Study: 17% of College Students Misuse ADHD Drugs

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According to a recent study by researchers at the University of South Carolina, 1 in 6 college students – or 17 percent – misuse Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) drugs like Ritalin, Vyvanse, and Adderall. The new study came to this conclusion after a meta-review of 30 previous studies, with misuse being defined as taking the ADHD drugs without a prescription or taking more than was prescribed.

For those with ADHD, stimulants improve attention span and focus while limiting impulsive behavior. These drugs improve brain function by increasing the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, like dopamine and norepinephrine, which help transmit signals between nerves.

Even though the motivation for the misuse is to improve academic performance, students actually perform worse when misusing stimulant medications, the study found.

Symptoms of Stimulant Misuse

  • Behavioral Changes
  • Weight Loss
  • Secrecy and Isolation
  • Poor Money Management
  • Mood Swings
  • Aggresion

Miami University staff psychiatrist Dr. Josh Hersh explained that students are taking the stimulants to perform better at school and juggle other aspects of life despite the possible side effects of anxiety or panic attacks that can accompany even occasional use. “Sporadic use can lead to severe sleep deprivation and cause stimulant-induced psychosis, when a student gets paranoid and may hallucinate,” he said.

Some factors that put college students at risk for misusing ADHD drugs include membership in Greek organizations. Those who abuse alcohol or use other drugs are also more likely to misuse ADHD medication.

The Link Between ADHD and Substance Use Disorder

Compared to individuals without the disorder, people with ADHD are at more than a six times greater risk of developing a Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Individuals with ADHD experience an earlier age of onset and a longer duration of SUDs. Those with both ADHD and SUD may take longer to achieve remission and are likely to have longer courses of treatment and poorer outcomes. Thus, ADHD is a risk factor for SUDs.

Substance use disorders are highly prevalent in adults with ADHD, and conversely, ADHD is overrepresented among those persons with SUDs. Up to forty-five percent of adults with ADHD have a history of alcohol abuse or dependence, and about one-third have a history of illegal drug abuse or dependence. Marijuana, nicotine, alcohol, and cocaine appear to be the most commonly used substances among this population.

Where Are College Students Getting Their Drugs From

The most common way for college students to obtain the stimulant medications is through other college students with prescriptions, even though doing so is considered a federal crime. ADHD medications are legally classified as controlled substances, and giving a controlled substance to someone without the legal or medical authority to possess it is considered a crime.

Despite this, data shows that over a third of students with prescriptions have shared or sold their medications at least once.

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