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Abuse of Prescription ADHD Drugs Rising on College Campuses

A growing number of students are abusing prescription ADHD medications on college campuses. Students turn to the drugs so they can stay awake longer and increase their ability to focus. Many students wrongly believe stimulants will improve their grades. ADHD medications are also being used to curb appetites for weight loss. Some also use them to get high. But although these drugs 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 drugs

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 medications 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 drugs 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 medications 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 health care provider, stimulants can be addictive. People who abuse the drugs 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 drugs. 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 medication only as prescribed and not sharing it.

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

  • If you think your student might be abusing ADHD drugs, 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 drug use and availability. Communication is key, even when your adult child is in college. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, MEd
Last Review Date: 2/3/2015
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