Are You Surprised By the 4 Most Abused Study Drugs?
Study drugs like Adderall and Ritalin are used for non-medical reasons by an estimated 30% of U.S. college and university students who wish to perform better in school. Abuse of prescription stimulants is the second most common form of illicit drug use among U.S. college students next to marijuana use. Reports also show that full-time college students are twice as likely to use Adderall for non-medical reasons than students who do not attend college full-time.
Stimulant drugs are approved for use in treating ADD, ADHD, and narcolepsy. But using these drugs for non-medical reasons is dangerous, and can lead to serious health problems like heart attack, stroke, and addiction. At first glance, prescription stimulants may seem like safe study aids since these drugs are legal, regulated, and prescribed by doctors. But long-term use of stimulants can put undue stress on your central nervous system and major organs and can lead to lifelong problems with dependence and addiction unless you get help.
Are you using prescription stimulants to boost your school or work performance? Here’s what you need to know about the four most abused study drugs, and how they can affect your health, future, and overall livelihood.
Misconceptions About Study Drugs
In a recent study entitled, “Adderall is Definitely Not a Drug: Justifications for the Illegal Use of ADHD Stimulants,” nearly 200 college students were questioned about why they used Adderall without a prescription. Many students believed using Adderall was the same as drinking coffee, and that Adderall was generally safe for anyone to use because the drug is prescribed by doctors. Some students justified their Adderall use by saying it helped them achieve better grades, while others admitted to taking the drug after self-diagnosing for ADHD.
Unfortunately, all these statements and beliefs about Adderall and other study drugs are dangerous misconceptions. For instance, coffee is a natural stimulant comprised mainly of water and coffee beans, while Adderall is comprised of a number of drug ingredients designed in a lab meant to increase levels of brain neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Also, though Adderall may be regulated and prescribed by doctors, the drugs offer a high risk for abuse and can cause adverse side effects in those with certain risk factors like a history of high blood pressure and mental illness.
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The Four Most Abused Study Drugs
Study drugs are central nervous system stimulants that increase the brain’s levels of norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin to help ADHD patients improve memory and concentration, and reduce hyperactive behaviors like excessive talking and fidgeting. But many students who aren’t diagnosed with ADHD are using these drugs without a prescription to enhance their studies — not knowing they’re putting themselves at risk for serious problems down the road.
Here’s what you need to know about the four most abused study drugs in the U.S.
In 2013, over 10% of U.S. college students used Adderall without a prescription within the past year, compared to 6.8% of non-college students. Use of amphetamines like Adderall nearly doubled between 2008 and 2013. Adderall prescriptions more than tripled between 1996 and 2013 — though reports show many of these patients had faked their ADHD symptoms just so they could obtain prescriptions and use the drugs as study aids.
Shire Pharmaceuticals released this amphetamine drug under the brand name Adderall in 1996. The drug is a blend of four different amphetamine salts that stimulate the central nervous system and increase the brain’s release of dopamine. Before Adderall became an FDA-approved medication, amphetamine had been used by U.S. doctors since 1927 to help American military soldiers and pilots stay alert during combat.
A 2011 study found that compared to other stimulant drugs, Adderall may help some people remember explicit details about past events. The drug’s ability to improve long-term conscious memory makes Adderall especially appealing among students who want to remember large amounts of data and information to ace tests and final exams. But using Adderall long-term or without a prescription can have serious adverse health effects, including heart attack and sudden death.
Stimulant drugs like Adderall can increase your blood pressure and heart rate, and raise your body temperature to dangerous, life-threatening levels to increase the risk of stroke and cardiac arrest. Other common side effects of Adderall abuse include insomnia, depression, psychosis, and Adderall addiction.
In 2014, there were 1.6 million people in the U.S. who reported being current users of stimulant drugs like methylphenidate, which is sold under the brand name Concerta. Concerta works similarly to amphetamine drugs like Adderall in how it stimulates the central nervous system, except methylphenidate, focuses on slowly increasing dopamine levels without working to directly increase heart rate and blood pressure.
Methylphenidate was created in 1944 and patented in 1954 to be sold under the brand name Ritalin. A similar drug containing methylphenidate was approved by the FDA and released under the brand name Concerta in 2000. Methylphenidate has been used to treat ADD and ADHD in children since the 1960s.
Unlike Adderall, Concerta does not improve long-term conscious memory, but studies find that low doses of the drug can improve memory and focus. However, using Concerta at high doses can have the opposite effect, and impair concentration and memory. Recent scientific evidence also suggests that methylphenidate can have adverse effects on memory and focus in children and teens even when used at low doses since the developing brains of youth are more sensitive to stimulant drugs.
Using Concerta for non-medical reasons may lead to the development of Tourette’s syndrome and bipolar disorder, and worsen existing behavioral problems. Other adverse side effects associated with illicit Concerta use are nausea, blurred vision, anxiety, and weight loss.
Ritalin is a methylphenidate drug that works exactly the same way as Concerta, except Ritalin is available as an extended-release, sustained-release, or immediate-release tablet, while Concerta is only available as an extended-release tablet. Both drugs are approved by the FDA for use in treating both ADD, ADHD, and narcolepsy.
Ritalin abuse became largely problematic during the 1990s when its manufacturer Novartis started marketing the drug more aggressively to doctors and consumers. Ritalin sales increased by 500% between 1991 and 1999 in the U.S., which now consumes 85% of the world’s entire Ritalin supply. In 1996, a study found that up to 50% of teens at addiction treatment centers used Ritalin for non-medical reasons, while two years later, another study found that nearly 7% of high school freshman had already used Ritalin without a prescription at least one time.
Just like Concerta, Ritalin increases memory, focus, and alertness. Adverse side effects linked to Ritalin abuse include confusion, nausea, chest pain, headaches, anxiety, hallucinations, and seizures. Loss of appetite, weight loss, blurred vision, and Ritalin addiction are other common side effects of Ritalin abuse.
Modafinil is a non-amphetamine stimulant used to treat narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and a shift-work sleep disorder, but statistics show the drug is more commonly used by people who want to feel more alert and benefit from enhanced focus, memory, and motivation. Modafinil, (brand name Provigil) was approved by the FDA in 1998 as a treatment for narcolepsy. But instead of acting directly to increase the brain’s dopamine levels like Adderall, modafinil acts on several different neurotransmitters including dopamine, GABA, and serotonin to boost energy, focus, and memory.
A recent study conducted on modafinil use in the U.S. found that roughly 89% of patients who received prescriptions for the drug between 2002 and 2009 did not have an on-label diagnosis of any type of sleep disorder. Modafinil use in the U.S. also increased 10-fold during that same time period. Another study surveyed modafinil users in 60 different countries to reveal that the majority of these individuals used the drug only as a “study drug,” and that one-third had acquired modafinil illicitly from the Internet without a valid prescription.
Though modafinil is intended for the treatment of sleep disorders, misusing the drug for non-medical reasons or without a prescription can actually have adverse effects on sleep patterns, and worsen insomnia. People who have used modafinil for recreation or for studying have reported that the drug interferes with their natural sleep cycle and circadian rhythm — even when taking the drug hours before bedtime. Other signs and symptoms that indicate modafinil abuse include dry mouth, tense muscles, loss of appetite, and diarrhea or constipation.
Some studies do show that modafinil can enhance a user’s attention span and learning without causing irritability, mood swings, and mood disorders like depression, or without causing euphoria in the same manner as cocaine. In fact, studies show modafinil may even be effective at treating cocaine and amphetamine drug use disorders in that the medication can replace the drug of abuse without causing severe withdrawal symptoms. But at the same time, studies show that long-term use of modafinil can lead to problems with tolerance, dependence, and addiction, and have adverse effects on cognition in children and teens whose brains are still developing. Other severe side effects of modafinil use include peeling skin, difficulty breathing, chest pain, swelling of the face, lips, tongue, and eyes, suicidal thoughts, and overdose.
Trends in Study Drugs
An estimated 4% of teens and young adults in the U.S. misuse study drugs like Adderall and Ritalin. Between 1990 and 2000, use of study drugs containing methylphenidate like Ritalin and Concerta increased five-fold in the U.S. which is found to consume 90% of the world’s methylphenidate. Use of study drugs is most prevalent among teens and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 but decreases gradually as this group becomes older.
In fact, between 2006 and 2011, visits to hospitals in the U.S. involving the non-medical use of Adderall increased by 67%, while emergency room visits increased by 156%. Of those people who were treated for illicit Adderall use, roughly 60% were between the ages of 18 and 25. Additionally, the majority of those individuals had obtained extra Adderall from family and friends, with only two-thirds of those family and friends having valid prescriptions.
While using study drugs may seem like a safe, smart, efficient way to get ahead in school, reports show that students who use stimulant drugs long-term are more likely to earn lower GPAs, and engage in excessive drinking and illicit drug use. Reports also show that illicit use of study drugs can lead to difficulties with paying attention and increase the risk for mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. One study even shows that students who take study drugs end up skipping over 16% of their classes, while non-users skip just under 10% of their classes.
Can’t Stop Using Study Drugs — Help is Available
If you’ve been using study drugs to enhance your academic or career performance, but notice that the drugs have stopped working or that you’re suffering other problems like insomnia, headaches, and mood disorders, it’s possible you may be suffering from addiction. Adderall addiction, Concerta addiction, and addiction to other stimulants can be safely treated at a drug detox center.
Quitting study drugs cold turkey is highly dangerous, and shouldn’t be done on your own without professional help. Stimulant withdrawal symptoms can be both physical and psychological in nature and may be severe enough to increase your risk for complications like seizures, dehydration, paranoia, and violent behavior. But withdrawing from stimulants at a drug detox center allows you to recover safely from your methylphenidate, modafinil, or Adderall addiction under the supervision of licensed medical professionals who can treat your symptoms and reduce the risk for problems.
A detox from study drugs is normally conducted as a medical detox, which involves tapering and/or the use of medications that relieve symptoms and discomfort caused by withdrawal. Tapering is when your doctor reduces your doses of stimulants gradually over time to minimize withdrawal symptoms, which is one of the most common methods used to treat prescription drug addiction. A medical detox may also involve your quitting study drugs cold turkey — except medical staff will monitor your vitals around the clock to make sure you experience the safest and most comfortable recovery possible.
If you feel as though you need study drugs to excel your academic or work performance, consider using healthier and more natural solutions that can give your brain and body the energy and stamina it needs to succeed. Aim to get a minimum of eight hours of quality sleep every night, and eat healthy, whole foods like fruits and vegetables packed with vitamins and nutrients proven to boost cognition, alertness, and energy. Allow yourself to take breaks from studying when needed, and exercise regularly to improve blood flow and circulation, which in turn, can help with memory and concentration.
If you’re struggling with stimulant drug addiction, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-483-2193(Who Answers?) to learn more about your drug detox options. We’ll help you find the nearest drug detox center ready to help you achieve improved health and sobriety from study drugs.