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More College Students Taking ADHD Drugs to Study

The last 10 years have seen a drastic rise in college students taking Adderall or Ritalin in order to boost their productivity in an increasingly competitive environment.

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By Shawn Dwyer

04/17/14

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On campuses across the country, students looking for a way to cram for exams or write papers have increasingly turned to taking ADHD drugs in order to increase their productivity in the shortest time possible.

While taking drugs in college is nothing new, the rise in the last 10 years of students using ADHD drugs like Adderall and Ritalin without being diagnosed with the condition has given campuses cause for concern.

"Our biggest concern...is the increase we have observed in this behavior over the past decade," said Sean McCabe, research associate professor at the University of Michigan Substance Abuse Research Center.

According to a 2009 study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, full-time college students were twice as likely to take such substances without a prescription than students who went to school part time. "When we look at upperclassmen, the number really begins to jump," said Alan DeSantis, a professor at the University of Kentucky. "The more time you stay on campus, the more likely you are to use."

Students believe that taking stimulant drugs like Adderall or Ritalin helps them become more productive, a problem that grows worse due to the increasingly competitive atmospheres of college. The drugs "strengthen the brain's brakes, its inhibitory capacities, so it can control its power more effectively," said Dr. Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist and ADHD expert. "They do this by increasing the amount of certain neurotransmitters, like dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine."

But the potential harms that using ADHD stimulants can cause when taken non-medically have been vastly overlooked by students. "College students tend to underestimate the potential harms associated with the non-medical use of prescription stimulants," McCabe said.

Not only do they underestimate the harms, but many times they don’t even think about them. "The fact that it's illegal really doesn't cross my mind," one university student said. "It's not something that I get nervous about because it's so widespread and simple."

"I just feel very alive and awake and ready for challenges that come my way," another student said after taking Adderall. "I'm very confident in it."

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