Do We Have an Amphetamine Problem on College Campuses?
College is a stressful time for students. Balancing the rigors of studying and coursework with the social and financial demands of college life can be particularly challenging. Some students try to deal with these challenges by taking amphetamines or stimulants such as Adderall or Ritalin, thinking it will improve their focus and academic performance or allow them to stay awake and alert late into the night to study, work or party. While Adderall has proven benefits for individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), taking amphetamines for nonmedical or non-prescribed purposes can be extremely dangerous and even deadly.
Amphetamines are central nervous system stimulants that have been used in many forms over the years as a way to reduce hunger and fatigue or improve mental focus. Amphetamines are also an addictive substance and can have severe side effects for individuals who misuse them or take them for non-medical purposes. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), amphetamines are a schedule II drug, meaning they have a high potential for abuse as well as a high risk of addiction. There are critical and potentially fatal consequences of misusing prescription amphetamines, including medications prescribed to treat ADHD.
As ADHD became the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorder in children, the production of amphetamines in the United States rapidly increased, as did the number of young people receiving prescriptions for stimulant medications. From 1993 to 2001, Adderall production increased by a staggering 5,767 percent. Additionally, stimulant medications, including Adderall, Dexedrine and Ritalin, have more than quintupled in sales from $1.7 billion in 2002 to almost $9 billion in 2012. With amphetamines readily available, it makes sense that these stimulant drugs are being widely misused on college campuses.
The number of students taking amphetamines for nonmedical reasons is continuing to rise. Students report that it is easy to get ADHD medication in college and studies have shown that the percentage of college students who report using ADHD stimulants for nonmedical reasons ranges from 5 to 35 percent. Moreover, national research indicates that full-time college students between the ages of 18 to 22 years old are twice as likely as those who are not full-time students to report using Adderall.
While stimulant misuse is definitely a concern on college campuses, many students do not think that taking amphetamines for nonmedical purposes is particularly harmful. For example, a 2016 national survey stated that 38.5 percent of college-age individuals (19 to 22 years old) reported that regularly taking these drugs for nonmedical purposes did not pose a “great risk” of harm and this age group was the least likely relative to 12th graders or older young adults to disapprove of their misuse.
A comprehensive educational approach that involves students, parents, educators, and physicians is needed to decrease amphetamine use on college campuses. Students should be educated about the dangers of amphetamine misuse and given healthier alternative for coping with stress and managing schedules and workloads. Popular myths about the relative harmlessness of using these drugs should be dispelled, and students should be made aware of the legal ramifications of illegal prescription amphetamine use.
Parents should take a prominent role in educating their children about the risks of amphetamine misuse and help to reduce the pressure on their children to achieve unrealistically high standards of excellence.
School administrators and educators must do their part to implement effective prevention programs, limit the culture of high academic and social pressure, identify students at risk of drug misuse and get those who are at risk for addiction the help they need.
Physicians must be more vigilant in their prescribing practices, and ensure that patients are well informed about the medications they are taking.
If your child is misusing amphetamines in school, there are resources that may help.
- Off To College: Preventing And Reducing Substance Abuse On Campus (The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse)
- Stimulant Misuse among College Students—Meeting the Challenge (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
- About Amphetamines (Palo Alto Medical Foundation)
- Adderall Abuse Increases Among High School Students (Partnership for Drug-Free Kids)
Jason Besser, MPP
Jason is a research associate at Center on Addiction