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Adderall Abuse Among College Students: Everything You Need to Know

The abuse of Adderall among college students is a prevalent problem, with the majority of abusers aged between 18 and 25. While Adderall may appear to be a miracle drug for college students with long study nights, it is not an effective solution to improve focus or test scores. Instead, it can lead to a substance use disorder that could threaten a student's graduation and long-term health. Treatment programs can help address Adderall addiction and promote healthy lifestyle habits for students.

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Adderall abuse among college students is a big problem. The majority of Adderall abusers are 18 to 25, and most of them get the drugs from friends or family members.

To a college student with a long night of study ahead, Adderall can seem like a gift. With one pill, they could stay awake for a cram session and still have a few hours left to party before the test begins. Built from a movie culture, Adderall has become a popular drug of choice for college students.

Unfortunately, recreational Adderall abuse doesn’t improve students’ focus, test scores, or efficiency. Instead, this study drug can (and often does) spark a substance use disorder that can thwart a student’s dreams of graduation. 

If you have a prescription you’re handing out, stop now. And if you’re misusing the drug (or know someone who is), it’s time to get help. 

Why Do Students Abuse Adderall?

About 16 percent of college students admit to using study drugs like Adderall. These students come from varying backgrounds, but their reasons for misuse are remarkably similar. 

Improve Focus

Memorization is a big part of a college student’s life, and maintaining concentration for hours, days, or even weeks is difficult. A dose of Adderall provides a burst of endorphins and the appearance of focus. To a student, the drug seems like a miracle.

Researchers say Adderall can help reduce test errors by about 10 percent, but it worsens student recall by about 7 percent.

A student on drugs might do well on a midterm exam, but when finals come around, the student will forget everything learned while on drugs.

Abuse can be cyclical, with students taking the drug before every exam they deem important. And the list of facts and figures they must cram grows longer and longer, as they retain little knowledge. 

Boost Energy

A full course load means plenty of reading, writing, memorizing, test-taking, and class participation. Students may also have jobs, family obligations, romantic relationships, and hobbies to maintain.

More than 80% of college students feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities. A dose of Adderall boosts energy, and a student could lean on the drug to tackle all the tasks they need to complete.

Boost Mental Health

Of those with a mental health issue, 70 percent experience symptoms for the first time before age 25. To a college student struggling with mental health far from home, these problems can be very difficult.

Adderall can temporarily boost feel-good chemicals within the brain and impart a sense of power and control. Some students feel they desperately need this help as they struggle through their classes. 

Adderall Abuse Side Effects

Adderall is a prescription stimulant, and even students with a prescription have a long list of problems they could face. 

Stimulants can cause the following:

  • Anorexia 
  • Anxiety
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Irritability 
  • Paranoia 
  • Vomiting 

Adderall can also speed up the heart, increase blood pressure, or both. Doctors must screen their patients for underlying heart problems before giving an Adderall prescription. Students buying the drug on the black market get no such testing, and they could experience heart attacks while on the drug. 

Long-Term Adderall Use: Is It Dangerous?

Adderall causes persistent brain changes, and in time, regular users grow dependent on the drug. They feel sick and anxious between doses, and they take more Adderall to feel well again. Some students start taking Adderall recreationally but soon find that months of continuous use have passed. 

Long-term Adderall use hasn’t been studied by doctors. Most medical professionals use the drug sparingly and briefly to help their patients. People who abuse Adderall for long periods of time take risks with their health that even professionals don’t understand. 

Adderall Abuse Signs to Watch For

Is someone you love abusing Adderall? When asked by loving family members or friends, some students will voluntarily admit to abuse. Others feel shame about their habits and will try to hide the evidence. 

People who abuse Adderall tend to act in certain ways.

  • Nervous: Stimulants can make people jumpy and edgy, even in situations that should be relaxing.
  • Distracted: Getting more Adderall and using it becomes the main focus of the person’s life. The person may seem far away even while sitting next to you. 
  • Desperate: Buying Adderall isn’t cheap, especially for college students on a limited budget. Some students resort to theft to keep their habits alive.
  • Sick: A student dependent on Adderall will feel ill between doses. You may notice nausea, jitteriness, and unease. 

Treatment for Adderall Addiction

College students may know they have a problem, but they may not be able to address it. Addiction treatment programs are plentiful and effective, but students may need help finding them.

About 60 percent of college students say they have trouble accessing any kind of mental health care.

In an Adderall addiction program, students taper off the drug slowly to uncomfortable nasty withdrawal symptoms. And they learn how to build healthy lives with no room for drug misuse and abuse. 

Students may also learn more effective ways to handle their courses. They might learn healthy lifestyle tips, such as how to plan out their assignments and access tutoring centers at school. 

Recovery from Adderall addiction is possible. Treatment programs make it probable.

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated June 7, 2023
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