Do Students Abuse ADHD Medications to Help Them Study?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a highly controversial psychological diagnosis that has skyrocketed since the late 20th century. Some studies report that as many as 7.5% of school aged minors in the United States are on medication to combat ADHD. Unfortunately, recent studies show a steady rise in the amount of children and teenagers that abuse ADHD medications in order to achieve stimulant affects to help them study for tests.

ADHD drugs are stimulants that are subject to abuse.
ADHD drugs are stimulants that are subject to abuse.

Drugs given to treat ADHD tend to have a stimulatory affect on the central nervous system. These medications, such as the popular drugs Ritalin, Adderall, and Dexedrine, are meant to help ADHD patients focus on tasks without distraction. In children under 12, many of the drugs are also said to have a calming affect. At proper dosage, these medicines are believed to help combat the affects of ADHD, but at higher doses, they may induce bursts of energy that students may find useful when cramming for a test.

Students might use high doses of ADHD medication to help with cramming for a test.
Students might use high doses of ADHD medication to help with cramming for a test.

Many teens have been on ADHD medication from childhood and are often trusted to administer their own daily doses of the drugs. Not surprisingly, unsupervised prescription drug use can lead teens to abuse ADHD medications for their stimulant effects. According to some recent studies, as many as 10% of teenagers on prescription medication, including those for ADHD, abuse the drugs. One study published by the University of Wisconsin showed that nearly 20% of all college students surveyed admit that they illegally abuse ADHD medications, or have done so in the past.

It can be dangerous to take someone else's prescription ADHD medications.
It can be dangerous to take someone else's prescription ADHD medications.

ADHD medication is so widely available among teenagers and young adults, it is very easy to obtain doses of the drug without a prescription. Experts suggest that those who abuse ADHD medications do so by taking super-doses of the drugs, either by swallowing several pills or snorting a powdered form of the medication. In one 2006 report conducted by and independent American group called the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 68% of those who admitted abuse of ADHD drugs also admitted using other prescription drugs improperly or illegally.

It's easy to obtain ADHD medication without a prescription.
It's easy to obtain ADHD medication without a prescription.

A combination of factors may lead young adults to abuse ADHD medications. Prescriptions for ADHD medications are now so common, particularly in the United States, that young adults may believe that the drugs are not harmful, even in high doses. Unrestricted access to the drugs is considered to be a contributing factor, as well as insufficient supervision of the dosage. High school and college students may feel intense pressure to achieve good grades, and may be lured into using prescription stimulants believing them to be safer than illegal drugs such as speed or methamphetamines. Some experts claim that proper doses of ADHD drugs carry a low risk of addiction, but other medical professionals believe that compulsive use of the drug is both possible and probable, given the rising rate of abuse.

Abuse of ADHD medications can lead to hypertension and an elevated heart rate.
Abuse of ADHD medications can lead to hypertension and an elevated heart rate.

As with most drugs, the potential side effects of incorrect usage may be severe. Evidence suggests that psychotic or hallucinogenic episodes are possible, as well as common side effects such as hypertension, increased heart rate, and tremors. Long term studies are not yet available on the possible permanent effects of consistent abuse.

If you have a child taking ADHD medication, consider keeping the pills in your control and administrating them daily. If you choose to allow your child control over the pills, try to reinforce that they must never give them or sell them to friends. Restricting access to the drugs is probably the best way to prevent abuse.

If you or anyone you know is on ADHD medication and taking higher than recommended doses to help study or to get high, you should inform a trusted adult or friend. The long term risks of drug abuse are not worth the short term gains of a study session or high. It is possible to have an occasional abuse habit turn into a physical addiction to the drugs. Before that has a chance to happen, ask for help from a healthcare professional, parent, counselor or adult friend.

Students may abuse ADHD medications if they feel overwhelmed by course loads.
Students may abuse ADHD medications if they feel overwhelmed by course loads.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


Adderall and Ritalin only make you tired and weary. They do not help the brain focus and I have yet to see a study that proves so. It's common sense. I was given several brain scans years ago and when viewed, the results said everything was normal with no abnormalities.

I'm not a doctor, but I know this because it was spelled out by the doctor. I was forced to take the medication by my parents, under the threat and ultimatum of homelessness if I didn't take them. I was a minor with, as someone so aptly put it, no legal rights. At the time I believed it, but one morning I was awakened by two strange men not in uniform but each armed with a gun and other weapons such as mace and flashlights. I was then handcuffed and transported to a mental facility against my will, which is why doctors, especially psychologists, love to prey on helpless kids with no voice like felony child molesters. They are glorified chicken hawks.

Saying that anyone under the age of 18 has no legal rights or medical rights has a lot of truth to it. You cannot be your own legal guardian until a minimum of the age of 17, which is called being an emancipated minor and even then I think the law has to intervene or you have to have your parent's consent to become such.

But to get back to my point. Doctors are making themselves rich off of non-consenting minors and nobody but a few parents care. I love people who think that a pill like Adderall is an enhancement! It would actually do nothing for someone without ADHD, except have a counter effect or adverse effect on you. It does not help people. Do some research.

Like any kind of enhancement or drug, there will be side effects, sometimes extreme side effects.


My son who is in NYC college, is prescribed by his dose of ADHD by his psychiatrist/psychologist. Since he is over 18 we are not consulted. I see him addicted to this drug and screwing up his life. Nobody can do anything.

I know of a family on the west coast going through the same mess with their son. It is high time we take this over diagnosis threat seriously. Maybe this needs to supervised by a team of doctors and not just the psychologist/psychiatrist.


adhd is over diagnosed. half the problem with children today are the parents, in my opinion. They are ignoring their children, not giving them the attention and the love they deserve.

I have personally witnessed this with several of my friends' kids.

It sickens me that these so called doctors, experts and parents medicate their children. Yes, I realize some kids do need meds but more than half could do with a more natural approach. It's disgusting to drug a child and immoral, in my opinion.


Sometimes they do. I did at age 13 and it was wrong of me. Luckily my father quickly caught on to what I was doing and stopped me. Often this can lead to injury or even death when medications such as Ritalin are abused.


Are there any laws to regulate non-practicing medical doctors from writing adhd prescriptions and giving them to their teen aged kids; even if they have no legal medical rights or custody rights.

I have a problem with an anti-social doctor sending drugs through the mail as a gift for my daughter and I am considering a medical board complaint.

Do you have any suggestions?


Adderall and Dexedrine are very popular drugs in schools, from high school to graduate schools. Students try to get diagnosed with ADHD for school so that they can get testing accommodations like longer test taking times which are quite helpful with law school exams which are meant to cram a lot into a short amount of time. For those students who can't get the ADHD meds legally, they get pills from their friends who are diagnosed with it. They say the drug helps them focus intensely and for extended periods of time. Not only is this practice dangerous, but it is unfair to the students who aren't competing through school with chemical enhancements! Since the diagnosis is legit in some people, however, I don't know how school officials and physicians can prevent this sort of abuse.

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