Increased workloads and demands to succeed have led many students to turn to stimulant drugs such as Adderall, commonly prescribed for ADHD, to stay alert and concentrate. But a new study suggests that more college students may be misusing the drug and not even thinking twice about it.
A new study presented this week at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, found that as many as 18 percent of students at one Ivy League college admit to misusing stimulant drugs at least once to help them on an assignment or during an exam.
One-third of those who say they’ve used the drugs also said they did not consider it cheating, the study found.
Researchers at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York surveyed 616 sophomores, juniors and seniors who were not known to have ADHD who attended an undisclosed Ivy League school. Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed said they took the medication to write an essay, 66 percent said they took it to study for a test, while 27 percent took the drugs before an exam, the study found.
Twenty-four percent of students at the college reported use of these drugs at least eight times, the study found. Those who were involved in extracurricular activities, sports, or are part of a fraternity or sorority were more likely to use stimulants.
“While many colleges address alcohol and illicit drug abuse in their health and wellness campaigns, most have not addressed prescription stimulant misuse for academic purposes,” Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York and lead author of the study said in a statement. “Because many students are misusing prescription stimulants for academic, not recreational purposes, colleges must develop specific programs to address this issue.”
An estimated 40 percent believed using the drugs to enhance their academic performance is unethical, while 33 percent of the students did not see a problem with it. A quarter of the students surveyed were undecided.
The study did not assess whether the students found the practice to be dangerous to their health. Common side effects of misusing stimulant drugs include headaches, dizziness, chest pains and panic attacks. A report released August 2013 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found emergency room visits for nonmedical use of stimulants among 18 to 34-year-olds tripled between 2005 and 2011.
“It is our hope that this study will increase greater awareness and prompt broader discussion about misuse of medications like Ritalin or Adderall for academic purposes,” said Natalie Colaneri, lead investigator and research assistant at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, in a statement.