When Jody takes
Ritalin, she is quiet.
When she does not take Ritalin, she talks constantly. It is easy for her friends and family to tell whether she has taken her daily dosage.
Jody, not her real name, had difficulty with high school studies because of her lack of ability to concentrate. She received poor grades until her senior year when she was diagnosed by a psychiatrist with Attention Deficit Disorder and was prescribed Ritalin, one of the stimulant medications used to treat the disorder.
Once she was taking it regularly, her grades improved, and Jody was in the upper percentile of her senior class.
"I owe it all to Ritalin," says the undeclared sophomore. "It allowed me to read and understand what I'm reading."
Although the medication helps her with schoolwork, Jody does not like taking it.
"I get nervous . If I hear a noise I freak out. It's weird," Jody says.
Driving is difficult for Jody when she is on Ritalin because she feels "kinda paranoid," and she also has difficulty falling asleep at night.
When she gets depressed or mad her mother will say, "I can't handle you. Take your Ritalin," Jody says.
Jody stopped taking Ritalin for a short time because her friends were making jokes about it, she says. She does not like how she feels when she takes it, and "I just don't want to feel like I have to rely on it."
Not everyone who takes
Ritalin has it pre
scribed for them. Though it is a small percentage, there have been instances of students experimenting with Ritalin, says Carolyn Collins, Student Health Services coordinator for alcohol and drug prevention.
Like Jody, students who are diagnosed with ADD have given it to their friends. Collins says the students she has seen using Ritalin have not been diagnosed with ADD but have gotten the drug from friends.
"They feel more focused and able to concentrate on the task at hand. They enjoy the effect," Collins says.
Jody has given Ritalin to her friends recently, she says.
"I don't know what they do, snort it or smoke it . I guess they talk a lot and stay up all night," she says.
Joyce Kossick, compliance officer for the Arizona Board of Pharmacy, says it is against federal and state law to give prescription drugs to friends.
Helena Ribeiro, 18, a former UA student who has taken Ritalin for a year and a half, says taking it without a prescription is "the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
"I think that's totally ridiculous. You could get a much better buzz off Ephedrine," she says. Ephedrine is a stimulant formerly used for asthma. It is now a controlled substance.
Taking Ritalin with alcohol, allergy medications, decongestants or other medications without direction of a physician can be fatal, says Dr. Hal Crawford, staff psychiatrist for UA Student Health Services.
"Mixing those things is like playing Russian Roulette," Crawford says. "It's not just heart (rapid heart beat) and comfort, but death."
Aaron Kuhl, a regional development senior who was diagnosed with ADD as a child, took half of a Ritalin tablet, forgot, and then drank beer hours later. The reaction was severe, and he was extremely drunk. He will not do it again, he says.
The increased street value of Ritalin is a shame, says Tucson psychologist Kevin Blake, because used properly with medical supervision it is an effective drug.
Kuhl has been taking Ritalin for the last three years. As a child, he took Ritalin until the eighth grade because he "was a hyperactive kid."
When he stopped taking the drug in high school his grades plummeted, and then his grade point average went from a 1.9 to a 3.0 when he began taking it again.
"It helps me focus," Kuhl says. "If I'm not on it in class I start thinking about other things."
Difficulty acquiring information and listening to lectures are symptoms of ADD in students says Crawford. It can also affect personal relationships because of the listening difficulty and the person's "mind going somewhere else," he says.
Side effects from Ritalin can be slight insomnia, nervousness, loss of appetite, depression late in the day and a mini-withdrawal, although some experience no side effects, Crawford says.
"A fair percentage may have one or another," he says.
Ribeiro says that she has difficulty focusing when she writes while on Ritalin.
"It's weird. It feels like I'm in this weird blurry tunnel. It's like looking through a keyhole," Ribeiro says.
Jody, Kuhl and Ribeiro all experienced loss of appetite as a side effect of the drug.
"You can easily go a day without eating," Kuhl says.
Jody lost weight when she first started taking it. She has also taken the antidepressant Prozac, along with Ritalin, for three years. Jody wants to use them both to lose weight, she says.
After three years of taking both medications, Jody has not seen the doctor who continues to refill her prescriptions, which is not common procedure, says Crawford.
When a person is
diagnosed with ADD
and are put on medication they are monitored regularly at first and then see their doctor at the "very minimum once a semester," he says.
Like Jody, Ribeiro is also on an antidepressant Zoloft.
"I'm pretty much covered for 24 hours a day," Ribeiro says. "I'm a total 90s kid. It's very Generation X."
Medications are not the only way to treat ADD. Changing a working environment, taking short breaks while studying and rewarding oneself can be helpful.
It is also helpful for students to have someone in their life who believes in them and are there for support, says Maria L. Nahmias, UA adjunct assistant professor for special education and rehabilitation. Nahmias estimates about 15 percent of Americans have the disorder.
According to Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults by Dr. Lynn Weiss, 2 to 22 percent of the total U.S. population have ADD.
It is important for students
who think they may have
attention deficit disorder to be psychologically tested to differentiate between ADD and other problems such as depression, Crawford says.
Adults with the disorder had it in childhood, even if it wasn't diagnosed, he says.
"Most of the people that I see who have attention problems are depressed. (It's the) more common reason," Crawford says.
Support groups such as Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder and Adults Seeking Knowledge About Attention Deficit Disorder are available in Tucson for people with ADD.
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