Many college students are using prescription ADHD medication such as Ritalin or Adderall to improve their academic performance, according to a new study.
“The study was prompted by anecdotal reports from students about usage,” said coauthor Scott Swartzwelder, a Duke University professor. “My understanding is that the trend is relatively new and escalating.”
The study surveyed 3,407 students from all demographics without a prescription for ADHD medication at University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Duke University.
The study showed that 8.8 percent of students at Greensboro and 9 percent of students at Duke admitted to having used ADHD for non-medical reasons during their college years. Although data was taken from only one public university and one private university, the findings were consistent with previous surveys on the subject.
The study showed that 89 percent of students surveyed who had used ADHD medication for non-medical reasons said they were able to better concentrate while studying and studied longer after taking ADHD medication.
The study showed that students who were Caucasian and belonging to a fraternity or sorority were more likely to use ADHD drugs for non-medical purposes. These students also tended to have lower GPAs and were more likely to have abused other substances. The study showed that most students obtained the medication from another student with a prescription.
Wayne Salo, chief of psychiatry for Counseling and Psychological Services at UC Davis, said abuse of ADHD medication is dangerous.
“ADHD is a psychiatric disorder originating in childhood and often continuing into adulthood,” Salo said. “ADHD medication is not a substitute for poor study skills or lack of motivation and can be dangerous.”
Estimates of adults that suffer from ADHD range from 3 to 5 percent. According to Salo, common side effects of ADHD medication can include insomnia, irritability, headaches, suppressed appetite, higher blood pressure and even death in those who have cardiac problems. Psychiatric disorders and anorexia can also worsen with use of ADHD medication.
“The studies of long-term side effects are minimal,” Swartzwelder said. “These drugs do improve alertness and allow the student to study for longer periods of time, and with better concentration. That said, the overall balance of effectiveness and risk is probably not worth it.”
Seventy percent of students who reported having used ADHD medication for non-medical reasons ranked the overall impact of use as positive or very positive.
“It is interestingly analogous to the use of ‘performance-enhancing’ drugs in athletics,” Swartzwelder.
Brian Dodson, a junior at UC Davis, says he has used Adderall in the past for non-medical reasons.
“For me, it was advantageous in doing monotonous and boring things,” he said. “It helps you focus more, but it definitely does not supply you with more brain power or anything. You might make more flash cards if you use it.”
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