Prescription ADHD drugs like Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse are sought-after drugs for overscheduled and overworked college students – who have not been diagnosed with ADHD.

Sean McCabe, research associate professor at the University of Michigan Substance Abuse Research Center says, “Our biggest concern is the increase we have observed in this behavior over the past decade.”

According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health report released in 2009, full-time college students were twice as likely to have used Adderall non-medically as part-time students.

“When we look at upperclassmen, the number really begins to jump. The more time you stay on campus, the more likely you are to use,” says Alan DeSantis, professor of communications at the University of Kentucky, who has led research on stimulant use in college.

The most common reason students use it is to concentrate while studying, with more than 90% of users doing it for this purpose.

“It helps me stay focused and be more efficient, which is very helpful with the chaos of college,” says one student who takes Adderall, who depending on her workload takes it once a month to a few times a week.

McCabe says students may not know the stimulant’s contraindications (situations in which a drug might be harmful) or recommended precautions or how it may interact with other drugs.

Short-term adverse consequences can include restlessness, headaches, sleep difficulties, irritability, and depressed feelings. There can be a long term risk of psychological and physical dependence for routine users that may find they feel they can’t function without it.

While most students obtain the drug from friends with prescriptions, many feel the drug seems less dangerous and illegal than buying drugs off the street. “The fact that it’s illegal really doesn’t cross my mind. It’s not something that I get nervous about because it’s so widespread and simple,” says one student.

Researchers see the biggest barrier to changing attitudes is the effectiveness of the stimulants, where the ends justify the means. After taking Adderall, one university student says, “I just feel very alive and awake and ready for challenges that come my way. I’m on page 15 (of my paper) in just a few hours…. and I’m very confident in it.”    4/17/14


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