All About Addiction has profiled stories of college addiction in the past, but most have centered on illegal drugs and the rampant problem of alcohol abuse. Education blogger Valerie Harris joins the community today to talk about a very disturbing new trend: the rise of “study aid” dependencies, usually in the form of prescription ADHD meds like Adderall. Valerie writes a student resource website for those looking into different college and grad school options, and is an expert in many of the issues modern students face. As prescription drug abuse is a major problem in our society, a specific focus on prescriptions relevant to college studentsis noteworthy.Study Drug Addiction Plagues Students From Masters Programs to Community College Illicit Adderall usage on college campuses has been on the rise in recent years, mostly stemming from its use as a study aid. The amphetamine salts that make up Adderall accelerate the heart rate and increase alertness, enabling students to put in long hours of continuous and focused study. However, due to its amphetamine base, Adderall can also be addictive, leading some students to use the drug as a crutch, causing long term issues both academic and social.
Increasing Use A 2009 article in the Cornell Sun stated that Adderall was estimated to be used by 6% of college students, while a 2011 survey in the journal Addiction reported that on some campuses, as many as 25% of students were abusing the drug. A study conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 15% of college students have illegally ingested Adderall, Ritalin or another stimulant in the past year, while only 2% of these hold a prescription for the drug. This suggests that there might be an overall increase in Adderall abuse although longitudinal data from single sources is relatively scarce.
In light of this possible increase, and the problems associated with it, universities are beginning to fight back. Recently, Duke University added “the unauthorized use of prescription medication to enhance academic performance” to its student conduct policies that equate to academic dishonesty. Wesleyan and Dartmouth have also amended their policies to include a ban on prescription drug abuse, while students with ADHD prescriptions at George Washington University are told to purchase a safe for their dorm. Other schools more aggressively target potential dealers.
The Illusion of Safety
Due to its prescription drug status, many college students believe Adderall to be safe and non-addictive. It’s true that when used with a prescription and with the supervision of a doctor, Adderall can be safe. However, when used without a prescription Adderall use is essentially akin to unregulated speed abuse. As an amphetamine drug, Adderall is listed by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule II Controlled Substance, meaning anyone caught with pills not prescribed by a doctor is subjected to the same criminal charges as those possessing opiates or methamphetamine. Schedule II drugs involve an extremely high risk of addiction and overdose, as well as a potential to lead to depression or heart failure.
A University of Pittsburgh newspaper notes that side effects can include irregular heart rate, increased blood pressure, headaches, sleep deprivation, and loss of appetite, among others. When abused, the adverse effects of the drug can be substantially exacerbated. Instances of acute exhaustion or psychosis during withdrawal have been documented, and when it’s mixed with alcohol, Adderall can even cause death. Among young people with developing prefrontal cortexes, the effects can be even more pronounced and long-term, essentially changing the chemistry of the brain.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle schools and medical professionals face in weaning students away from prescription drug addiction in their genuine effectiveness. Still, statistics show that students using Adderall illicitly are often far from the highest achieving, with an average GPA among abusers of less than 3.0. The fact that the vast majority of students who take Adderall use it legally and likely suffer with learning disabilities clearly affects these performance numbers, but it is clear that Adderall is not a panacea. Students who truly achieve long term success usually do so by disciplining themselves and utilizing time effective time management skills. “The most important thing to have for time management is some kind of system” says Kelci Lynn Lucier, author of The College Parent Handbook. “Some students use the calendars are their phones: others use things like Google Calendar; others still use the classic paper-calendar model.”Lucier also asserts the importance of maintaining a regular and appropriate sleep schedule. “While it may be common among college students, a lack of sleep is more detrimental than you might think,” says Lucier. “It can throw everything out of whack: your mental health, your physical health, your stress level, and, of course, your schedule.”There is no doubt that Adderall offers a short-term solution for students that are behind in their studies, their sleep, or generally overwhelmed by their many burdens. However, the adverse effects of continued use on one’s mental and physical health, as well as the potential risks towards one’s education and future success, can prove devastating. Students who are genuinely invested their academics and career training are often best served by taking the time to study while maintaining a disciplined and manageable lifestyle.