Study Drugs: Students Turn to ADHD Medicine for Academic Boost

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- Chemistry, intramural softball, part-time jobs -- college students have a lot weighing down on their shoulders these days. Instead of using coffee or energy drinks, some are turning to prescription drugs to help keep them focused in the library.

WHNT News 19 spoke with a student who didn't want to be identified because she illegally obtains the medication, but what she had to say was very revealing.

"My major is bio medical science which is a path to pre-med," the student said. She's a smart girl, a Huntsville native and a sophomore at Auburn University with high hopes of attending medical school.

"Next January I'll be taking the MCAT."

She said she's a B-average student. She takes challenging courses like organic chemistry and physics.  "Definitely organic and physics are the most time-consuming and difficult. I took my organic test last week which is why I was in the library for 24 hours."

For those big tests, caffeine won't do the trick for her. Instead, she turns to her roommate's medicine cabinet.  "You've told me that you take Adderall. Is that right?" WHNT News 19's Megan Hayes asked her.  "Yes, I have," the student replied.

"How many times have you taken Adderall?" asked Megan. "Probably 10 times or so," the student answered.

She said she takes the drug once or twice a month. Without Adderall, she said she can't focus in the library. "I 'people watch' a lot but when I am on Adderall, I can work for at least 45 minutes to an hour, take a break, and get back into it."

She said she's not alone. "Almost everyone I know, I could count less one hand that don't or haven't before." It gives students more energy than a cup of coffee, it keeps them focused so they can keep studying throughout the night, but it could land them a trip to the emergency room.

"The majority of the drug's use is for ADHD, occasionally it's used off-label for things like narcolepsy," said Amanda Williams, a pharmacist for the Pediatric Emergency Department at Huntsville Hospital. Williams said students are using ADHD medications like Adderall, Focalin, and Ritalin to enhance their performance in the classroom now more than ever before.

"It literally can make them able to stare at a book for hours on end, it keeps them from falling asleep so they can stay awake and be focused all hours throughout the night when normally they would have passed out hours ago," said Williams.

Even if they get an 'A' on their test, parts of their body could be failing because of the study aid. "The patients that take these medications may see an increase in heart rate and blood pressure and you can also have some psychiatric type side effects as well," said Williams.

"These drugs act very similar to cocaine in your body," Williams said.

Patients who are prescribed have been evaluated by a physician. Those obtaining it illegally have not, though -- and that's crucial.

"They could have an underlying cardiac disorder that no one knows about," said Williams. "They could have an underlying psychiatric disorder.  These medications can certainly exacerbate both of those conditions."

Williams said not every ADHD patient takes the same dose. Their doctor determines the time of day the patient needs it most and how much they need of it.

"Do you know what dosage you usually take or you just kinda take whatever you can find?" we asked the student.

"I usually take about 15 or if I take a 20, I'll split it in half and half it through the day," she replied.

Williams attributed the stimulant abuse to the chaotic lifestyle most college students live every day and possibly even a need to please their parents.

"There's a lot of life pressure and pressure from parents that's placed on students that I don't think we always take into account," Williams said.

Note: If your child is prescribed to an ADHD medication, we aren't saying you should take them off of it. However, education is key. It's important to know the risks of taking these drugs without a prescription.  Parents should know what signs to look for if they think their child is taking the drugs illegally -- before it opens the door to further substance abuse.


  • Sammy

    They are not breaking the law. Middle-class white people can not break the law. How many of these people have been arrested, convicted, and are serving time in our state prison for this “breaking” of the law? Take a minority that is caught with a small amount of pot and see what happens!

    • The Truth

      Sammy, your statement is incorrect, I have known white people to get arrested for pot just like you say a minority would. Do your research, before you let your own bias, show your ignorance.

      • Sammy

        Truthy, I did not say whites were not arrested for pot possession. You need to learn how to read. I said that whites will not be arrested for “study” drugs the way others are arrested for pot.

    • Robert

      But Sammy, your argument is still confusing, because we don’t see reports of “minorities” getting arrested for study drugs either.
      It’s inherently racist to make things into a race issue, like your sterotype of “middle class white people” being the predominant users of study drugs and then making a baseless rant off of it.

  • Jeff

    If they didn’t require students to take a bunch of junk classes that have nothing to do with their majors then they wouldn’t have to stay up till the AM hours studying.

  • Mike

    As a teacher and former student, that’s not true. People are natural procrastinators and crammers. Students do this whether it’s in their major core or if it’s a “junk class”. This student in particular said she was taking Organic and Physics and she is a pre med student. I’m pretty sure these are courses she needs. We are a heavily over-medicated society and until we can learn to say no to more drugs, then this will continue to happen.

    “Chemstry, intramural softball, part-time jobs — college students have a lot weighing down on their shoulders these days. ” This line kills me. Like these days they have to do things that we didn’t have to do??? You don’t have to play sports. When did working a part time job become a bad thing? I worked full time while commuting 45 minutes to college, and graduated from UNA. So, I think they can handle a little chemistry and a part time job.

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