Adderall, the attention deficit (ADD) drug, is one of the most popular study drugs used on college campuses. It is formulated to improve focus, but the drawbacks of unauthorized use can be significant, including addiction — both physical and psychological. Daily Beast reporter and Columbia student Daniel D’Addario took an in-depth look at Adderall usage on his campus this finals season. He found students open about their use of the drug. They take it to study, but also for recreational use — sometimes combined with cocaine and/or Ecstasy.

Before finals, the students D’Addario spoke with were using Adderall in much the same way previous generations used caffeine. Though just as addictive, Adderall is not considered by college students to be any worse than smoking cigarettes or drinking.

“We’ve become so dependent. I wouldn’t survive without James’s prescription," D'Addario quotes one student as saying.

Students like "James" share their prescriptions for Adderall with friends, but the drug is easy to buy on campus, sold by the same dealers doling out marijuana and cocaine, going for up to $20 a pill. Whether kids are getting it from friends or dealers, the original source of Adderall has to come from a prescription pad. The students D’Addario spoke with blame doctors for the easy availability.

James hadn’t sought a prescription, but went to see a psychiatrist for symptoms of depression. He doesn’t use the drug often, but only when he feels he needs it.

“Before a test or to stay up all night. I use them to stay focused and stay awake. I’ve been good about using it sparingly,” he says, “but this week, I’m not gonna worry. Next week, school will be over, and then I’m just going to chill.”

A recent NYU graduate articulated the unofficial motto:

“Study high, take the test high, get high scores.”

But what happens when these hyped-up students leave school for the real world? Mary Reid Munford asked the question in February’s Daily Princetonian:

“When we repeatedly use a drug to help us deal with high-pressure situations, we are training ourselves to not be able to deal with those situations sober.”

Reid mentions the increasing difficulty of focusing in our culture of constant stimulus and immediate access to email, texting, shopping and reading online. Whatever will this generation of students do when real world pressures replace their academic ones?

Kickstart My Heart is a wonderful read, a great first-hand account of personal use by Molly Young. She describes the allure of Adderall:

It is the Las Vegas of pills, an object that conforms so gleefully to every pill cliché that taking it feels cinematic. The drug comes in a gleaming capsule, blue or tangerine colored, and it can be swallowed or sprinkled over cafeteria applesauce. It is made of equal portions of four amphetamines, all of which the body metabolizes at different rates, and which are packaged in tiny rotund beads that dissolve at varied speeds, so the effect is consistent.

Unlike other addictive substances, Adderall is perceived as safe and advantageous by college students, which is probably the most dangerous aspect of its allure. Parents need to open a discussion about Adderall and other study drugs. They are not like binge drinking and marijuana. Kids taking Adderall are doing it not to party or escape, but to achieve. It's a whole new kind of peer pressure.