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Abuse of Prescription ADHD Medicines Rising on College Campuses

A growing number of students are abusing prescription ADHD medicines on college campuses. Students turn to the medicines so they can stay awake longer and increase their ability to focus. Many students wrongly believe stimulants will improve their grades. ADHD medicines are also being used to curb appetites for weight loss. Some also use them to get high. But although these medicines are considered safe when taken as prescribed, they can cause health problems and addiction when not taken as they were intended.

Young woman yawning in class

Attention on ADHD medicines

ADHD is short for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This is a common childhood disorder that sometimes lasts into adulthood. People with ADHD have problems paying attention. They also have trouble controlling behavior or hyperactivity. The medicines most often used to treat ADHD are stimulants. When taken as directed, they can reduce attention and behavior problems in those with the disorder. Two types of stimulant ADHD medicines are methylphenidate and amphetamines.

People who abuse stimulants may swallow pills. They may also snort or inject the contents. If these stimulants are misused, or taken by people who don’t have ADHD, they rev up the brain and body. They are known to temporarily increase the ability to focus. They also reduce the need for sleep. And there is no proof they increase grades or performance. Instead, abuse of stimulants can lead to a false sense of self-confidence and actually make academic performance worse. 

Using these medicines in the wrong way can have bad results. Stimulants can drive up blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. At high doses, they can cause a stroke. With repeated use, stimulants can set in motion feelings of extreme anger and being overly suspicious and distrustful. Plus, lack of sleep and nutrition can lead to health problems.

If taken at doses or by methods other than those prescribed by a healthcare provider, stimulants can be addictive. People who abuse the medicines for a long period may have withdrawal symptoms like extreme tiredness, depression, and sleep problems when they stop.

Students don’t have to look far to find ADHD medicines. Most get them from a friend or family member who has a prescription.

What parents can do

Just because your child is college age doesn’t mean your parenting days are over. Believe it or not, you still have influence. These steps can make a difference:

  • If your student takes a stimulant for ADHD, discuss it. Talk about the importance of using the medicine only as prescribed and not sharing it.

  • If someone else in the family takes ADHD medicine, keep an eye on it. This way you’ll know if any goes missing.

  • If you think your student might be abusing ADHD medicines, educate yourself. Watch for these warning signs in your child: going long periods without sleeping or eating, weight loss, excessive activity, extreme talkativeness, an overly high mood, grouchiness, nervousness, or pupils that are larger than usual.

  • Set a good example for your adult kids. Use opportunities to discuss their studies and performance. Encourage good study habits. Ask about medicine use and availability. Communication is key, even when your adult child is in college. 

Publication Source: Misuse of Prescription Stimulants Among College Students: A Review of the Literature and Implications for Morphological and Cognitive Effects on Brain Functioning. Weyandt L. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. 2013. 21(5):385-407.
Author: Andrews, Linda Wasmer
Online Source: Stimulant ADHD Medications, National Institute on Drug Abusehttps://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/adhdstimulantsdrugfacts_1.pdf <a href="" target="_blank"></a>
Online Source: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, National Institute of Mental Healthhttps://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/index.shtml <a href="" target="_blank"></a>
Online Source: Emergency Department Visits Involving Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Stimulant Medications, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrationhttps://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/DAWN073/DAWN073/sr073-ADD-ADHD-medications.pdf <a href="" target="_blank"></a>
Online Editor: Geller, Arlene
Online Medical Reviewer: Blaivas, Allen J., DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Nelson, Gail A., MS, APRN, BC
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2016
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