Adderall abuse grows as college students struggle with study pressure
Adderall, a prescription drug used to improve the focus of those with attention deficit disorder, is being misused by many college students as a study aid, according to Steve Liga, a former New Jersey drug expert.
Ocean County Prosecutor Joe Coronato said students who abuse Adderall usually purchase the stimulant for $10 or $15 a pill from people who have prescriptions.
The sellers are risking criminal prosecution. “If medicine is prescribed for you and you turn around and sell it to somebody, that is an unlawful distribution of drugs, and you can be charged as a drug dealer,” Coronato said.
The abusers are risking their health. When Adderall is taken legally, with a prescription, patients have their doses carefully monitored by physicians to ensure their safety. Without such medical supervision, use of Adderall can lead to psychiatric-related illnesses, increased blood pressure or heart problems.
In a survey of young adults by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, 60 percent of respondents said they had misused Adderall. The percentage was even higher for older students.
“They’ve got tons of other things going on and realize, ‘Oh my gosh there’s an exam tomorrow,’" Liga said. "So they take the Adderall so that they can stay up all night and study."
Such usage can easily develop into a habit, he said.
“Before you know it, that just becomes a regular part of a student’s college experience," Liga said. "When they need to study or write, they take the Adderall. They get used to that and they have trouble coming down from that."
The pressure to succeed, especially in elite institutions, is also a factor, especially at exam time, Liga said. In a study presented to the Pediatric Academic Societies, one in five Ivy League students reported misusing prescription drugs as study aids. A third of them said they did not consider this a form of cheating.
“So, where everybody is trying to get the 4.0, that’s where the pressure is to turn to something like a stimulant like Adderall,” Liga said.
However, many students who abuse Adderall are also indulging in other drugs. Liga claimed that 90 percent of students who misuse Adderall are binge drinkers and are also three times more likely to use marijuana.
Bruce Ruck of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System, said there are many health consequences for those who take Adderall without a prescription. Although the amount of harm from abusing Adderall depends on the individual, taking any amount that is not prescribed is considered an overdose.
“It’s not about how much somebody needs to get hurt, or harm themselves," Ruck said. " It’s a matter of they should be using it or they shouldn’t be."
Liga is the former executive director of the Middlesex County chapter of the National Council on Alcholism and Drug Dependence. To break a dependence on Adderall or other stimulants, he advises students to seek help from school counselors or health services, as withdrawal symptoms are possible.
“Long-term studies show that while Adderall can be very helpful in the short-term, long-term it’s actually not very helpful at all,” he said.