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A Troubling Trend: The Rise of Adderall Abuse

A Troubling Trend: Adderall Abuse


At this point, you’ve probably heard on morning news shows, the likes of CNN, or your local paper that prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic levels in the U.S. Much of the focus, however, has been on prescription opioid abuse, which is often a catalyst for heroin addiction. Occasionally, the media will discuss the dangers of abusing sedatives, such as Valium and Xanax. But, one group of drugs may not even be on your radar as addictive–prescription stimulants.

Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta and Vyvanse are all prescription stimulants, and the abuse of these drugs is rising. The nonmedical use of prescription stimulants is often dismissed as harmless. However, Adderall abuse is nothing to take lightly. Although this trend has become a norm for many young adults, you should be aware of the dangers of abusing Adderall.

Who’s Abusing Adderall?

Millions of children, teenagers and adults have been prescribed Adderall and other prescriptions stimulants to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These medications allow people with ADHD to concentrate so they can complete everyday tasks and assignments.

Realizing that Adderall can cause people to have a laser-like focus and work on assignments for hours on end, many college students are using the drug illicitly. Over the years, Adderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse, sometimes referred to as study drugs, have become prevalent on college campuses.

How common is the abuse of prescription stimulants? Nearly one in five college students abuse Adderall or another prescription stimulant, according the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Students believe that taking these drugs will help them get better grades or be more competitive with their peers.

While some college students only turn to Adderall during finals week or to crank out a paper, others are using it more frequently. For some students, study drugs have become a necessity as they struggle to balance their classwork, social lives and other obligations.

It’s in the Workplace Too

As college students graduate and enter the work world, some of them are bringing their Adderall habits with them. While some workers are looking to stay ahead in their field or keep up with client demands, they are now experimenting with the drug.

In hopes of increasing productivity, workers from a variety of industries are popping prescription stimulants to help them tackle tedious projects or burn the midnight oil.

A recent study by Quest Diagnostics seems to lend credit to this trend. The company says that the number of workers that tested positive for amphetamines–including prescription stimulants–doubled between 2002-2012.

The Illusion of Prescription Stimulants

Part of the lure of taking Adderall for nonmedical use is that people think taking the drug will make them smarter or improve their ability to learn. However, studies have shown that prescription stimulants do not improve learning or thinking ability in people who don’t have ADHD. Additionally, researchers have found that students who abuse Adderall and other study drugs have lower GPAs than students who don’t abuse the drugs.

Why are students and workers swearing by the drug? ADHD medications can improve concentration and motivation, which often boosts productivity or the illusion of it.

Dangers of Adderall Abuse

The quest for a higher GPA or the ability to stay up all night working on a project via a pill can have serious repercussions. When prescription stimulants are abused they can cause a number of side effects including restlessness, insomnia and loss of appetite. These drugs can also result in serious side effects such as increased heart rate, hallucinations, psychosis, heart attack and stroke.

At times, Adderall abuse and other prescription stimulants can result in a trip to the emergency room. A 2013 report from The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) found that these trips are on the rise. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of ADHD medication-related emergency room visits more than doubled. What’s really concerning is that nearly 50 percent of the visits were for nonmedical use. Also, there was a steep increase in the numbers of visits from adults ages 18-25.

For many people, these drugs can quickly evolve from a study aid to a crutch. When taken without medical supervision or not as prescribed, the potential for addiction increases. Adderall and other prescription stimulants are considered Schedule II drugs, which mean they have a high potential for abuse. Just to put this in to perspective, cocaine, meth and morphine are also considered to be Schedule II substances.

Preventing Prescription Stimulant Abuse

Some institutions believe that using prescription stimulants to enhance your academic performance is cheating. Universities like Duke and Wesleyan have banned the use of prescription stimulants for academic performance enhancing.

Recognizing the abuse potential of prescription stimulants some industries have banned the drug. For instance, all pilots are forbidden from taking the drugs for any reason, including medical use. Major League Baseball considers ADHD medications to be performance enhancers and nonmedical use is banned, ditto for the National Football League.

Now that the aviation industry and professional sports have realized the dangers of prescription stimulant abuse, when is the general public going to catch on? To protect your loved ones, it’s important to spread awareness about the misuse of ADHD medications.

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