So how do these drugs work? What’s the difference? Why do they improve someone’s attention and what effects can they have?
Ritalin, also known as methylphenidate, is the most common medication used to treat ADHD. It is a stimulant and in combination with therapy can significantly positively affect about 70-80% of those with ADHD who take it. Ritalin works to make it possible for a person to behave more normally, but the person must still learn what normal behavior is. In the biochemical sense, Ritalin inhibits the dopamine transporter of the brain preventing it from removing dopamine from the space outside of the cells. This allows the dopamine to activate more receptors. As dopamine is associated with focus and motivation, this helps treat ADHD symptoms. Therefore, Ritalin helps someone be focused on something longer than possible otherwise. This is what makes the drug appeal to many students. They find it helps them focus more, so they can successfully complete more work than they normally would.
However, Ritalin, as all medications do, comes with side effects. In fact, Ritalin’s side effects is enough to stop 10% of adults and 5% of adolescents to stop taking the medication. The side effects of Ritalin include:
- Dry mouth
- Decreased appetite
- Moodiness/mood changes (including increased anxiety or sadness)
- Decreased weight
- Nausea and dizziness
- Tachycardia chest pain
- Motor or verbal tics
- Believing things that are not true
More importantly, Ritalin is an addictive drug. Meaning, the students that take it just for one test may slowly find themselves needing more and more to function. Long term usage can lead to both stunted growth and cardiovascular problems. It can even cause psychotic and delusional episodes and increased aggression.
Adderall is a very similar drug to Ritalin that consists of a mix of amphetamine salts. It is also used to treat ADHD. Adderall also inhibits the dopamine transporter of the brain preventing it from removing dopamine from the space outside of the cells. However, it goes even further by going inside the cells and making them pump out dopamine. In this way, Adderall is slightly stronger of a medication. Adderall is just about as effective as Ritalin, but studies have shown some slight advantage of Adderall over Ritalin. There is no significant difference. Adderall, like Ritalin, is abused my many students to increase their studying abilities.
Adderall also comes with its fair share of side effects including:
- Weight loss
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Stomach pain
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Slow or difficult speech
Normally before taking Adderall, a person’s cardiovascular or neurological problems must be assessed to prevent further problems. Unprescribed Adderall can have serious consequences.
“There’s death—that’s the worst case, but there are people who end up with strokes, people who have seizures, all kinds of medical complications.” Dr. Joe Frascella of the National Institute on Drug Abuse
Adderall can have serious effects to someone’s heart, and like Ritalin, Adderall is very addictive. It can even be a gateway drug to serious drugs like cocaine and heroine.
With both drugs, it is clear that unprescribed use is a serious problem and cannot continue. Students are putting themselves in danger just for a higher grade in class and that surely can’t be worth the A.
Author: Maggie Martinez