Prescription drug abuse has risen across multiple demographics in recent years. While the recent rise in painkiller abuse has taken the spotlight, rates of stimulant abuse continues to be a cause for concern, particularly among adolescents and college students. Study drugs are one of the commonly abused prescription stimulants. Stimulant abuse is a continuing problem as students feel pressure to perform and rely on these drugs to improve their academic performance. Prescription drugs are misused for a variety of reasons. Students may self-medicate for anxiety or depression, try to improve their concentration, induce sleep, or increase their energy levels in order to manage their responsibilities.
While stereotypes and pop culture often depict college students abusing a variety of substances, prescription drugs—specifically stimulant medications—are some of the most frequently misused. Much of this is fueled by misconceptions surrounding the safety of these medications and perceived positive side effects associated with use. Many young adults are under the impression that using stimulant medications is safe because they have observed their peers use them under the care of a doctor and have witnessed the results; however, these medications—when taken in any way other than as prescribed or by any other person than for whom they were prescribed—can have dangerous, unforeseeable consequences.
The Abuse of Prescription Stimulants
When taken as prescribed, prescription stimulants can have a calming and focusing effect on an individual. Used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), these medications can often improve a person’s ability to think, focus, and have successful social interactions. These are desirable outcomes, and some people who are not prescribed stimulants may believe that taking these medications will improve these areas in their lives as well. In fact, a growing number of adolescents and young adults are misusing prescription stimulants because they believe it will boost their study performance, their grades, and their ability to learn and retain information. While prescription stimulants may improve wakefulness, the medications do not actually enhance a person’s learning or thinking ability when taken by those who do not have ADHD. In fact, research shows that those who abuse prescription stimulants actually perform worse academically as compared to their peers who do not abuse the drugs.
Abuse of prescription stimulants can cause numerous side effects that range in severity. Some of these depend on the way in which the drug is used. While many will simply consume the pills, others may crush and snort them or mix them with water to inject them. When taken in any way other than oral consumption, stimulants can cause levels of dopamine in the brain is increase rapidly, similar to the effects of methamphetamine. This can increase the risk of developing addiction. Regardless of the method in which they are used, stimulants increase blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature while simultaneously decreasing a person’s appetite and ability to sleep. This can lead to the development of malnutrition, feelings of hostility and paranoia, and cardiovascular complications, including stroke.
Without medical supervision, misuse of prescription stimulants can often lead to addiction. This is true even in cases where an individual may be prescribed the medicine, but takes it any way other than how it is prescribed. When abused chronically, suddenly stopping use of stimulants can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms including depression, fatigue, and disturbed sleep patterns, which can make it difficult for a person to stop using on their own.
Treating Prescription Drug Abuse
College students often share their prescription drugs with one another for nonmedical purposes. Much of this sharing occurs because students may want to “help” their friends and believe that there are no negative repercussions associated with use, especially when compared to “street” drugs. Since the medications are provided through a prescription from a doctor and have therapeutic benefits, many falsely believe there are no consequences associated with their use. For this reason, education surrounding the misuse of prescription stimulants is one of the first issues that must be tackled in addressing this growing problem.
Students must be educated about the risks associated with misuse of prescription medications for recreational purposes, academic reasons, or as a means of self-medication. Legitimate prescription drugs can still cause dangerous side effects, and their misuse is illegal. Students not only put themselves in physical danger, but also in danger of facing legal repercussions as a result of prescription drug abuse. When taken as prescribed, these medications can provide numerous benefits. However, prolonged misuse of these medications can lead to withdrawal or overdose. In fact, prescription drugs are responsible for an overwhelming number of overdose deaths in the United States. These factors make education surrounding the safety of prescription drugs critical.