Abuse of prescription drugs by college students

Most college students know the dangers of illegal drug use and alcohol abuse on college campus. But an alarming and growing trend is abuse of prescription drugs of stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin, also known as “study drugs,” to improve memory retention and academic performance.

How big of an issue is abuse of prescription drugs in college? (Credit: NBC Right Now)

How big of an issue is abuse of prescription drugs in college? (Credit: NBC Right Now)

Instead, the dangerous side effects of abuse and chance of addiction should make college students steer clear.

Non-medical use of prescription drugs

Some of my friends in college used energy drinks and gallons of coffee to stay up all night to study. Today, students have access to prescription stimulant drugs Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta and Vyvanse to stay awake, alert and attentive. These types of drugs are intended for children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But some college students think they will get an advantage in their studies using them.

Easy access to drugs

Unfortunately, on a college campus, access to prescription drugs without a prescription is pretty easy. Friends who have legitimate prescriptions give or sell their ADHD drugs to other friends. One college student who did this said she felt like a drug dealer. Other students get prescription drugs from their parents or relatives. While sometimes called “Ivy League crack,” these drugs are more often used by poor students who have deficient study habits. They abuse alcohol, skip classes and fall behind. Then they turn to stimulant drugs to get a boost studying for finals.

Stimulant abuse is dangerous

A 2008 study found 81% of students thought use of ADHD stimulants for non-medical purposes was not dangerous. This isn’t true. In the article “Just say yes? The rise of ‘study drugs’ in college,” posted on CNN April 18, 2014, Arianna Yanes reported: “Short-term adverse consequences include sleep difficulties, restlessness, headaches, irritability and depressed feelings. Other side effects include loss of appetite, nervousness, and changes in sex drive. The long term risk of psychological and physical dependence is of concern for routine users that may find they do not feel they can function optimally without it.”

Non-medical use of these drugs is so dangerous that “the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently required manufacturers of these medicines to put a ‘black box’ warning on the medications highlighting the potential for serious consequences resulting from misuse. The warning informs both physicians and patients that misuse of the medicine could cause ‘sudden death and serious cardiovascular adverse events,’” according to Amelia M. Arria, Ph.D., and Robert L. DuPont, M.D., in“Nonmedical Prescription Stimulant Use among College Students: Why We Need To Do Something and What We Need To Do,” in Journal of Addictive Diseases.

Colleges address the issue

Many colleges recognize the problem and are working to address it. If athletes who use performance enhancing drugs are considered cheaters, some colleges believe that use of stimulants to boost cognitive performance is also cheating. For example, Duke University considers “the unauthorized use of prescription medication to enhance academic performance” cheating. “If the office learns that a student might have violated the policy, the charge would go through the disciplinary process and, if warranted, a punishment would be assigned,” wrote Jenna Johnson in “College administrators worry that use of prescription stimulants is increasing,” posted on Washington Post November 27, 2011.

Have you tried ADHD drugs to help you study? Are you afraid of the side effects?

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