Study Drugs on College Campuses

Study Drugs on College Campuses

Adderall, along with other drugs which are usually prescribed to those with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, such as Vyvanse, Concerta, and Ritalin, are some of the most widely prescribed and widely abused prescription drugs in the United States. The drugs, which are composed of mixed amphetamine salts, have been adopted as cognitive enhancers and referred to as “study drugs,” allowing students who take the drugs to work for hours on end without losing focus or needing sleep or food. A series of articles in major publications such as the New York Times have provided a more in-depth look at both the prevalence and effects of such medications, revealing that “study drugs” are enormously popular on college campuses and at high schools, despite their high potential for abuse and a laundry list of frightening side effects. 

The Statistics 

A study conducted by the 2011 National Institute for Drug Abuse found that almost 10% of college students had used Adderall without a prescription, with presumably even more students using the same kinds of drugs under different names. A 2005 study by the University of Michigan’s Substance Abuse Center put the figure at 25% at one school, and found that another small college, more than 35% of students had used prescription stimulants non-medically in the previous year. These figures do not include the many students who have prescriptions for the drugs but have faked or exaggerated the commonly known symptoms of attention deficit disorders to receive medication.

Who Uses Study Drugs, and Why?

Articles in publications such as The New Yorker have connected the expanding use of study drugs to pressure over grades, intense workloads, and the ever-increasing competitive atmosphere on college campuses. These factors can encourage students to abuse prescription stimulants, which were a staple in some college and graduate school circles at the time of a 2009 New Yorker article and, judging by news coverage, have achieved mounting popularity in high schools across the U.S. as well.

According to the research team at the University of Michigan, the students most likely to abuse neuroenhancing drugs were white male undergraduates at highly competitive schools, especially those in the Northeast. The study also found that users were more likely to belong to a fraternity or sorority, and also noted that the students usually had G.P.A.’s of 3.0 or lower, along with being ten times as likely to report that they had smoked marijuana in the past year, and twenty times as likely to say that they had used cocaine. In other words, these students are not at the top of their class, but rather seek to supplement their academic achievement through the use of study drugs, while still maintaining active social and presumably extra-curricular lives.

Side Effects

The more minor effects commonly cited by those who abuse cognitive enhancers include nervousness, headaches, sleeplessness, and decreased appetites, along with worsening existing mental illnesses. News coverage has revealed that most students, who acquire the pills at a relatively inexpensive price from friends or acquaintances, see the drugs as benign, since they know many people who have been on medication since childhood. However, the drugs have an extremely high potential for abuse and can easily lead to dependence or even more frightening side effects. In the case of Richard Fee, a popular college class president and baseball player, the use of study drugs led to addiction, psychotic episodes, nervous breakdowns, and eventual suicide.

To read more about study drugs and their effects, visit the following websites.

New Yorker- Study drugs in college

New York Times- Study drugs in high school

New York Times – Richard Fee

New York Times- More perspectives on study drugs