The Misuse of ADHD Meds by College Students

The misuse and abuse of medications prescribed for ADHD has become a widespread problem. In December, 2007, the findings of the largest study of its kind were released. In 2001, almost 11,000 students from 119 nationally representative 4-year colleges in the US were questioned about their non-medical use of stimulant medications. Every participant was assured that personal identities would not be revealed so that responses would be open and honest.

Results included the following:

§ About 6.9% of college students reported non-medical use of prescription stimulants during their lifetime, 4.1% reported such use in the past year, and 2.1% in the past month.
§ Males used non-medically twice as much as females. Caucasians used at a significantly higher level that African Americans.
§ Sorority and fraternity members used at a rate of more than double than nonmembers.
§ Use was higher among students with a GPA of B or below.
§ Use was highest at colleges where the admissions criteria were the most competitive and were lowest where the criteria were the least competitive.

Also of interest is the fact that non-medical use of stimulants is often associated with other substance use. Consider the following percentages of those who used stimulants versus those who didn’t:

§ Use of cigarettes: 67% vs. 24%
§ Frequent binge drinking: 69% vs. 21%
§ Use of ecstasy: 19% vs. 1%
§ Use of cocaine: 17% vs. 1%
§ Driving after binge drinking: 35% vs. 9%
§ Being the passenger of a drunk driver: 66% vs. 21%

What are the reasons for using stimulants? The most common motive is to enhance academic performance especially when studying outside of class. This does not mean that using stimulants is never used for recreational purposes, but the findings are not that significant.

There is speculation that many of these students have undiagnosed ADD. And what about those who do not have ADD, but have what they feel are some of the same symptoms, especially attentional difficulties. And yet, interestingly enough, many who used to get a grip on their attentional abilities actually reported having more problems with attention!

So what does this mean for parents who are concerned that their children may be using stimulants illegally?

Parents need to check for some of the following symptoms.

1. Is your child under a lot of academic pressure, either to get in, or to excel, at his particular university? You may notice that he seems obsessed with getting into a school, or once in, worries constantly about keeping up and doing well.
2. How are his grades? If he seems horribly stressed and yet his grades are not reflective of his efforts, check with him.
3. Has your daughter lost a good bit of weight? Is she irritable and does she complain of having no appetite? Is this normal for her?
4. Is there other substance abuse that you are aware of?
5. Is your child complaining of problems with attention?
6. Does your child seem depressed?

While the answers to these questions may not be a sure sign that your child is engaging in non-medical use of stimulants, pay attention to the answers anyway. You will definitely learn something about what your child is experiencing!

Whatever the reasons are for using stimulants illegally, this study does get our attention, pardon the pun! It is crucial that there is more education for college students about stimulant abuse. In addition, more accurate information about what ADD is and how it can be treated must be provided. More needs to be understood about other problems that can contribute to difficulties with attention and the importance of seeking professional assistance for those issues rather than opting for self-medication. Finally, and for the reasons above, it remains crucial to continue finding alternative methods and non-medical interventions that can assist people with ADD.