The Devastating Rate of Adderall Abuse in College Students

The use of Adderall, a prescription stimulant intended to treat conditions such as ADHD, is becoming more and more prevalent in high schools and on college campuses as its popularity grows as a so-called “study drug.” Higher rates of ADHD diagnoses, increased Adderall prescriptions, a lack of education regarding drug abuse consequences and the ability to establish illicit Adderall distribution channels are all contributing to this rampant problem.

call today learn more view our programs

In response to this devastating trend, school administrators and advocates are stepping up and redefining policies regarding stimulant abuse for cognitive and academic enhancement. Stricter guidelines around ADHD diagnoses and Adderall prescriptions at college health centers are also helping to improve the situation. Ongoing education about the dangers of Adderall abuse along with better and healthier coping skills for students can help to deter them from turning to Adderall for academic performance and recreational use.

What Is Adderall?

adderall is a combination of drugs

Adderall is the brand name of a medication that is a combination of two drugs known as amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. It is a stimulant drug that can only be obtained legally through a prescription. Adderall works as a stimulant substance on the nervous system by releasing chemicals into the brain, such as dopamine — a neurotransmitter responsible for a pleasurable or euphoric response in the brain and throughout the body. With greater dopamine release, the brain can stay focused and control impulses.

As with all amphetamines, Adderall has highly addictive properties because of its strong chemical effects on the brain. When abused, Adderall can cause extreme side effects and dependence that can lead to traumatic physical, mental and emotional consequences.

This is why Adderall is typically prescribed first in low doses, to manage potential side effects. Doctors may increase their patient’s Adderall dosage gradually over time as a tolerance builds.

What Is Adderall Used For?

Clinically, Adderall is prescribed to adults suffering from narcolepsy or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to promote focus and alertness. It can be prescribed in smaller doses to children with ADD or ADHD as well. Adderall may also be used to manage some forms of severe depression. However, adderall is not the commonly prescribed drug for this condition. For individuals who take Adderall without a diagnosed clinical need, the effects of this stimulant are considerably similar to cocaine.

For these reasons, Adderall is becoming a heavily abused drug. It is used and abused by people who are facing periods of stress, overwhelmed or general imbalance in mental or physical well-being. By taking Adderall, some people feel it gives them a greater sense of control, attentiveness and alertness needed to get ahead in their studies or work.

Chronic Inattentiveness and ADHD

Specifically regarding Adderall use for studying, the abuse of this drug among high school and college students is a growing concern. Rates of Adderall abuse appear to be increasing as more “marketing” about the drug’s perceived positive effects is spreading through campus and school culture.

With the fast-paced lives we live in today’s society, many people are feeling victimized by burnout and are left feeling exhausted by distractions such as technology and social media. If you compound this mental pressure with the workload students face, it’s no wonder many people are feeling deficient in their abilities to concentrate, remain focused, retain information and generally function cognitively at school — especially during exams such as mid-terms and finals.

adhd diagnosis

Neurologically speaking, our brains are only capable of focusing on one thing at a time. The more distractions that enter into our bubble, the more we are frying our brains. This is why ADHD is being diagnosed at unprecedented rates. Approximately 11% of American children ages four to 17 years old have been clinically diagnosed with ADHD. This rate has been growing steadily for several years.

With such a concerning rate of deficient attention spans, it’s no wonder Adderall is being more commonly prescribed. As with all situations where demand rises, so too will the prevalence of a supply, either legal or illegal. This is what appears to be happening among older youth and young adults who are looking to obtain Adderall illicitly. This occurs even when a clinical diagnosis has not been obtained.

Adderall Abuse in College Statistics

Given the rate of ADHD and other deficiencies in concentration and focus, it’s clear to see how students may feel there is a need for Adderall. However, there are many reasons why Adderall abuse is growing among students — both high school and college groups. We’ll cover more of these reasons later, but beyond the reasons for Adderall abuse among college students, is the alarming rate and dangers of abuse threatening this demographic.

ADHD medications such as Adderall are the most dangerous drugs among the student population due to their horrific and potentially deadly side effects. Yet despite the well-documented dangers of Adderall abuse, there is still a growing percentage of the student population abusing Adderall.

12th grad adderall usage

A study by the University of Maryland School of Public Health showed that 6.5% of 12th-graders had used Adderall in a non-medical capacity. Another 2.6% had used Ritalin, a comparable drug to Adderall.

Among college students, the rate of reported Adderall abuse grows significantly. The same study showed that 31% of college students from all four years had used stimulants such as Adderall at some point during college for non-medical reasons. The rate was highest among juniors at over 20%. Over 61% of college students reported that they were offered stimulants.
When we compare Adderall abuse among college students, we see a noticeable demographic influence on the use of this particular substance. Adderall is increasingly being referred to as “the study drug,” which explains why the rate of Adderall use is higher during exam times. Sadly though, the perceived effects of Adderall are causing uninformed and unaware students to fall victim to stimulant abuse. While Adderall can help students stay awake and remain focused in preparation for exams, the drug doesn’t make anyone “smarter” as some students may be inclined to think. Using Adderall to pull an all-nighter to study for finals exams or finish a final paper doesn’t necessarily equate to better grade scores. In fact, in the long run, the opposite may be true for the many who end up becoming addicted to Adderall.

Reasons for Increased Adderall Abuse in College

There are several reasons why the rate of Adderall abuse among students has become such a widespread issue. Here are some of the main reasons why Adderall abuse has become such a problem among college students:

  • Higher rates of ADHD diagnoses in the past several decades
  • Higher rates of Adderall manufacturing and clinical prescriptions in response to ADHD diagnoses
  • Possible instances of overprescription
  • Lack of doctor-to-student education about Adderall contraindications
  • Relative ease of establishing illicit distribution channels among peers

Rates of ADHD Diagnoses

The sheer fact that the rates of ADHD diagnoses have increased means the rates of Adderall manufacturing and prescriptions have increased accordingly as well. Prescription stimulant manufacturing has increased by nine million percent in the past decade, according to the National Center for Health Research. Whenever prescription drugs are being prescribed, there is always a risk for potential abuse and even addiction.

Additionally, because students face increasing workloads, responsibilities, life changes and many other challenges, the symptoms of ADHD appear to be present. This often leads to quick diagnoses of this attention deficit condition, when in many cases, these symptoms are simply the normal struggles students encounter.

health center adderall prescription

The other side of this ADHD epidemic is the unfortunate truth that many students can take advantage of doctors and mental health professionals by faking symptoms of ADHD. There is plenty of information available online about how to obtain an Adderall prescription by simulating that you have ADHD. With this information, students can visit doctors and manipulate their sessions to obtain Adderall as they think it will help them study. In many student health centers, students can walk out with a full Adderall prescription within a matter of minutes.

Possible Adderall Over-prescription

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence and reports available that suggest students are being overprescribed Adderall once they have become diagnosed with ADHD. In some cases, students reported that they felt they were receiving twice the necessary amount. Many students who abuse their Adderall prescriptions for studying purposes, often don’t require the full dosage as recommended by a doctor. Because they are using only during peak workload times like mid-terms and final exams, they have extra Adderall pills to spare.

Many students then go on to share their Adderall surplus with other fellow students who also feel they can benefit from a boost in alertness. This then sets up a sequence of events that over time leads to the epidemic we’ve seen in recent years. With a greater illicit use of Adderall comes a greater risk of substance abuse, addiction and the effects that stem from this, such as depression and even suicides.

students not informed of drug contraindications

In conjunction with overprescription of Adderall is the lack of education that comes with a stimulant prescription. Many students aren’t informed of specific drug contraindications at the time of prescription. This lack of education further leads to increased risk of Adderall abuse.

Illicit Adderall Distribution

High rates of ADHD diagnoses combined with Adderall overprescription creates the right set of circumstances for students to establish their own drug distribution channels. Students today have plenty of methods of communicating and performing transactions or trades when it comes to their Adderall prescriptions as well as other drugs.

If a student cannot obtain a legal Adderall prescription, they can easily seek out an Adderall supply on campus from a fellow student. In fact, many students are encouraged by their peers to recruit other potential Adderall users and market toward them in a sense. This has led to a widespread culture of socially acceptable Adderall abuse on campuses and in high schools around the world. As it has become socially acceptable, it makes it more challenging to prevent Adderall abuse at the student level.

Signs, Symptoms and Side Effects of Adderall Abuse

Due to a lack of awareness about the contraindications of Adderall use, many students do not realize the potential symptoms and consequences they can develop and be exposed to. The prevalent use of Adderall among college students as well as the fact that it’s a legal drug make it easy for students to be persuaded into thinking it is safe to use.

Unfortunately, what many students who abuse Adderall don’t acknowledge is the potential negative interaction this stimulant has with other substances including alcohol and marijuana. This is one of the primary reasons why doctor supervision is vital whenever drugs are being prescribed and used.

It’s imperative that all drug users be aware of the array of possible consequences of using drugs, even if it is a legal substance and was legally obtained. With Adderall in particular, there are clear signs and symptoms of abuse that can result in patterns of consequences for young students especially.

These consequences impact a student’s physical health, their psychological well-being as well as their emotional stability. These side effects may exhibit themselves virtually immediately and in the short-term. With continued abuse, these side effects grow into long-term challenges that may have destructive and in some cases, deadly results.

Signs of Adderall Abuse

clear signs of adderall abuse

If you suspect a loved one or someone you know may be struggling with Adderall abuse, there are clear signs to be aware of. Many of these signs may seem typical for college students when looked at individually. However, when you piece these multiple signs together, it becomes a clear indicator of an underlying substance abuse struggle.

signs of adderall abuse

Short-Term Side Effects of Adderall Abuse

If someone is struggling with Adderall abuse, their struggle likely extends far beyond what they exhibit on the outside as signs of their drug abuse. A student struggling with Adderall abuse faces many short-term side effects that cause both physical and psychological problems.

Here are some of the potential short-term physical and psychological side effects of Adderall abuse in college students:

  • Sleeplessness
  • Restlessness
  • Convulsions
  • Hallucinations
  • Feeling out of control
  • Irritability
  • Chronic headaches
  • Nausea
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Nervousness and paranoia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of sex drive

Long-Term Side Effects of Adderall Abuse

side effects of adderall

Sadly, many people intend to use Adderall strictly for school or to help them prepare for final exams, only to fall victim to this stimulant’s incredibly addictive properties. Over time and with continued use, the short-term side effects can evolve into severe long-term health consequences that can be both devastating and life threatening. This is how a dependence on Adderall starts.

Here are some of the potential long-term physical and psychological effects of Adderall abuse:

  • Physically feeling addicted — the student feels they cannot function without using Adderall
  • Malnutrition which leaves them vulnerable to developing illness
  • Respiratory issues that change between increased breathing rate and depressed breathing rate
  • Cardiovascular issues such as heart arrhythmias, high blood pressure and generally weakened heart muscle
  • Eventual development of seizures experienced on a consistent basis
  • Going into states of severe psychosis including hallucinations, paranoia and delusions
  • Ending up in a coma
  • Dying from an overdose
  • Suicide from surmounting depression caused by Adderall addiction

In addition to these direct physical and psychological side effects of long-term Adderall abuse, there are a number of potential external consequences to abusing this stimulant.
Here are some of the things that could potentially occur as life consequences when Adderall abuse in college students occurs:

  • Financial troubles as a result of having to pay for an expensive addiction on an ongoing basis
  • Strained personal relationships between friends, family and classmates
  • Acting violently toward others and causing harm to others or oneself
  • Job loss or loss of income
  • Slipping or failing grades
  • Loss of scholarships or other academic funding
  • Being expelled from school
  • Being caught without a legal prescription and facing financial fines or jail sentence

education must be a priority

With so many tragic symptoms, side effects and consequences of Adderall abuse, it begs the question, “what can we do about it?” As with most detrimental health trends, education must be made a priority if we wish to see this situation end. Ensuring that students of all ages and well as other involved parties have the awareness and tools they need to make better decisions is vital to the safety of young people attending school today.

What Is Being Done to Prevent Student Adderall Abuse?

The problem of Adderall abuse in college students should be observed as a societal problem. There are many groups that have a role to play in the responsibility of protecting young people from the vulnerabilities of stimulant abuse. Parents, higher education administrative professionals, faculty members, law enforcement, the pharmaceutical industry, the healthcare community and students themselves all have a stake in finding an approach to solving this ongoing problem.

Because of the relatively underground nature of this issue, it has been difficult to implement a long-term solution. The problem itself is complex because of the greater awareness surrounding ADHD and the ongoing rates of diagnosis among adolescents and young adults.

Thankfully, there has been a response to the high prescription rate of Adderall on campuses. Some colleges are now tightening up their criteria when it comes to diagnosing ADHD and prescribing Adderall at student health centers. Lengthy paperwork accompanied by months of drug testing all under the supervision of a mental health professional are some of the new standards for holding an Adderall prescription.

Certain student health centers require students to sign a contract that outlines their responsibilities when being prescribed Adderall. Most notably this includes promising not to share the drugs with others. Plenty of schools are debating taking these crackdown measures further by potentially stopping handling ADHD diagnoses altogether.

Among the leaders of the campus crackdowns are Fresno State, University of Alabama and Marist College, which all have similar policies requiring students to sign a formal contract when given an Adderall prescription. A number of educational institutions have been spreading awareness about Adderall abuse among students in their school publications. These articles highlight Adderall abuse in college statistics as well as real-life examples of cases where students became addicted.

discuss dangers of adderall abuse

Some Universities are rewriting academic policies that now classify the abuse of stimulants like Adderall during exam times, or to enhance academic performance in general, as cheating. Additionally, because of some notable and tragic suicides surrounding the abuse of Adderall among college students, many schools now openly discuss the dangers of abusing stimulants as part of freshman orientations.

Other programs are being established to help students understand that there are better methods of coping with workload and exam stresses. Instead of depending on Adderall to temporarily improve focus, special programs aim to highlight healthy and positive ways of naturally improving focus such as through diet, exercise, sleep and meditation. This provides holistic support that is safe and positive for the students and helps them develop long-term coping skills.

Seeking Treatment for Adderall Abuse

If you suspect you are struggling with an Adderall abuse problem or someone you know and love is, then it’s critical to seek treatment. Seeking treatment as early as possible is imperative to ensuring a safe and healthy recovery. Adderall is like any other substance when it comes to the potential outcomes of addiction.

call today learn more view our programs

Specialized treatment is available for young adults to help support them in their recovery from Adderall abuse. Safe and healthy treatment is available at 12 Keys Rehab. Contact 12 Keys Rehab today for more information on seeking individualized treatment for Adderall abuse.

View Our Accommodations