting a bottom so low that I can’t be ignored. You get to make the choice of what the bottom will be for you.

You don’t have to almost die, but you might; losing a job could be enough, but if you miss that sign, the next could be the streets; losing your spouse will sometimes do it, but if not, losing your shared custody will hurt even more.

At each one of these steps, you get to make a choice – Do I want things to get worse or not?

Ask yourself that question while looking at the price you’ve paid up to now. If you’re willing to go even lower for that next hit, I say go for it. If you think you want to stop but can’t seem to really grasp just how far you’ve gone, get a friend you trust, a non-using friend, and have them tell you how they see the path your life has taken.

It’s going to take a fight to get out, but if I beat my addiction, you can beat yours.

By now, I’ve received my Ph.D. from UCLA, one of the top universities in the world. I study addiction research, and publish this addiction blog along with a Psychology Today column and a number of academic journals. I also have my mind set on changing the way our society deals with drug abuse and addiction. Given everything I’ve accomplished by now, the choice should have seemed clear before my arrest – but it wasn’t. I hope that by sharing addiction stories, including mine, we can start that process.

More money more problems? Rich teens and drugs

Teens raised in affluent homes display the highest rates of depression, anxiety, and drug abuse according to a recent article in Monitor on Psychology, the APA‘s monthly magazine.

One of our recent posts dealt with some of the issues unique to teens and drugs. In addition to the issues we’d already mentioned, the article named a number of reasons for the high prevalence of mental-health issues among affluent teens. Among them were an increasingly narcissistic society, overbearing parents, and an common attitude of perfectionism.

Each of these reasons are likely contributors to the prevalence of mental health and drug abuse issues among upper-middle-class (and above) teens. Still, as far as I’m concerned, the main take home message of the article is this:

Money truly doesn’t buy happiness – Rich teens and drug use.

While drug abuse research often focuses on the lower socioeconomic strata these recent findings indicate that being financially stable offers little in the way of protection from some of the most common psychological difficulties.

Thankfully, the researchers cited in the article gave some simple advice to parents:

  • Give children clear responsibilities to help around the house.
  • Take part in community service (to unite the family and reduce narcissism).
  • Reduce TV watching (especially of reality TV shows that glorify celebrity and excess).
  • Monitor internet use.
  • Stop obsessing about perfect grades and focus instead on the joy of learning for its own sake.

I couldn’t agree more with these recommendations. Having taught a number of classes myself, I have witnessed the ridiculous inflation in students’ expectations of top grades. I think it’s time we turned attention back to the family and reintroduce some of the basic skills that many addicts find themselves learning much too late… Often in recovery.

People, places, and things – How important are drug-related triggers for addiction relapse?

In cognitive behavioral therapy they’re a big part of the “Five W’s” = When, Where, Why, With, and What. In the various 12-step programs they’re simply referred to as “People, places, and things.” But no matter how you refer to them, drug-associated cues, or “triggers” as they are more commonly known, obviously play a big role in reminding addicted individuals about their drug-seeking behavior, and they are often enough to restart old behavior, even among those who have been abstinent for a while and especially when unprepared for their effect.

Different triggers to reactivate old behavior

Research on relapse (what researchers call reinstatement) has long shown that there are a number of things that can return a person, or an animal, to drug seeking after they have been abstinent for a while. Stress, small drug doses, and the presentation of triggers are all very capable of doing this, even after months of abstinence and likely even years. It’s probably not surprising that giving drugs to an abstinent person can make them want the drug again. In fact, I would venture to guess that most readers believe that this is the most powerful way to induce a relapse (assuming the initial exposure was out of a person’s control and doesn’t count).

Well, recent research suggests that in actuality, triggers, or those people, places, and things, might be more powerful or at least longer lasting relapse risks than even taking drugs!

Triggers, not drugs, are shown to be longest lasting relapse risk

Researchers in Japan trained mice to press a lever for meth, getting them to poke their nose into a hole 60 times for a total of 30 meth administration per three hour session. Every time they poked their nose in the right hole they got a shot of meth and a little light above their nose-poke hole went on (this will become the trigger in the end). Once they were doing this reliably the researchers took away the meth and the animals learned, within 10-20 days, that pressing the lever no longer got them a drug and reduced their number of presses to less than 15 presses per session.

After all this the researchers gave the mice an injection of meth 30 minutes before putting them back in the box – leading the mice to start pressing again for the drug even though in the previous session they has pretty much stopped pressing knowing that no drug was coming. Obviously, the drug injection caused the mice to relapse back into their drug seeking. But, as you can see from the figure below (on the left side, the right side shows that the mice didn’t poke their nose into a hole that did nothing as a control), this little trick only worked once, and the next time the mice were given a shot of meth before being put in the box (after once again being taken through extinction training teaching them that pressing the lever did nothing), they didn’t press the lever any more and just around not doing much.

For the following part of the study the researchers once again took the animals through extinction training (and once again the mice stopped pressing the lever for meth) and then in a following session reintroduced the little light that used to go on every time the mice originally got meth. Just like they did with the meth the animals immediately went back to pressing the lever like crazy, hoping that now that the light was back, so was their meth. Just like with the drug relapse experiment above, the researchers repeated this whole process over two months later, only this time, the little light managed to re-trigger the lever pressing again, unlike the one-trick-pony meth. Seeing this, the researchers went for broke and tried another run of this with the same animals, now following up five months after the last time the animals received meth when they pressed the lever. Again the little light got the animals to increase their pressing, only this time it was a little less impressive than the first two tries (but still significantly higher). All in all, the little light managed to restart the lever pressing by the mice three times and a full five month after the meth-relapse experiment had failed!!!

Conclusion, thoughts, and implications about triggers, relapse, and addiction

In a completely different article I’d written that researchers found a number of different patterns of relapse among alcoholics who went to rehab and that in fact, the vast majority of those who did relapse never went back to the kind of heavy drinking that characterized their earlier problem (see here for One is too many, a thousand not enough). While this research touches on a different aspect of relapse, it once again challenges our thinking about the crucial factors in relapse prevention among addicts. Everyone knows that triggers are important, but the fact that they are at least as powerful and apparently longer lasting dangers than even being re-exposed to the addictive drug is a novel one. Still, this isn’t very surprising given the very long-lasting impact of drugs of abuse (especially stimulants like crystal meth) on learning mechanisms. In my opinion, and based on my own experience, those changes are essentially permanent and the only thing that makes an ex-user less likely to run back to pressing that drug lever when being re-triggered 10 years later is the life they’ve built, the experience they have, and the training they’ve undergone in reacting to those triggers. As you can see from the graph above, if a person runs back to the drugs and actually starts using again on that first, second, or third exposure to a trigger they are likely to start the whole cycle again, possibly making it ever more difficult to escape the next time.

Obviously preventing trigger-induced relapse should be a major strategy of addiction treatment and indeed, from CBT relapse prevention strategies to groundbreaking medications that have been shown to be effective for relapse rate reduction (like Vivitrol, Buprenorphine, Bupropion, and more), there is quite a bit of effort going exactly that way.

Citation:

Yijin Yan, Kiyofumi Yamada, Atsumi Nitta  and Toshitaka Nabeshima (2007). Transient drug-primed but persistent cue-induced reinstatement of extinguished methamphetamine-seeking behavior in mice. Behavioral Brain Research, 177, 261-268.

About Addiction: Kombucha, Alcoholism, Drug Crime, mental health, and the Law

These are the newest links about alcohol, drug crime and mental health. Let us know what you think and leave us your feedback!

Kombucha, Alcohol content, and teens

The New York Times: Some Kombucha drinks may have elevated alcohol content, with specific varieties reaching as high as 3% alcohol by volume, as high as some beers, and much higher than the legal limit on non-alcoholic drinks of 0.5%.

preventionworksct: Hospital emergency room visits linked to underage drinking almost double during the July 4 holiday weekend. Daily underage drinking-related visits are 87 percent higher during the July 4 holiday weekend than on an average day in July.

Caron: Good intentions of parents may unintentionally contribute to teenage alcohol abuse when mixed messages are presented. An expert suggests that substance abuse should be discussed before a kid reaches his or her teens.

Science Daily: Teens tend to increase their alcohol consumption in summer. Experts suggest parents monitor their children.

Drug Crime & Law

UPI: In Mexican drug smuggle, increasingly more teenagers are used to smuggle drugs across the U.S. border into Arizona. In 2009, 130 minors were arrested while allegedly trying to smuggle drugs across the border through entry ports from Sonora, Mexico, into Arizona.

Politica AP: Since the 2006 passage of an anti-methamphetamine law, the number of crystal meth lab cleanups nationwide has decrease. Investigators link the decline to the law that made it harder to buy chemicals used in this drug production.

About addiction and mental health

Reuters: There is an association between marijuana use and increased risks of depression and anxiety disorders. It is though unclear whether marijuana use itself, or some other factor, accounts for this connection.

Health Day: What works to treat adult addicts may not work for the younger population. According to experts, illnesses that start earlier in life are harder to treat than illnesses developed during adult life.