In a few months, new and returning students will find themselves facing finals week. It’s a time when young people at many universities in the United States, clear their schedules to study. They may skip their favorite television shows, reduce their hours at work and close their door to the outside world in an effort to maximize their study time and focus.
Some students are doing more than that: They are elevating the intensity of their study habits by using stimulant drugs, such as those prescribed to individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
An article published in Business Insider provides a list of information related to stimulant use, including findings from a number of recent studies on the subject of the abuse of prescription stimulant drugs intended to treat ADHD.
Sold under brand names like Ritalin and Adderall, the medications are intended to treat the distractedness and hyper behavior that come with ADHD. When taken by a person who does not have ADHD, they can allow the user to hyper-focus on a task and forgo sleep.
A study examining the rates of prescriptions for ADHD found that the number of adults prescribed a medication for ADHD tripled between 2007 and 2012. The rate has eclipsed that of prescriptions for children with ADHD.
With increased sales of the drugs have come increases in medical problems related to stimulant use. For individuals between the ages of 18 and 34, there was also a tripling of emergency department visits related to stimulant drugs between 2005 and 2011. While the numbers also include treatment for the use of caffeine pills, experts believe that the increase in prescriptions written for stimulant drugs is related to the increase in emergency department visits.
In addition to students who purposely take stimulants for purposes other than medical treatment, there may also be many people taking the drugs for symptoms that do not meet the criteria for ADHD. The pharmaceutical companies that make the drugs have all been cited by the FDA for advertising that is misleading or false.
For instance, the companies often advertise the medications in combination with a quiz that allows an adult to determine whether they may have ADHD. When a group of 1,100 adults were polled, more than half said that they believed that they “possibly” or “likely” had ADHD.
Some that take a stimulant drug for nonmedical purposes may find that the drug does not help in the way that they had hoped. For students hoping to attack a term paper, they may instead find that they wasted hours on an intense closet-cleaning session. In addition, some research has shown that creativity can be further hampered by stimulant drugs in those who do not tend to be particularly creative.
Multiple studies have shown that stimulant drug use is more pronounced in certain groups when examining student use. The typical user of Adderall, for instance, is white, male and a fraternity member. Various additional studies have also demonstrated the link to Greek life: 55 percent of students in fraternities also misuse stimulant drugs.
The high level of stimulant drug use could be partly related to a widespread misunderstanding about the health and ethical implications of use. Many students do not believe that they are taking a significant risk when they use a stimulant drug to study and believe that because doctors prescribe it, it must be safe.
Likewise, many students do not see an ethical problem with using stimulant drugs to improve academic performance. When Ivy League students were asked about the ethical component to taking stimulant drugs, 33 percent did not see the behavior as cheating.
The widespread use of stimulant drugs for studying calls for a new level of focus to raise awareness about the risks of such drug use. Stimulant drugs are associated with multiple physical health risks, including heart attack, psychosis, stroke, high blood pressure and even death.