Using ADHD drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin to study and party can be dangerous and deadly. Here's what parents and students should know.
For years, college students have been taking Adderall and Ritalin, the stimulants prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivty disorder (ADHD), to boost their concentration while they study. Students with a prescription can sell one pill for $5. During COVID-19 campus shutdowns, Adderall misuse seems to have dropped, while alcohol and cannabis use may have risen.
According to the 2020 Monitoring the Future study, the latest University of Michigan report tracking substance use among adults, nonmedical use of amphetamines — including ADHD medications — dropped to a 10-year low among college students in 2020. The share of 19- to 22-year-olds reporting nonmedical use of a stimulant medication declined to 6.5 percent, from 9.7 in 2015.
Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, said that some students may have had a harder time getting drugs when they were off-campus, didn’t want their parents to notice any changes in them if they were studying at home, or weren’t partying and didn’t feel a need for drugs to study.
But abuse may ratchet up again with students back on campuses. Previous research has found that 17 percent of young adults between the ages of 18 to 25 have taken stimulants to stay up late to study or party.
Students consider this normal behavior.
As many as 30 percent of young adults with legally prescribed stimulants were sharing their drugs with friends. Over half reported they were pressured into sharing or selling drugs like Adderall to their buddies.
Make sure your kids know that these drugs won’t actually help them stay alert. Unless you have ADHD, they don’t sharpen your focus.
Some young people are taking drugs like Adderall and Ritalin to do more than study. Popping the pills in higher quantities than prescribed dulls appetite and causes weight loss. When crushed and snorted or mixed with water and injected, the drugs create a “party drug” that causes euphoria, increasing the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, much like the street drug known as “meth” (methamphetamine).
Those who abuse the drugs can experience feelings of hostility, paranoia, and even suicide. Kyle Craig, a high-achieving student at Vanderbilt University, bought Adderall from college pals so he could stay up all night studying. He later pretended to have ADHD to convince a doctor who didn't ask too many questions to provide him with a prescription for the drug.
Craig worked hard on his schoolwork during the week, but by Friday he wanted to party with his friends. Exhausted, he took more Adderall mixed with alcohol, to boost his stamina. This pattern of drug abuse brought on psychosis. Late one night, the 21-year-old ended his life by stepping in front of a train. After his death, Craig’s college friends told his parents, "Everyone takes Adderall."
Even taking a single dose or two of stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin can be dangerous for some. University of Memphis student Jasmine Sanders found that out the hard way. “I only took it because I heard from people in my class that it could help me concentrate,” Sanders said. “A guy told me, ‘It’s easy to be distracted, but with this pill you’re completely the opposite.’ So I had to try it.”
She took one Adderall pill, purchased illegally, and suddenly couldn’t breathe easily. Her heart raced. Sanders lost consciousness and ended up in the hospital where doctors told her one more dose of the drug could have resulted in her death.
“A patient taking an ADHD medication has been titrated up to a certain dose over time. If someone else takes another person's dose it can be risky because there is no health history and medication naiveté can lead to potential risks, especially if there is an underlying heart condition,” said Andrew Adesman, MD, chief of pediatrics at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York.
There are legal as well as medical reasons college students and their parents should be concerned about the widespread and accepted illegal use of stimulants such as Adderall. These drugs are Schedule II controlled substances — the same as cocaine and methamphetamine.
That means students selling or sharing these medications face legal risks for drug possession and trafficking and, potentially, for the consequences of someone being injured or killed while taking these drugs illegally.
“Students need help in learning how to manage their busy lifestyles effectively,” said psychiatrist Josh Hersh of Miami University “Learning time management strategies such as ‘block scheduling’ and ‘syllabus tracking’ can help prevent ‘cramming’ — the main reason people look to stimulants at whatever the price.
In addition, teaching students with ADHD who are prescribed stimulants about how to properly care for their medication will help address misuse and prevent these drugs from getting into the hands of students who might abuse the meds.”
June 27, 2022
Janet O’Dell, RN