Using ADHD drugs to study and party can be dangerous and deadly.
A national survey by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids documented what college kids have known for years — misusing and abusing prescription stimulants is wide-spread on campuses.
The study found that 17 percent of young adults between the ages of 18 to 25 have taken stimulant drugs prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), especially Adderall (60 percent), Ritalin (20 percent), and Vyvanse (14 percent), to stay up late to study or party. In fact, misusing these drugs is now considered normal behavior for many college students.
Stimulant medications, including amphetamines (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta), are often prescribed to treat children, teens, and adults who are diagnosed with ADHD. Although ADHD symptoms usually develop when a youngster is about 7 and tend to get better with age, the disorder can persist into adulthood. So it’s not unusual for a young person in college to have a prescription for these drugs.
How do students without prescriptions for ADHD medications end up with these stimulants? The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids research found that 30 percent of young adults with legally prescribed stimulants shared their drugs with friends. Over half reported they were pressured into sharing or selling drugs like Adderall to their buddies — mostly as an aid to study longer and better.
While it’s true these stimulant drugs promote wakefulness, it’s a myth they enhance learning ability unless you actually have ADHD, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Studies have shown that students who abuse prescription stimulants actually have lower grades in high school and college than those who don’t take the drugs.
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 by increasing the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, much like the street drug known as “meth” (methamphetamine). The resulting high can cause addiction, the NIDA reports. The drugs can also cause blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature to spike and trigger serious heart problems and stroke, too.
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 school work 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 developmental behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center of 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, who participated in the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids research. “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.”
April 02, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN