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What You Need to Know About “Study Drugs”

Prescription stimulants, like Adderall and Ritalin, which are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, are commonly misused by college students. In fact, a 2021 study found nearly one-third of college students reported misuse of a prescription stimulant. These drugs are also among the most common counterfeit pills found in the United States, making stimulant misuse even more risky.

Stimulants have been referred to as “study drugs,” because they increase alertness, attention and energy, which helps young people stay awake all night to do homework or study for tests. They are also being used to help students “catch up” after partying all weekend. However, there is no evidence that those without ADHD benefit academically from these medications.

Stimulant Misuse is Harmful to the Brain & Body.

Whatever the reason may be, stimulant misuse is not safe for many reasons. Misusing any substance is particularly harmful to the brain, which doesn’t stop developing until the mid to late 20’s. The drug is also harmful to the body when misused. Stimulants can cause:

  • Anxiety

  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate

  • Increased breathing

  • Decreased blood flow

  • Increased blood sugar

At very high levels, they can cause dangerously high body temperature, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, and seizures. There are also long-term effects of stimulant misuse including addiction, psychosis and damage to the respiratory, cardiovascular and central nervous systems.

If the pill happens to be counterfeit, it can be deadly.

According to the DEA, if a pill contains fentanyl, two out of five pills contain a lethal dose. Remember, counterfeit pills are produced to look like the real thing and takes lab tests to confirm whether or not they’re real. The photo from the DEA shows authentic Adderall tablets on top and counterfeit versions on the bottom. Even if the counterfeit pill doesn’t contain fentanyl, they can contain other harmful substances like methamphetamine .

Adderall & Alcohol is a Dangerous Mix

As we said, prescription stimulant misuse is most common among college students. Young adults ages 18 - 25 are also most likely to binge drink. Stimulants and alcohol can be a dangerous combination.

'"People who use Adderall and alcohol may find that the effects of alcohol and Adderall are lessened when the drugs are used together. This may cause individuals to drink too much alcohol or take excessive amounts of Adderall, which can be dangerous," says Kelly Johnson-Arbor, co-medical director of National Capital Poison Center and medical director of hyperbaric medicine at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.' Source

A 2013 study found students who misused stimulants with alcohol were five times more likely to:

  • Vomit

  • Black out

  • Injure themselves or others

  • Damage property

  • Miss class

  • Have relationship trouble

They were also twice as likely to experience severe consequences such as:

  • Having sex they later regretted

  • Getting into a physical fight

  • Receiving a ticket for a DUI/DWI

  • Crashing a car or motorcycle

Don’t Share or Sell Your Meds!

If you are a student who is prescribed medication for ADHD, be sure to use it as prescribed and take precautions to prevent others from misusing it. Drug diversion is common when it comes to prescription stimulants. This is when the medication is prescribed to one person, but taken by another.

How Common is ADHD Drug Diversion?
  • Researchers suspect upwards of 43% of college students take stimulants without a prescription, but studies have found that only 17% to 18% of college students admit to taking stimulants without a prescription.

  • More than 30% of college students with an ADHD diagnosis admit to misusing their medication in college by taking higher or more frequent doses

  • Studies estimate that 66% to 9% of those misusing stimulants got the medication from a friend, peer, or family member with a prescription.

  • 50% of college students and 25% of middle and high school students diagnosed with ADHD were approached in the past year to sell, trade, or give away their meds.

How You Can Prevent Diversion
  • Don’t discuss your treatment plan or medications with your friends. This prevents them from asking you to share them.

  • If you are asked to share your medication, be sure to say no. Sharing or selling your pills is illegal. Doing so puts you at risk for being arrested, serving time in jail and also dismissed from your college.

  • Store your medication in a locked box or cabinet, not out in the open or in an unlocked medicine cabinet.

  • If your pills are missing, report it to campus police.

Remember, if it’s not prescribed to you and/or not from a legal pharmacy, it’s not safe! It only takes one pill. Don’t take that chance with your life.

Helpful Resources

You can find more helpful resources for young adults and parents/caregivers on our website.


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