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College 101: Academic Doping

July 26, 2013  |  Falmouth Enterprise

By Dr. Michael Bihari

Our role as parents do not stop when we drop our kids off for freshman orientation. Colleges and universities across the country are dealing with significant underage drinking and substance abuse, especially binge drinking and the use of stimulant medications such as Adderall.

It’s important that you learn about the drinking and pill abuse issues at the college your teen is attending. Schools vary in what they communicate to incoming students and how they handle such issues as underage drinking or stimulant abuse. 

This article deals with the issue of academic doping, which is the use of stimulants to enhance academic performance. Additional articles in the College 101 series discuss underage and binge drinking. Please share these articles with your college-bound teen.

Adderall Abuse

Adderall and other medications used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are among the most prescribed drugs in the U.S. However, many of these medications do not end up being used to treat ADHD; instead they are used as "smart or study drugs" by students who think that stimulants give them a mental edge or help them get “into the zone.”

During the past several years the number of prescriptions for Adderall has soared. More pills in medicine cabinets and dorm-room drawers means more pills that students can buy, borrow, or steal. Various national surveys report that 8 to 30 percent of college students say they have used a stimulant drug to improve their school performance. By some estimates 15 to 20 percent of all ADHD drugs in the U.S. are diverted or shared with people who do not have a prescription. 

In one college-based survey, more than half (54%) of undergraduates who are taking stimulant medications appropriately (under the direction of their physician) admitted to being asked to sell, trade or give away their medication in the past year.

Why Are Students Using Adderall?

Noting pressure to get good grades, intense workloads, dealing with the stress of being away from home and family, and the increasing competitive atmosphere on college campuses, students report misusing or abusing stimulant medications to:

  • Improve their grades
  • Concentrate more in class
  • Maintain focus during late-night study sessions and all nighters
  • Diet
  • Reduce stress
  • Feel good or get high
  • Ease nervousness in social situations
  • Enhance athletic performance
  • Forget about problems

Adderall Does Not Teach You Calculus!

However, using prescription stimulants has not been shown to improve the academic performance of students who do not have ADHD and the abuse of these drugs can be very dangerous. Although Adderall may improve attention and concentration, students using the drug can be easily distracted and focus on activities not related to school work. 

Adderall Abuse Can Be Very Dangerous

Prescription stimulants, especially Adderall, have an extremely high potential for abuse and can easily lead to dependence and serious side effects. The less serious side effects include nervousness, headaches, sleeplessness, and decreased appetite. Serious and potentially life-threatening side effects include acute exhaustion, an abnormal heart rhythm, dangerously high body temperature, the potential for heart failure or seizures, and the worsening of existing mental illness.

The Upside: Adderall Abuse Is Not the Norm

Although stimulant drug abuse on college campuses in the U.S. is a major public health and safety concern, it’s important for you and your college-bound student to know that not everyone is doing it. Most college students know it’s not worth the risk to misuse or abuse any prescription medications.

Many students think that these medications are safe because they are prescribed by a physician. Make sure that your child knows about this issue before heading to a new environment. And, if your child has ADHD and has been prescribed a stimulant medication discuss with him or her how to safely store medications, and how to say no to classmates who want to share those medications.


National Council on Patient Information and Education is non-profit coalition created to stimulate and improve communication of information on the appropriate use of medications. The organization has created materials addressing the problem of prescription pill abuse on college campuses. 

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