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Study Drugs: What Are They and Who Uses Them?

“Study drugs” are a class of prescription medications that some people abuse for recreation, and in order to perform better at school or work. While these medications can be helpful when used exactly as prescribed by a doctor, they can also be very dangerous if used in other ways.

College students are the most likely group of people to abuse these drugs. But exactly what are study drugs, and why are college students abusing them so often?

Here, we will answer all your questions about these potentially lethal substances, including what they are, who uses them, and what can happen when someone misuses study drugs.

What Are Study Drugs?

“Study drugs” is a term used to refer to prescription stimulants. This is a class of drugs that are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Most prescription stimulants are also used to treat narcolepsy, which is a condition that makes people overly sleepy and often causes them to fall asleep randomly and suddenly.

The most common prescription stimulants are:

  • Methylphenidate. This popular prescription stimulant is mainly sold under the brand name Ritalin. Ritalin is a common medication used for the treatment of ADHD. This substance can also be found under the brand name Concerta, which is simply a longer-acting form of the same drug. This drug works by increasing the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine and norepinephrine.
  • Dexmethylphenidate. This drug is basically a more powerful version of Ritalin and Concerta. It is sold under the brand names Focalin and Attenade. A smaller dose of these drugs is needed to produce the same effects as Ritalin or Concerta.
  • Amphetamine. Amphetamine is another powerful prescription stimulant drug. It is mainly sold under the brand name Adderall. Like Methylphenidate, this substance increases levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. These neurotransmitters are key for providing energy and attention capacity, which is why Adderall is used as a treatment for ADHD.

Why Do People Use Study Drugs?

Unfortunately, people with ADHD and narcolepsy who have been prescribed one of these prescription stimulants are not the only ones who use them. By increasing the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain and nervous system, these drugs create a sense of pleasure and reward, as well as increasing focus and attention. Some people abuse prescription stimulants to get high, or to increase their focus.

When it comes to abusing study drugs, college students are the most common offenders. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that college students misuse these drugs in an attempt to do better in school. The focus-enhancing and energizing effects of these substances might make students feel that they can study longer or perform better on tests. The drugs might also help students stay awake longer.

Side Effects of Study Drugs

Students who abuse these “smart drugs” are not considering the potential long-term side effects of their drug use. Instead, they focus on the immediate effects which can include alertness, increased focus, feelings of euphoria, and an overall sense of wellbeing.

However, even in the short-term, the effect of prescription stimulants can be unpleasant or even dangerous. Negative short-term side effects of ADHD medications are:

  • Insomnia
  • Fear
  • Increase in heart rate & blood pressure 
  • Incessant, racing thoughts
  • Headaches
  • Excitability
  • Lack of attention and extreme distractibility
  • Delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia
  • Dizziness
  • Seizures

In addition to these short-term effects, there are many long-term side effects of abusing prescription stimulants. Students and others that frequently take study drugs to enhance their performance in school, or simply to feel good, are at risk of experiencing these effects:

  • Manic episodes
  • Stroke
  • Psychotic behavior
  • Depression
  • Growth suppression in children
  • Physical dependence
  • Heart attack
  • Aggression and hostile behavior

While some students might see study drugs as a quick-fix or shortcut to doing better in school, they usually do not consider the harmful physical and mental health side effects of abusing these powerful drugs. In addition, students usually don’t consider the potential for becoming addicted to prescription stimulants.

Study Drug Addiction

Addiction to study drugs is a serious and common issue. Prescription stimulant drugs are highly addictive when abused. In fact, all the substances that are considered ‘study drugs’ are listed as Schedule II controlled substances by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA says that Schedule II drugs have a “high potential for abuse with severe psychological or physical dependence.” 

Because abuse and addiction are so common, study drugs are particularly dangerous. Despite the dangerous side effects and high addiction rate, prescription stimulants are being used more and more in medicine. Over the past 10 years, it is estimated that the production of these drugs has increased by 9 million percent.

There are many risks and side effects of being addicted to prescription stimulants. Dependence on these powerful medications means an increased tolerance, which makes a lethal overdose more likely. With heavy long-term use, all of the adverse side effects listed above are even more likely to take place.

How Do Students Get Study Drugs?

Most people who abuse study drugs are not prescribed the substances by a doctor. So how do students and others who abuse these drugs obtain them? The answer is pretty disturbing. 

Recently, we have seen the opioid crisis sweeping the nation. New laws and restrictions have been put in place to limit the number of people who are trying to get prescriptions to feed their own addiction, or who might be selling their prescription to other abusers. So how does this relate to prescription stimulant abuse?

The answer is simple. In one study of over 10,000 college students, researchers found that 50 percent of college students with study drug prescriptions were asked to sell the medications to peers. Nearly all of the students on college campuses who abuse study drugs obtain them from other students who have a prescription.

With laws that are more lenient than those around opioid prescriptions, students are able to obtain these drugs from others with a prescription.

Treatment for Study Drug Addiction

The best treatment for abuse of these medications is to educate potential users before they develop a problem. Many students misuse prescription stimulants because they believe the drugs will help them perform at a higher level in school.

They do not understand the risks associated with study drugs or the potential for addiction that these drugs carry. For these reasons, the best tool and first line of defense against study drug abuse is to educate at-risk populations, such as college students, about the dangers of these substances.

If you or someone you know has been unfortunate enough to become addicted to prescription stimulants, there is still hope. While an addicted person might claim that they have the situation ‘under control’, remember that prescription stimulants are Schedule II drugs and addiction should not be taken lightly.

The best place to start when looking for help with a study drug addiction is a treatment center. Here, patients can get all the drugs out of their system in a safe environment where relapse is not likely. Then, professional staff will help them begin the process of recovery in a controlled and safe space. 

Do not take prescription stimulant abuse lightly. Call a treatment center today to get the problem under control and avoid a fatal overdose.


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