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Rise of “Study Drugs” in Higher Education – The Prevalence and Dangers of Adderall Misuse

Rise of “Study Drugs” in Higher Education – The Prevalence and Dangers of Adderall Misuse

Illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine, and marijuana are often at the forefront of the discussion when it comes to addiction and drug misuse. However, drugs that are perfectly legal can be just as harmful if they are not used properly as prescribed.

Adderall is a prime example of a legal drug that is gaining popularity and notoriety on college campuses across the country. Often referred to as a “study drug”, it is a prescription stimulant that is used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, many college students are misusing Adderall. According to the Addiction Center, college students are two times more likely to misuse Adderall than their peers who aren’t in college.1 Without a prescription and for non-medical purposes, students use Adderall to increase productivity, helping them focus and stay awake when doing schoolwork or studying for exams. It can also be used as an appetite suppressant, or to simulate feelings of euphoria and confidence.

Easy Access

According to the National Center for Health Research, approximately 2.5 million Americans are prescribed “study drugs” like Adderall or Ritalin, with Adderall being the most commonly prescribed amphetamine. A study of more than 10,000 college students in the US found that more than half of students who had a prescription for ADHD were asked to sell their medication to a fellow student.2

Drugs that are easy to obtain make them particularly susceptible to misuse, particularly when they develop the reputation of being associated with something positive – studying and excelling on exams or schoolwork. Since it something prescribed by a doctor, students don’t necessarily view it as a drug they are misusing or one that can cause damage – but rather, a tool to success.

The Dangers of Adderall Misuse

Because it is a drug that is legally prescribed, many students may not be aware that there are risks and dangers associated with Adderall. Insomnia is one of the most common side-effects linked with usage, however, this is often the goal of a student misusing the drug. They may not realize that in addition to the desired effect of insomnia, other side-effects of Adderall misuse may include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Paranoia
  • Convulsions
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Reduced circulation
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Sexual Dysfunction

It is important to understand that the misuse of Adderall can lead to serious consequences – including death. Overdosing on Adderall can lead to heart attack, liver failure, or a stroke. And, if Adderall is mixed with other substances, like alcohol, the risk of a fatal overdose increases. This is why it is imperative to educate students that just because a drug is legal it does not necessarily mean it is safe.

Drugs such as Adderall should only be taken by the person they are prescribed to and in the way they are prescribed. Individuals who are misusing the drug often do so without a prescription, and at dosages that are higher than recommended.

Recognizing Adderall Misuse

Individuals who misuse Adderall often do not match the stereotypical persona of someone who has a substance use disorder. Because it is something that is both legally and easily accessible, individuals may be more open to trying and misusing Adderall than they would an illegal drug. Signs and symptoms of Adderall misuse may include:

  • Aggression
  • Secretive behavior
  • Loss of appetite
  • Strange sleeping patterns
  • Social withdrawal

Developing Dependency
Individuals who misuse Adderall may become dependent on it. The drug works by increasing dopamine receptors in the brain and releasing unnaturally high levels of dopamine. The increase of this “feel good” chemical creates a rewarding effect, resulting in the increased need to re-create this positive sensation.

Once an addiction has formed, the Adderall user’s brain becomes dependent on the substance to stimulate productivity and attentiveness. Without Adderall, they will often feel groggy and tired. Signs of an Adderall addiction include:

  • A higher tolerance – larger doses are required to achieve the original effect
  • Unable to complete work without Adderall
  • Unable to be attentive or alert without Adderall
  • Continued use of Adderall despite the knowledge that is causing harm

Long-Term Recovery

Admitting to a substance misuse problem can be difficult, particularly for individuals who did not fully understand the dangers of the drug they are taking in the first place. Recovering from a substance use disorder and managing symptoms of withdrawal is best done with the help of professionals who are able to guide the individual through challenging times.

Life of Purpose, the first primary care treatment center on a college campus in the United States, is one of the resources available to individuals seeking treatment. Life of Purpose provides specialized, academically focused substance use disorder treatment. The treatment team encourage clients to push the boundaries on what they think they can achieve, providing impactful guidance that assists recovering students in coping with stressors without the use of study drugs.

For more information about Adderall use and treatment options, call 1-888-787-7673.



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