Guest Opinion | The Doctor is In: Avoiding ADHD substance abuse

College is a challenging experience. All too often, academic and social pressures can lead students to misuse stimulant medications.


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Stimulant medications such as Adderall, Vyvanse, and Ritalin are effective treatment options for ADHD and other hyperactivity disorders. However, an increasing number of college students are misusing these medications. It is important for students and parents to understand what the potential risks are when using these medications, what role stimulants play in treatment, and what can help students stay sharp and focused during their studies.

Total stimulant usage has doubled in the U.S. in the past decade, making these medications readily available on college campuses. Misuse among college students has been estimated to be between 23-42 percent.

Furthermore, students who have valid prescriptions have reported misusing their medications as well. Students have reported several motives for misusing stimulant medications such as: finishing homework on time, staying concentrated in class, being able to stay awake, and increasing test performance.

However, several studies have shown no meaningful association between misusing prescription stimulants and improvements in academic success. When these medications are used outside of the prescribed method, side effects are more likely to occur, and can be serious.

Common side effects of stimulant medications for ADHD include high blood pressure, increased heart rate, stomach pain, weight loss, headaches, and trouble sleeping. These medications also come with a warning regarding their high potential for misuse and dependence, as well as a warning that sudden death and serious heart events such as abnormal/life-threatening heart rhythms, heart attack, and stroke may occur.

As a student, if you are worried about an inability to focus or complete tasks, you should make an appointment with your primary care provider, or with student health . If your provider prescribes a stimulant, it’s important to take it only as instructed.

Never give your medication to friends or family to take and monitor any side effects that you think you might be having and let your provider or pharmacist know. Also, do not hesitate to ask your pharmacist or healthcare provider questions about your medications if you have any.

Additionally, it’s important to know there are a multitude of non-prescription ways you can set yourself up for success, and to give yourself an edge in your studies. As with all aspects of health, a proper diet, consistent exercise, and quality sleep are foundational, and are often underappreciated aspects of a successful college career. Additionally, improving your time-management, using a healthy self-reward system, and practicing mindfulness are great strategies to boost performance.

If you have been diagnosed with ADHD, there are resources on campus that can connect you with people who you can talk to about your diagnosis, and support groups that can provide an environment to connect with other students going through the same difficulties (see resources below):

  1. ADHD Support Group – Student Disability Service
  2. University Counseling Services


-John Voller, third-year pharmacy student, Class of 2023