Adderall Misuse in College Students

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Adderall is a prescription stimulant that is prescribed to treat ADHD. Adderall helps people with ADHD to improve their ability to concentrate. Within the last couple of years, Adderall use has increased among college students [1].

While some may believe this is because more people are diagnosed with ADHD now than in previous years, this doesn’t fully explain the increased use. Research shows that more college students are using this medication without a prescription [1].

Adderall Studies

Studies show that 70% of students who take Adderall illicitly get it from a peer or friend who has a prescription [2]. Many students believe that this drug is harmless, which is why it’s known as a “study drug” on college campuses [1]. This isn’t true, though. Within the last 15 years, the number of college students admitted to the emergency room because of Adderall misuse increased 340%! [2].

Because Adderall is a stimulant, it can improve energy and concentration. This is why college students take it to study—so they can study better and longer [1]. Another common reason that college students take this medication is to lose weight [1]. Even though these effects are desirable for many students, taking this medication comes with potential negative mental and physical health effects [1].

Adverse Effects

Adderall can cause insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and reduced blood flow [1]. Adderall can also cause irritability, anxiety, restlessness, or hallucinations [1]. While some of these side effects may not be super concerning for young people, they can be dangerous and potentially fatal for college students with underlying health conditions.

The risk of adverse effects increases when someone takes a medication that isn’t prescribed to them. This is because they don’t know how a medication is going to affect them. Everyone’s reaction to medication can be different based on their unique medical needs.

Aside from the physical danger, people who misuse Adderall have a high chance of becoming addicted to it [1]. Addiction can be devastating and throw someone’s life off-course. Addiction can negatively impact several aspects of someone’s life.

College Student struggling with Adderall abuseEmotional and physical health, finances, the ability to complete academic or professional responsibilities, and relationships tend to be negatively impacted by addiction. Research shows there are prevention strategies that can be implemented on campuses to help reduce Adderall misuse [2].

Prevention Techniques

One prevention technique is to provide time-management support [2]. Adjusting to college can be stressful, and students may struggle to know how to manage the amount of coursework they have. This can create anxiety and leave students desperate to find ways to complete assignments. This may lead to someone using Adderall. If learning time-management skills can reduce non-prescription Adderall use, then implementing these programs would be helpful [2].

Providing education about the risks of Adderall use can also be an effective prevention technique. If college students are not fully aware of the potential side effects, they may be more likely to use the drug. Informing students may help prevent Adderall misuse.

For students who are abusing Adderall as a way to lose weight, it could help to have body-positive campaigns or programs on campus [3]. Body-positive programs and campaigns can help decrease negative body image in college students or weight stigma.

It’s also important for doctors, mental health professionals, and other school officials to recognize the signs of Adderall misuse and addiction. If a student is misusing or is addicted to Adderall, being able to provide the appropriate referral so that the individual can get help is crucial.


[1] American Addiction Centers. (2019, September 3). Adderall abuse among college students.

[2] Bavarian, N., Flay, B. R., Ketcham, P. L., & Smit, E. (2013). Illicit use of prescription stimulants in a college student sample: A theory-guided analysis. Drug and alcohol dependence, 132(3), 665–673.

[3] National Eating Disorders Association (2018). Prevention.

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on March 31, 2021
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 31, 2021
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.