By Jennifer Lea Reynolds,

Many college students are taking stimulant medications designed to help manage attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms – focus in particular – not because they actually have ADHD, but because these meds are a perceived bonus for the busy student hoping to ace tests and breeze through study sessions.

Thomas E. Brown, director of the Brown Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders in Manhattan Beach, California, says a common reason students do this is because they’ve procrastinated and may need to pull all-nighters. He says kids who don’t have ADHDusually borrow or buy these medications from friends. Also known as “study drugs,” “smart drugs” and “cognitive enhancers,” experts maintain that their misuse isn’t showing signs of slowing.

One study, published in the March 2015 Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, states that “the misuse of stimulant medication among college students is a prevalent and growing problem” ultimately finding that “the rate of stimulant medication misuse among college students was estimated at 17 percent.”

The following year, NBC News reported on students who spoke candidly about taking ADHD meds to help with their studies, stating that it’s becoming a widespread habit occurring in most social circles. The segment even touched on the fact that some student organizations seem to advocate the benefits of taking ADHD medications; the University of Miami’s student newspaper published an opinion piece in 2012 justifying Adderall – or “Sir Adderall” as the author put it – noting that “Adderall is indeed a solution” for students to “boost their drive.”

According to Marcia Lee Taylor, president and CEO of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, such endorsement is an unfortunate sign of the times. “It’s symptomatic of a larger problem in society in which teens and young adults haven’t learned how to cope effectively,” she says, adding that rather than thinking, “What can I take to handle stress?” young adults should instead ask themselves, “What can I do to manage my stress in a healthy way?”

Addiction Risks

“The risk profile in this case is different than with opioids,” says Taylor, who adds that while opioids often understandably draw a great deal of public attention, it’s necessary for parents to be just as aware that prescription stimulant abuse is widespread and “growing in the 12- to 17-year-old population.”


“We need a pill for everything” seems to be a mantra of our society, a pill to sleep, a pill to wake up, a pill to have fun, a pill to have better sex, pill to “___________” (fill in the blank).

News Flash!  We actually DO NOT need a pill like that!  We should be able to get by without pills.
As a student I had to work hard long hours to assimilate all that was required of me.  I set up “regular office hours” putting in 16 hour days.  No time for the swimming pools on campus, or the gym, or the social centers (ok, well, maybe an hour or two Friday & Saturday nights and Church Sunday AM).  I HATED SCHOOL!  It was hard work!!  But I wanted to be a doctor and that’s what was required.  Long hours, going into debt while my friends with jobs had money and free time on their hands.


Folks who want to procrastinate on their studies and then pull an “all-nighter” don’t learn as well and have the command of that information at a later date.  It’s not an effective way to study (but allows for a lot more fun partying).

Stimulants are the most addicting class of drugs out there because of the neurobiology of how they interact with the normal neurotransmitters in the brain.  They interact directly with dopamine, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter.  They don’t cause the respiratory depression so deadly with opiates, but have their own list of problems, including more difficult to kick the habit.  Our future generation needs to learn that it’s best to buckle down for the long-haul, study a bit every day instead of a lot all at once with pharmaceutical assistance.  It’s a much better investment for your tuition dollar!

There are protocols with medication-assisted treatment (MAT) that will also help those who need it to get off of stimulants.

Dr. Raymond Oenbrink
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