Study Stimulants

by Carrie Lynn and Mary Lyle

Horizon Reporters


As college students, fighting the consequences posed by lack of sleep can affect our school-work painfully. Whether it is an early morning class or late night studying, energy is something we wish grew on trees.

Coffee, soda and energy drinks. People depend on these three common beverages daily energy, and people at Whatcom Community College are no different.

“I drink coffee every day,” Jennifer Macdonough, a Whatcom student, said. “It wakes me up and is comforting.”

Macdonough found that when she lived in New Mexico or was traveling in Europe she didn’t drink coffee nearly as much as when she lived in the Northwest. “Maybe that is because it is so cloudy here in comparison,” she said. “It makes it more cozy.”

Macdonough has quit drinking coffee a couple of different times because of her health-conscious nature. However, different articles regarding its health benefits or lack-there-of have changed her perspective. “I realized you really can read what you want to hear about it and believe it,” she said. “And I figured, do what you enjoy and don’t worry about it.”

There are differing views about caffeine’s health effects, but Whatcom’s nutrition and biology teacher, Kimberly Reeves, says there are healthier ways to receive energy. “Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that increases activity in the brain,” Reeves said.

Caffeine will stay with a person for 24 hours, but if it is used on a daily basis it can become an addiction “just like smoking or other things,” said Reeves. Coffee in moderation is not harmful but too much of this unnatural energy can cause rather high-level health problems such as heart palpations and caffeine toxicity.

“Some people use a lot of coffee because it’s morning and they are trying to shake the cobwebs,” Reeves said. “It also doesn’t hurt that Starbucks started in Seattle and now has become a part of our daily pop culture that is considered sexy.”

Whether it is stylish or not, having coffee in your hand is an expensive habit. “If you are buying it every day to get your pick-me-up or to avoid the headache, it might be time to start re-evaluating why you are buying it,” Reeves said.

Within Whatcom’s own Dockside Cafe, coffee, energy drinks, and soda with caffeine are common purchases. Judy Vaz, general manager of the cafe, said many people are starting to purchase energy drinks even in the mornings. “It is a huge thing and way outsells our soda,” she said.

Vaz cautions students when looking to energy drinks for a boost. “I have a feeling that coffee is better than energy drinks because there are a lot more ingredients in them,” she said. “Also some people don’t eat before they have them and drinking is not a replacement for food.”

If you want to get your money’s worth, Vaz says drip coffee is the way to go because of the way it is brewed. “Caffeine is more soluble when it drips and sits in the water for a long time versus espresso which is poured through quickly,” she said.

Because we are dealing with a need for energy and the power to stay awake for school, caffeine seems to be a crucial part of life. However, Kimberly Reeves offered another option: “Drink water, get up off the couch and go for a walk or run to try to wake yourself up,” she said.

Study Drugs

“It made me feel like the most productive person on the planet,” said the 20-year-old Whatcom Community College student who wants to remain anonymous. Let’s call her Jane Doe. Jane Doe took Adderall, a prescription drug that was not prescribed to her, to handle working 30 hours a week on top of being a full time student. “It gave me extreme motivation to get everything done,” she said. “I could do anything, it made me feel smarter.”

Adderall is a prescription drug used as a treatment for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Patients diagnosed with ADHD have more difficulty focusing, controlling their actions, following instructions, and are easily distracted. Adderall counteracts these symptoms giving extreme focus and motivation. Adderall has become a popular “study drug” for students around the country with a street name of “addy” or “addies.”

“I felt like trash,” said Jane Doe when she stopped taking Adderall after taking it for a straight week. “I didn’t feel like doing anything.” She said she was trying to make up for the loss of sleep and eating. “My body wasn’t used to the feeling of having an appetite. So I would just feel the need to eat and eat to make it go away.”

Annette Flanders, nursing program director for Whatcom Community College, says that Adderall is a stimulant, which is why it is so popular for college students, because they use it to stay awake. “Some people claim that it makes them sharper mentally,” says Flanders. “They think it’s a life enhancing drug.”

Flanders says there are normal side effects, and then there are more serious side effects called “adverse effects.” Less serious side effects of Adderall include dry mouth, loss of appetite/sexual interest, and headache or dizziness. More serious side effects include fast pounding heartbeats, fainting, increased blood pressure, and tremors.

“If someone takes it and just has a dry mouth, that’s just a side effect,” said Annette Flanders. “But if their blood drops and they pass out, that’s an adverse effect.”

Jane Doe said Adderall, which she bought at about $4 a pill, made her feel wired, over emotional and lacking appetite. “I felt cracked out,” she said after she took it consistently for a week. When she tried taking 45mg of Adderall, “my heart was in over drive, it hurt. I couldn’t even run,” she said.

Flanders says there is a warning for mixing Adderall with other medications, and overdose can be fatal. “I know people that are prescribed Adderall and it is okay for them,” said Flanders. “But taking any prescription drug that is not prescribed to you is a bad idea.”

Dawn, 22, a student at Western Washington University who asked not to use her last name, said she gets distracted easily by texting, checking Facebook, or anything else that comes up that she can fixate on instead of studying. In contrast, when she takes Adderall, she can focus on her writing and “won’t stop until it’s finished,” she said. “I feel like I can form sentences better, and ideas come quicker.”

However, Dawn also points to a downside of Adderall. “It makes me feel not happy, like monotone with no emotions,” she said. “My boyfriend says I’m snappy and mean when I take it, but I don’t think I am. I just think that I’m being productive and he’s being annoying.”

Eric, 22, who transferred to Western Washington University from Whatcom, said “It helps me buckle down and get stuff done when I’m pressed on time.” Eric says he would take Adderall and stay up all night studying. He does not like to take it often, because it disturbs his sleep patterns, so he says he only takes it during finals week or when he is behind on tests or school. “I can’t drink coffee when I take it, because it will give me a headache,” Eric said.

James Orlando, a Judge for Pierce County Superior Court, noted the legal consequences of distributing Adderall. “Delivery of a controlled substance is a felony offense,” said Orlando. There are severe consequences that come with having a felony. “It will affect your eligibility for college financing, being able to travel to foreign countries, not to mention the damaging consequences it has on your brain from taking a drug that is not prescribed to you.”

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