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Adderall Abuse Among College Students: Everything You Need to Know

Researchers say close to 10% of college students abuse Adderall. When researchers examine people of the same age who aren’t in college, just 6.2% of them abuse Adderall.

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Why do students abuse Adderall? Studies suggest that 78.2% of college students take this drug in an effort to improve their cognitive performance. They think the drug can help them pass more tests, conduct longer study sessions, and perform better in the classroom.

Unfortunately, studies suggest that Adderall has only a small impact on cognitive performance, but it can have a strong impact on emotional states. In other words, college students think the drug makes them smarter. In reality, the drug gets them high.

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?

Stimulant drugs like Adderall are common on college campuses. They’re typically prescribed to treat conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but many college students take them for entirely different reasons, including the following.

To 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 that Adderall can cause a slight improvement in focus, but it can have a deep impact on emotions. Students may not be learning more, but they may feel better about their performance. This placebo effect could entice them to return to drugs, even when they’re not working in the way the student believes they are.

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. 

To 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.

To Improve 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.

Short-term side effects associated with Adderall include the following:

  •       Headache
  •       Stomach ache
  •       Trouble sleeping
  •       Decreased appetite
  •       Nervousness
  •       Dizziness

Serious side effects associated with long-term Adderall use include the following:

  • Stunted growth
  • Seizures, mainly in people with a seizure history
  • Vision changes

Other long-term health problems associated with stimulant abuse include the following:

  • Anger
  • Heart disease
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis

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. 

If you notice these signs in someone you love, find a quiet and private place to talk. Explain the signs you’ve seen and why they concern you. Let the person talk with you about why they’re abusing Adderall. Remind the person that you care, and that treatment can help. Offer to help the person find a treatment program.

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.

The following resources can help college students understand Adderall’s risks and why treatment might help:

The Treatment of Stimulant Use Disorders booklet from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explains how treatment works and why it’s effective.

SAMHSA’s national helpline (1-800-662-HELP) can connect college students with nearby treatment services. Operators are available 24/7.

The Crisis Text Line (741741) is available 24/7 for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis. Students can get help with anything from anxiety to depression to self-harm.

How Does Treatment Work?

In an Adderall addiction program, students taper off the drug slowly to avoid uncomfortable 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 pick up 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 February 13, 2024
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