Attending college is part of the American dream and is considered a common rite of passage for many young adults. However, many young students begin their college careers ill-prepared for the academic, professional and social demands that come with attending an institution of higher learning. Unfortunately many students have begun to turn to substance abuse in order to help them cope with the demands of their college experience. In particular, the abuse of prescription stimulants has become a growing problem.
Prescription Stimulant Abuse – Rampant in American Colleges
Recently conducted studies have shown that as many as 1 in 5 college students, or about 20 percent, have admitted to abusing prescription stimulants. Aderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse are the most commonly prescribed and abused stimulants amongst young adults. Some of the reasons that students may choose to abuse stimulants relate directly to the pressure to perform academically, because these drugs help to maintain focus over long periods of studying and also increase energy. When these prescription stimulants are abused, users may experience a dangerous rise in blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. Quitting adderall and other stimulants is a very challenging process.
It’s a common misconception among drug users that prescription drugs are safer because they come from a doctor, but statistics show that this is a dangerous fallacy. Prescription drug abuse now kills far more people than all illegal drugs combined.
Prescription stimulants are plentiful and easy to find on any given college campus in America. Used as a treatment for ADD/ADHD, these drugs have helped many children and young adults to function normally and succeed at school. With 5 to 11 percent of children aged 4-17 years being diagnosed with ADD/ADHD across the country, many of these individuals are matriculating to college with an ongoing need for medication. This translates into a large portion of college students having access to an ongoing supply of stimulants, making it easy to obtain for those who would misuse these drugs. For example:
- Over half of all college students say it is easy to get prescription stimulants from friends or acquaintances.
- About 57 percent of students who have recently abused Aderall or similar drugs report getting it from a friend.
- Less than 10 percent of users report having bought their prescription stimulants from outside of their social circle.
- About a quarter of those with Aderall or similar prescriptions report being pressured by their peers to sell their pills.
When examining the primary methods through which students gain access to prescription stimulants, it’s clear that college campuses create a perfect breeding ground for abuse. Since nearly all students are obtaining these drugs from one another, this is not a substance that has invaded a community from the outside streets.
Why Are Prescription Stimulants so Widely Abused?
Providing a high that is very similar to cocaine, prescription stimulants give students feelings of unending energy, a heightened ability to focus and increased feelings of confidence. Since many students are away from home for their first time when in college, they are in a very vulnerable situation. Learning to live away from the care of family, managing finances, juggling a full class schedule, holding down a job and trying to maintain high grades are all difficult challenges to face. The common attitude found among many students is that abusing Ritalin, Aderall or Vyvanse is an easy way to maintain their energy and commitment to their huge variety of obligations. College students report abusing these drugs to:
- Improve grades
- Improve focus while studying
- Reduce stress
- Increase feelings of confidence and sociability
- Enhance athletic performance
- Reduce anxiety and worry
How to Address the Growing Problem of College Stimulant Abuse
Prescription stimulants can be highly addictive, similar to cocaine and other street uppers. Addressing this pervasive problem on college campuses can be difficult, but it’s important to focus upon education and prevention that is specifically geared toward students. It’s clear that most kids begin using in an attempt to keep abreast of their hectic schedule. Colleges need to be aware of the unique pressures that modern students face and ensure that adequate peer and institutional support is readily available. The Coalition to Prevent ADHD Medication Misuse (CPAMM) is one such task force, comprised of physicians, educators, pharmaceutical developers and ADD/ADHD patients, and is working to form peer-to-peer support groups that are focused on prevention and intervention.
Another contributing factor to prescription drug abuse that must be addressed is the relative ignorance of many authority figures in students’ lives. Parents and faculty members may view these doctor-prescribed drugs as a benign treatment, not a substance that holds potential for heavy abuse. When caretakers of young adults are ignorant of such an easily obtained and commonly abused substance, there are very few social or authoritarian repercussions to deter students from experimentation and use. Parents and educators may become unwitting accomplices in college students’ search to obtain prescription stimulants because they are unaware of the subculture of abuse. Educating parents and campus staff members upon the prevalence of abuse is of the utmost importance.
Doctors, the source of all prescription stimulants, could also help prevent abuse by taking a more proactive stance with their young patients. Educating those diagnosed with ADD/ADHD about the dangers of drug sharing and misuse should be a required part of dispensing these stimulants. Doctors also need to be aware of patients who may exaggerate or falsify their symptoms in order to gain access to higher quantities or dosages of ADD/ADHD medication.
With over 10 percent of all adolescents now being diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, it’s clear that the related medications will continue to be easily accessible to the college age-group. Only by properly educating students about the dangers of addiction can the tide of abuse be stemmed. Peers, doctors, faculty and parents must also become educated about the addictive potential of these commonly prescribed drugs. As with all substance abuse issues in society, prevention is much more effective than treating individuals who have already developed a dependency or addiction. Safeguarding our youth from the growing risk of pharmaceutical abuse will grow in importance, as well as difficulty, as increasing numbers of children are diagnosed with conditions that qualify them to receive potentially habit-forming drug prescriptions.