Substance abuse in college is not limited to alcohol and illegal drugs. In fact, some of the most widely abused drugs on college campuses can be legally obtained. Prescription drugs are readily available in most households and many students use stimulants to improve academic performance. One in five college students report having misused prescription stimulants at least once and over half indicated that they were easy to obtain without a prescription. In fact, 58 percent of students surveyed indicated that their friends abused prescription stimulants and 28 percent of students with a legally prescribed prescription share them with their friends. Of those with a prescription, 52 percent reported feeling pressured to share or sell their medications with others, allowing their friends to continue with college stimulant abuse.
The accessibility of prescription stimulants, coupled with the normalization of misuse, has led to a culture of substance abuse and addiction. Misuse of prescription drugs has grown exponentially as students try to find ways to perform better both academically and socially. Approximately 50 percent of students report using prescription drugs to achieve better academic results, 41 percent use them to stay awake, and 24 percent use them to improve their performance at work. While those who abuse stimulants often feel justified in their actions, it actually highlights a larger problem. Students are not equipped to handle stressors and responsibilities without substances, and many are misinformed about the consequences associated with prescription drug use. Rather than improving their performance, students are actually hindering themselves physically and mentally, while simultaneously putting themselves at risk for addiction and overdose.
The Dangers of Stimulant Drug Abuse
Although stimulants are prescribed by doctors, that does not make them safer than other substances. This is especially true when taking medications that are prescribed for someone else. Even those who are taking their own medication in any way other than how it is prescribed put themselves at increased risk. All medications have risks associated with use and can potentially lead to life-long problems. Misuse of prescription medication can cause:
- Heart attack
- Organ damage
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Difficulty breathing
Students who misuse prescription drugs are also more likely to engage in other unhealthy behaviors. Studies have shown that students who misuse medications used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) are more likely to be binge drinkers or heavy alcohol consumers. These same students are also more likely to abuse marijuana, cocaine, tranquilizers, and prescription pain relievers. This is due to the fact that misuse of prescription drugs can lead to the development of tolerances and dependency. Over time, continued misuse of prescription drugs can cause users to rely on higher doses to achieve the same effects. This can cause students to change their drug of choice and developing substance abuse problems.
Addressing Prescription Stimulant Abuse
College students misuse prescription medications for a variety of reasons. This may include:
- Improving grades
- Reduce stress
- Feel good
- Ease anxiety surrounding social situations
- Improved academic performance
- Distraction from problems
Students often operate under the assumption that everyone is engaging in specific behaviors and in order to fit in, they must do so as well. Peer pressure—combined with ease of access to substances—can make it incredibly easy for students to succumb to substance abuse.
Identifying early signs of abuse is key to addressing the problem before it starts. If a person is observed using higher dosages of medication without direction, using it more compulsively, or unable to complete activities without assistance from drugs, it can indicate there is a larger problem developing. In order to better address these problems, it is important to help students find ways to cope with stressors more effectively. Rather than relying on drugs, students must develop better time management skills and identify ways they can address their issues in healthy ways.
It is also important to educate students about the risks associated with prescription drug abuse. Lack of information regarding the safety of prescription medication can put students at risk for abuse and addiction. Any medications in the home must be monitored and safeguarded to ensure they are not being misused, and any medications that are no longer being used must be safely disposed of.
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