Talking with Your Student About Study Drugs
While alcohol still tops the list of substance abuse problems among college students, the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs is a growing problem. According to a 2011 survey, 12 percent of UW–Madison students reported using prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them within the last year.
In particular, Adderall and similar stimulants (aka “study drugs” or “smart pills”), which are generally prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), are becoming common study aids on college campuses. Students who don’t need the drug for medical reasons are turning to these stimulants to stay alert and focused during tests and late-night study sessions; some also combine Adderall with alcohol to stay up late partying or use the drug to aid in weight loss.
The use of these drugs can lead to serious medical consequences, not to mention legal and academic implications.
“We’re talking about a drug that is similar to cocaine in terms of its high potential for abuse and addiction,” says Eric Heiligenstein, a University Health Services (UHS) psychiatrist. “The side effects depend on the person, but these medications can be very dangerous — and sometimes fatal — when mixed with other drugs or alcohol.“
Side effects of Adderall can include depression, shortness of breath, stroke, heart attack, seizures, hallucinations, and addiction, among many others. Additionally, obtaining, selling or distributing prescription drugs may result in significant fines and jail time and/or disciplinary sanctions for university misconduct.
Although students perceive Adderall to be a quick and easy fix to help them focus and be more productive, there is no evidence that ADHD drugs help students get better grades. In fact, Adderall may only make them feel more productive, rather than actually improving their productivity.
“[Students] think that the only way they can study and pass their tests is if they take the drug, and that can lead to a dangerous cycle of abuse,” Heiligenstein says. “Learning to manage their time and stress, and seeking academic or mental health help when needed, are better bets when it comes to getting good grades. And these are skills that they’ll use throughout the rest of their lives.”
Just as we encourage you to talk to your students about alcohol, we encourage you to do the same about prescription drugs such as Adderall. And with finals and looming project deadlines right around the corner, there is no better time than the present.
Check out these tips for getting the conversation started:
- Start an ongoing conversation, not a one-time speech on drug use. Students aren’t likely to bring up the topics, but they’ll listen if you do.
- Encourage your student to think about how drug use can affect his or her life in the short and long run; there are health risks and legal consequences.
- Ask your student what he or she would do if offered prescription drugs or if a roommate is taking them.
- Stay involved. Call, write, or send e-mails frequently. Find out how your student is doing. Encourage your student to seek help if he or she is having trouble managing stress or other health issues.
- If you suspect your student may have a problem, address it immediately. If you’d like advice on how to talk to your son or daughter, UHS can help. Visit www.uhs.wisc.edu or call 608-265-5600.
- And finally, if you have an incoming or current student who is being treated for ADHD, talk about the risks of sharing or selling medication. See the UHS website for more information about transferring care to UHS.