College Students See No Issue With Using ADHD Drugs To Study

By McCarton Ackerman 05/06/14

For students without ADHD, taking drugs like Ritalin and Adderall have dramatically increased their ability to focus, though sometimes to their own detriment.


Hard-studying college students have their own performance-enhancing drugs in the form of ADHD medication, but many of them refuse to see this as a form of academic cheating.

A new poll presented last weekend at the the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada, found that nearly 20 percent of students had misused ADHD drugs in order to improve their academic performance. But lead researcher Andrew Adelman said that number would be similar at most universities.

The students polled said they didn’t use drugs like Adderall or Ritalin recreationally; most didn’t have a prescription themselves and would obtain pills from a friend who did. Of those polled, thirty-three percent didn’t consider stimulant use to be a form of cheating, as compared to 41 percent who did.

Timothy Wilens, director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said the reason for abusing these medications for studying is due to the well-documented benefits for increased focus and information absorption. Those with documented ADHD might be able to focus for 20 minutes at a time as opposed to five minutes without the medication. But for those without ADHD that can already focus for 30 minutes at a clip, the ability to focus increases to 50-60 minutes.

Sean Esteban McCabe, a research associate professor at the University of Michigan Substance Abuse Research Center, said that boost doesn’t necessarily translate to improved grades. Furthermore, many students who abused ADHD drugs as a last-ditch resort were compensating for poor study habits. Several studies have found that students who abuse ADHD drugs already have lower grades than their peers, in addition to greater issues with drugs and alcohol.

McCabe also said that many students who misused ADHD drugs also did so in conjunction with other drugs, leading to emergency room visits for stimulant use doubling. The abuse of such drugs has led to addiction and, ironically, decreased academic performance.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.