Is Your College Student Taking Drugs?

stressed out college student in library, for article on adhd drug abuse in college

When my son was a freshman in college (years ago – he’s 25 now), he called me during finals week at about this time of year. He was going to a selective, competitive school and he told me that he had taken some ADHD medication to study for an exam. He said that the kids were passing it out to everyone in the dorm where he was studying.

Hmmm. That’s one of those times as a parent that you take a deep breath. Or maybe it’s just that it takes your breath away how stupid smart young people can be. I don’t know. Either way, I was speechless. As I tried to think of what to say and how to say it, my son said something like, “It was great. I could really focus and stay up all night and read everything I needed…”

So, I wondered why he had shared this with me since it would never be something I would approve of. My response was to tell him it was cheating and that it was illegal – a double dose of guilt that moms do so well. And then I told him that since he doesn’t need it, that drugs like that might give him a heart attack or a stroke – bam, hit him with the fear factor.

In retrospect, I was glad that he told me so we could talk about it. I suspect that he might have been trying to get some information, to see if it might be dangerous, or to see if maybe he actually needed Adderall or Ritalin, which I assured him that he didn’t. He knew on some level that it wasn’t a good choice.

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Since it’s very common – according to a study done at the University of Louisville, the numbers are as high 25 percent – for college students to abuse ADHD drugs for study aids, parents should be talking to their kids about it. What would they do if they encountered it being passed around by their peers during a study session as my son did? Do they know friends or acquaintances who have used them to improve their grades?

Using “speed” or some kind of stimulant is not exactly a new phenomenon. I remember taking a history final in college and the guy next to me was writing essays that started on the paper, then went off onto his desk. So half of his answers were written on the desk. He was obviously overstimulated. I do think that kids sharing or selling their prescriptions for ADD and ADHD meds is much more common now. There’s a myth that exists out there that these medications actually DO help students academically. Many parents even believe it. But it’s a myth. Research shows that it actually HURTS a student’s grades rather than helps.

A friend gave me a link to the Texas Christian University Newsletter with an article about college students using stimulants as study aids. It has some great information for all parents of high school and college age students.

There’s another article that appeared in the New York Times on the same subject, only it focused more on high school students. The sad thing is that these students believe that taking stimulants is helping them be more competitive. They believe that it gives them an edge, but the scary thing is that it actually doesn’t give them an edge — it’s a myth that they have come to believe. And if the kids don’t have ADD or ADHD, the drugs can be addictive and dangerous. Here’s the link to the NYT article:

Just because your kids are in college doesn’t make them smart. And just because your kid is smart doesn’t mean he or she won’t do some stupid things. Young people still need us to listen to them and be involved in their lives in appropriate ways.

Categories: Editor’s Blog