Let’s face it, when you’re in college the pressure to perform is on. Many students are trying to get an edge by using stimulant drugs, a problem that has long been recognized. Now a study by Massachusetts General Hospital says that these students are also those most likely to have a “clinically relevant psychiatric dysfunction”. Most worrying of all, the overuse of stimulants meets or even exceeds the criteria for stimulant us disorder. That is to say, stimulants aren’t just a crutch; they represent a genuine drug problem.
The results of the study, which were published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, included a finding that apart from ADHD, students who abused stimulants were also more likely to have alcohol and other drug abuse issues, or conduct disorders.
When helpful drugs turn harmful
Stimulants are often prescribed for ADHD, and about 8% of students who make it to college suffer from the disorder, but students aren’t abiding by prescription doses, and many students who use stimulants have no prescriptions at all. Science Daily reports that another study concluded that nearly two thirds of college students are offered stimulants, and just under one third choose to go ahead and use them.
Getting a more accurate picture
Earlier studies have relied on college students’ responses to questionnaires. Researchers say that respondents may report that they have never had a substance use disorder; but by using personal interviews with qualified personnel, people who don’t think they have a problem when they actually do, can be identified.
Of the 300 students who participated in the study, 100 had misused stimulants at least once, and 67 had stimulant use disorders. These students were referred for counselling. Students who used ADHD medications on a prescription basis, taking the recommended dose, were not considered to be “misusers”.
Study undercovers a variety of issues among stimulant misusers
ADHD was much more frequently found in the group of students who misused stimulants, but that wasn’t the only problem the study identified. Drug and alcohol abuse, the use of a combination of drugs and alcohol, and reported lack of well-being were much more prevalent among college stimulant misusers. Researchers say they weren’t surprised by the result, since untreated ADHD is known to increase the likelihood of substance abuse and substance disorders in general.
Students can get hooked on pills, change brain chemistry, or even die
Apart from an increased risk of getting involved with other substance issues, including being eight times more likely to use cocaine later on, the stimulants themselves are addictive. Starting one’s career with an addiction problem, is hardly the best start in life. But getting hooked is the least of your concerns if you are using stimulants. These pharmaceuticals come with a warning of serious, and even fatal risks.
Many students fail to realize just how dangerous these drugs can be. When doctors prescribe them, they have to balance risks against possible benefits, but because these are legitimate pharmaceuticals, a lot of students think they are absolutely harmless. Students who use ADHD medicines without a medical need to do so, could be rewiring their brains in a way that makes them more susceptible to addiction. The brain starts needing more and more stimulation in order to activate the reward centers that tell us we’re feeling good, paving the way for a future cycle of addiction.
Side effects of stimulants include an increased tendency towards psychosis, and suicidal thinking as a result of stimulant abuse has led students to commit suicide in the past. Worst of all, experts say that changes occur on a genetic level, and that means a greater chance of having kids with problems.
How college students can excel without stimulants
Unless students have a real, medical need for stimulants, and are able to use them responsibly in accordance with doctors’ orders, they should avoid using them at all. There are even those who say stimulants are overprescribed, so it’s worth getting a second opinion if you are a medical stimulant user. The main reason why students abuse these drugs is to stay awake for all-night study session, and these shouldn’t be necessary. Avoid last-minute exam panic:
- Set up a timetable for academic work and relaxation and stick to it.
- Study every day, reviewing class work and updating notes. This helps knowledge to sink in right away, so you only need to revise for tests.
- Prioritize your studies and spend more time on subjects you find difficult to master.
- Attend all your classes and pay careful attention. If you miss a class, catch up on the work that was covered as soon as you can.
- Don’t leave assignments and studying for the night before.
- Get help from lecturers and fellow-students if you see you are struggling.
If the thought of studying without stimulants seems impossible, you may already have a problem. Go for counselling right away. See a doctor who specializes in addiction if you suspect you may be a stimulant addict.