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Your student’s list of accolades includes a place on the Dean’s List and a covetable leadership position in his fraternity. He is performing better in school and maintaining a work-study position.

He is motivated. He is a leader. However, with the pressure facing high-achieving students, he could also be using illegal drugs as a performance enhancer.

Adderall abuse has become a national epidemic on college campuses. A recent study cited in The Washington Post states that 18 percent of students from an unnamed Ivy League school admitted to abusing a prescription stimulant. 

This phenomenon isn’t reserved for Ivy League schools. “Use of these performance enhancing stimulant drugs is an issue universities are dealing with nationally,” Southern Methodist University (SMU) Counselor Jan McCutchin said.

McCutchin explained the range of reasons students take Adderall: “Some students use these drugs to party, some ‘borrow or buy’ the medications from friends with prescriptions to study or get work done, and some students seek out doctors with liberal prescribing practices and use them or sell them as they feel they need it.”

Of course, using Adderall is not always negative. With a prescription, Adderall helps students with attention deficit disorder stay focused. The pills counteract the effects of ADD or ADHD by allowing the executive functions in the brain to function properly.

If a student takes Adderall without an ADD/ADHD diagnosis, it over-stimulates the functions in his brain. Without doctor’s supervision, this could cause a dangerous drug interaction and other health issues.

Health concerns aside, possessing Adderall without a prescription is a felony crime. In comparison, possessing marijuana is only a misdemeanor. That means a few pills in your student’s pocket could put him in jail.

Moodiness is One Sign of Adderall Abuse

Although the signs of stimulant drug abuse are covert, they do exist. According to McCutchin, signs of abusing Adderall or similar substances include the following:

Drug-seeking behavior





Mood swings




Addiction to alcohol or other drugs

Students Get Hooked On The High

This may not register with students, but taking Adderall without a doctor’s prescription is considered drug abuse among school and law officials. In addition to educating students about the dangerous stimulant drug abuse, colleges are evaluating the reason they feel compelled to take the “study drug.” McCutchin explained that students see others abusing Adderall and think, “Why not try it?”  

“The school is being as proactive as it can be [in educating students about Adderall abuse],” McCutchin said. “Overall, if students take it without side effects, they don’t see why not to do it. It’s an interesting phenomenon.”

Similar to the steroid epidemic in college and professional sports, some students see taking Adderall as a way to “level the field” in the classroom. They’re competing against students on Adderall for scholarships and jobs. To them, it only seems fair to take performance enhancers, too.

However, while they may make a higher GPA, students who abuse Adderall risk developing a mental need for a “crutch.” They feel like they need help to perform well, whether that’s in school now or in their career later. Sometimes, the more stimulants a student takes, the more he feels like he needs.

“Students are state-dependent learners and may not have optimal ability to recall or retrieve information that was learned under the influence of a stimulant, when not on the stimulant,” McCutchin explained.

Adderall Could Serve As A Gateway Drug

Taking Adderall comes with short-term risks that affect students’ health. McCutchin said, “Elevated blood pressure, heart palpitations, interactions with other drugs like anti-depressants and antacids and drinking higher amounts when under the influence are problems that can occur.”

She continued to explain the dangers of this drug: “It exacerbates anxiety, some eye conditions (glaucoma) and is a Schedule II drug that is habit forming if not used for its intended purpose under the monitoring of a doctor.”

Adderall is an amphetamine, and, as noted in a Huffington Post article, “Amphetamine causes the release of dopamine and norepinephrine, stress chemicals that make people feel alert, powerful and impulsive, and the high can come on like a rush of invincibility.”

That means young students, those who may already be plagued with a feeling of invincibility, feel like they can do anything. They will stay up for 48 hours to study, mix Adderall with alcohol and other drugs or use the stimulant to shrink their appetites.

Students believe they can abuse this drug without any consequences. And once students are hooked on Adderall, they’re often addicted to this “invincible feeling,” which can be recreated by taking other drugs. This is why Adderall abuse has been considered a gateway drug to other substance abuse.

When students attempt to withdrawal, they often suffer from depression, extreme lack of focus and irritability. The Huffington Post article states, “Long-term amphetamine addicts also report anhedonia, or the inability to feel a sense of enjoyment or pleasure without the aid of some chemical stimulant, which can linger for long periods after quitting.”

Popping A Few Pills Could Put Your All-A Student In Jail

McCutchin says educating your children, whether they have a prescription or not, is the first step to preventing this drug abuse. It’s important to discuss the dangers of this drug and its possible interactions.

Parents should also warn their students that many universities view this drug abuse as cheating. Being caught with the pills and no prescription may warrant university discipline. “Every college is looking at it and the unfair advantage it’s giving students who are using without a diagnosis,” McCutchin said.

Another step in preventing stimulant drug abuse is to discuss the academic pressures your student is facing. Some students are high-achievers by nature – others are acclimating to a stressful environment. Students and their parents must ask themselves how far they are willing to go to make the grade. 

When other preventative measures fail, remind your students this is illegal. McCutchin said, “If it is not prescribed and monitored by a doctor, it is against the law to use and can lead to serious negative consequences.”

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