How Student Abuse of ADHD Meds Affects Peers With a Diagnosis

By Beth Leipholtz 04/30/19

A UNC survey found that a majority of students have misused Adderall or other prescription stimulants. This is hurting their peers who have a real need for the medications.

abuse of adhd medication
Not fun and games. Kim Nelson |

Various research in recent years has pointed to a growing problem on college campuses: the misuse of stimulants such as Adderall to aid in academic success.

And the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is no exception, the student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel reports.

According to the student paper, a recent survey of 145 students on campus found that more than one-third had used Adderall or other prescription stimulants in the past month. Of those students, 60.7% admitted they had used such medications without a prescription.

UNC psychology professor Beth Kurtz-Costes tells the Daily Tar Heel that one reason for use of such medications may be that students feel pressure to keep up and perform well academically in college.

“An amount of anxiety that is serious enough that it requires someone to go to CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) or to seek outside help will definitely hamper performance," Kurtz-Costes said. "A moderate amount of anxiety is considered good. You’ll perform better on an exam or in giving a speech if you’re moderately aroused or anxious, but going beyond a certain point, certainly, is a deterrent to performance.”

For some students, such as UNC sophomore Paige Masten, stimulants like Adderall are necessary. Masten tells the Daily Tar Heel that she has been diagnosed with ADHD, and as such, the medication affects her differently than it may for her peers without such diagnoses.

“When I take my Adderall, I don’t have the same effects,” she said. “I don’t feel super productive and I don’t feel like I’m going to stay up all night the same way they do. I just feel kind of normal and able to function, whereas without it I can’t focus whatsoever.”

For people with diagnoses like ADHD, medications like Adderall aid in lowering stimulation levels and returning them to a normal level of function, the Texas A&M University Health Science Center reports. But for those without, it can be dangerous and can even result in stroke or death.

“People who take it for exams or just when they’re stressed, it kind of can mess with their brain because they’ll stay up way longer than they need to, they’ll be really jittery and hyper-attentive,” Masten added. “I think, ultimately, it does the opposite of what it’s supposed to be doing for them, whereas for me it makes me into a more normal person.”

For Masten, seeing other students abuse the medication is frustrating, as access to it is already limited.

“Obviously I have the luxury and the privilege of being able to go to the doctor when I need to and being able to afford it,” Masten said. “But there’s also some people who struggle with ADHD who may not have that same luxury, and making it even harder would make it even more difficult for them to obtain the drugs they need to be as productive as people without ADHD. I think that that further disadvantages them in a way that would be really unfair.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.