As college students deal with the stress and pressure of cramming for mid-terms and finals, they often search for a quick fix to give them the focus and energy they need to keep studying all night. Students are increasingly turning to ADHD medications like Adderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse to help them get through busy schedules and important exams.
These "study drugs" are often obtained by people who have not been diagnosed with ADHD and simply find friends with prescriptions or dealers who get a hold of the drugs to sell. The increase in the use of these types of drugs among college students is cause for concern because misuse of prescription drugs can be highly addictive and dangerous for young people who might not be aware of the harmful effects.
Rates of Abuse among College Students
Research has shown that full-time college students are twice as likely to take Adderall non-medically as their counterparts who are not full-time students. Studies have revealed that the greatest proportion of "study drug" users involves students in private and "elite" universities.
A large number of students across the board use ADHD medication non-medically with 30% using stimulants to help them study. The numbers increase when you look at upperclassmen and this implies that that more time you stay on campus, the more likely you are to abuse drugs.
More than 90% of all college drug users are taking stimulants for the purpose of concentrating while studying. The reason ADHD medications have become so popular for this purpose is because the stimulants strengthen the brain's inhibitory capacities so that it can control its power more effectively.
The medications can increase the amount of certain neurotransmitters like dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine which provides the control and mental focus that college students are looking for. Students say that they need these stimulants to be more productive and handle the intense competition in their classes.
Students' Perceptions of Study Drugs
While the increase in the number of students using these drugs is a problem, it is also concerning that most young people in college are misinformed about the true danger of taking this medication non-medically. Studies reported that 81% of college students interviewed thought that the misuse of ADHD medication was not dangerous at all or only slightly dangerous.
Symptoms of addiction to these drugs may not be visible to others but there can be consequences to regularly taking them. Most students take drugs like Adderall casually anywhere from once a month to a few times a week depending on how hectic their schedule may be.
The casual attitude toward this type of medication is surprising since prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin are classified as Schedule II substances alongside addictive drugs like cocaine, meth and morphine. Students seem to underestimate the potential harms that are associated with these prescription drugs.
These situations can be especially dangerous because students without prescriptions may not know the correct dosage, the precautions they should take or the way it will interact with other drugs.
The short term effects of abusing ADHD medication include sleep difficulties, restlessness, headaches, irritability and depressed feelings. Students may also experience loss of appetite, nervousness and a change in sex drive.
The long term risk of using Adderall or Ritalin is the possibility of becoming dependent on the drug and feeling unable to function without it. Schedule II drugs have a high potential for abuse and addiction. Students tend to have limited knowledge of the health dangers associated with the drugs and don't think twice about using them illegally.
The biggest issue with this trend is that students praise the drugs as highly effective at getting them through a late night study session or a busy schedule. Students need to be more informed of the risks and dangers of these drugs in order to change their attitude about the abuse.