Do ADHD And Stimulant Drug Misuse Go Hand In Hand Among College Students?

ADHD And Stimulant Drug Misuse Among College Students - Addiction Hope

College is a time of experimentation for young adults. They are figuring out who they are, what they want and what they like. For some students, this leads to the misuse of various substances: alcohol, marijuana and even hard narcotics.

In some cases, students turn to substances for seemingly good intentions, such as to improve their focus or the amount of time they can spend studying. Other times, their drug use is purely recreational.

Study In Massachusetts Raises Concerns

A recent study’s findings suggest that a correlation may exist between students with ADHD and students who misuse stimulants. This study was conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital on 300 undergraduate students between the ages of 18 and 28 who attended universities in the Boston area.

The most telling result of this study was that one-third of the students admitted to misusing stimulant drugs. The study also showed that those students who abused these drugs were more likely to suffer from ADHD or have ADHD-related symptoms when they were children, such as difficulty focusing or sitting still for long periods of time. Adults diagnosed with ADHD often dislike tasks that force them to concentrate or require following specific instructions.

Students who misused stimulants were also more likely to meet the requirements for being diagnosed with substance use disorder. Roughly two-thirds of the students who said they misused stimulants reported behavior that meets the criteria for this disorder, including:

  • Mixing drug use and alcohol
  • Obtaining drugs from friends or acquaintances
  • Having a low sense of well-being
  • Using the drugs just to “get high”

The findings of this study are not surprising, according to Dr. Timothy Wilens, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry and co-director of the hospital’s Center for Addiction Medicine. Other studies have already proved that untreated ADHD correlates with higher incidents of alcohol- and drug-use disorders.

“So it is not surprising that we found high rates of co-occurring ADHD and of stimulant use and overall substance-use disorders in those misusing stimulants,” Wilens stated.

The ‘Study Drug’

When interviewed about the Massachusetts General study, Wilens said that not all students who take stimulants do so with the sole intent to get high.

“Some misusers may be pressured to use a friend’s prescription if they believe it will improve academic performance,” he said.

On some college campuses, Adderall has become so popular for helping students with their coursework that it is often referred to as the “study drug.” This stimulant was developed to help people with ADHD control their symptoms. However, as many as one-fifth of college students take Adderall without a medical reason, simply for its beneficial side effects.

Adderall’s Benefits And Side Effects

Adderall is attractive to college students because it helps focus the mind, improve concentration and provide motivation. The drug is most often taken before a test or when students pull an all-night study session to help them stay motivated and concentrate on the course material.

However, taking Adderall without a medical reason can have serious risks and side effects. Adderall is highly addictive and can put the user at risk for:

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability

Partnership For Drug-Free Kids Study Results

In late 2014, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids conducted a study that found the misuse of prescription stimulants among college students is no longer a rare occurrence.

According to this study, 1 in 5 college students report abusing prescription stimulants at least once in their lives, compared to 1 in 7 people who did not go to college. This study found that the most commonly misused stimulants among students were:

  • Adderall: 60%
  • Ritalin: 20%
  • Vyvanse: 14%

All three drugs are prescribed for the treatment of ADHD.

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids study found that college students took these stimulants to:

  • Study and improve academic performance: 44%
  • Stay awake: 31%
  • Improve job performance: 21%

Other results reported by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids study include:

  • 27% of college students who abuse stimulants attend college while being employed full-time.
  • 64% of students reported seeing benefits for using a stimulant, such as a higher grade or better competitive performance.
  • Students who report stimulant abuse are more likely to be social, enjoy attention and consider themselves leaders, but they have trouble maintaining a work-life (or study-life) balance.

Both Studies In Agreement About ADHD And Stimulant Drug Misuse

The Massachusetts General and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids studies report comparable findings: Among college students who abuse prescription stimulants, many are found to suffer from ADHD or similar conditions.

If you have a child diagnosed with ADHD and who is coming up on his or her college years, start discussing now the risks associated with Adderall and other stimulants and how to best avoid the temptation of these drugs in college.

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 discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of 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 September 15, 2017
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on September 15, 2017.
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