Students who abuse the drug Aderall, which is commonly prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, are more likely to do so in the middle of the week or during finals, according to a groundbreaking study that used data culled from social media.
The study, conducted by six researchers at BYU, is innovative for its use of Twitter to track peak times when there was mention of Adderall. The computer science and health science departments formed a partnership, computational health science, to help them more effectively perform validity testing using social media. This form of research is a state-of-the-art data collection tool within the public health sector.
Using computer software tools, the researchers were able to track the mention of Adderall on Twitter. After analyzing the term’s trending, they noticed spikes at certain times of the year and during the week.
In the study data, people tended to talk about the drug more in the middle of the week, with the peak on Wednesday, and at the end of April and the middle of December, which are typical times for finals. These peaks correlate with high-stress times for students.
As evidenced by the peak times when the word Adderall trends, the drug is most likely used more as a study crutch and not as a party drug, said health science professor Carl Hanson, who was a study co-author.
From the study, the researchers discovered the highest trending of the word in the Northeast and South regions of the U.S. The regional trend suggests that Adderall use may be connected to the sorority and fraternity social system, which is deeply rooted in the Northeast, Hanson said.
Adderall is a psychostimulant medication which contains amphetamine. It is used for the treatment of ADHD, and helps with focusing, which may lead to better academic performance, researchers said.
Users, however, may also experience several side effects, such as sleep deprivation, anxiety and dizziness, Hanson said. Of concern to the researchers is that people generally mention the benefits of Adderall, not its side effects, in their tweets. The focus on the benefits of use encourages people to view the drug as beneficial, not harmful.
Hanson said “tweets about Adderall, (even not) with regards to studying, create a norm, a standard behavior.”
Although people who mention Adderall in Twitter posts may not be abusers of the drug, the pure mention of the word makes it seem more normal to our society, Hanson said. The more exposure people get, the more likely they are to misuse the drug.
Another study finding was that nine percent of Adderall tweets mentioned another substance. Because the drug is becoming a social norm, this is especially dangerous, said study co-author and health science professor Michael Barnes.
“Tweets hinting at co-ingestion are particularly troubling because morbidity and mortality risk increases when substances are combined,” Barnes said.
The researchers say the next step in their study of Adderall is to figure out more explanations for the patterns in its trending. Then they want to develop intervention strategies for abusers.