College-aged students are the largest demographic to misuse attention deficit hyperactivity disorder medication, according to a recent study.
The study, done by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Mental Health and published in 2016, shows that those between the ages of 18 and 25 account for 60 percent of ADHD medication misuse for those 12 and up, and that misusing the drug has been leading to more emergency room visits.
The researchers looked at data from 2006 to 2011, which showed that emergency room visits for those 18 and older increased about 156 percent and non-medical use rose about 67 percent. These percentages rose despite an unchanging number in prescriptions, suggesting illegal or inappropriate access to the medication.
Misusing ADHD medication can lead to negative side effects such as disrupted sleep and cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure and stroke. Other side effects come from combining the medication with alcohol, according to Duke Engel, a psychotherapist from the University Health Center’s Counseling and Psychological Services.
Because alcohol is naturally a depressant and ADHD medication is a stimulant, Engel said the combination has results that are unpredictable.
While there’s been no real studies on the effect of alcohol and ADHD medication combined, Engel said there are three common outcomes he’s seen from talking to clients or reading blog sites.
The combination can cause students to consume more alcohol or consume it for a longer period of time. But the medication eventually wears off, he said, making them more intoxicated than expected.
“So this drug that’s been keeping them up is now gone out of their system,” Engel said. “They just find themselves so drunk and maybe blacked out or maybe doing things that they normally would never do, even if they were intoxicated.”
Engel has also seen of people blacking out when combining the ADHD medication and alcohol.
The third side effect is extreme hangovers.
“Everything seems to go okay, and the person goes to bed but wakes up with the worst hangover than what they would normally have,” he said.
A student must go through a full screening to get ADHD medication from the health center, Engel said.
“There’s been so many requests for screening for ADHD that unless it’s during the summer, we often times refer that ADHD screening out to different psychologists in the community that are qualified to do ADHD screening,” he said.
If a student is diagnosed with ADHD, then they can bring the test results back to CAPS to see a psychiatric provider and get a prescription. Even with so many steps put in place to get the medication, it’s not uncommon for the drug to be used by those without a prescription.
Engel said, “a large number of students have at least tried ADHD medication” as a way to study, usually when they’re cramming for a test.
“They want to stay up and cram and try to stay focused for long hours to get ready for a test or to get a project done,” he said. “So a large number of students have done that at least once.”
Engel said students most often buy the medication or have a friend give them the drug.
“It’s illegal but that happens,” he said. “It absolutely happens on all campuses.”
That’s not to say that the medication is bad itself.
Engel said that for the large number of students with ADHD who have been prescribed medicine like Adderall, it can be “a lifesaver.”
“It has allowed them to function in school and to be successful in school when normally their ADHD would have caused significant problems that might have even caused them to fail,” he said. “So we do not want to give anyone the impression that we think that ADHD medication is a bad thing.”
Veva Cheney, the director of Services for Students with Disabilities, said the office’s highest demographic of registered students are those with ADHD: 223 of the 769 – about 29 percent of students they assisted last semester – had ADHD.
The office offers students with ADHD extended time on tests and a distraction-reduced testing environment, two resources Cheney said has helped students.
“Sometimes they’ll say, ‘If I can take my test without 150 people around me, I could get done in the same period of time.’ A lot of times the distractions are a problem,” she said.
SDD also offers students with ADHD the ability to use a laptop or tape recorder in class, PowerPoint presentations before classes and notes taken by other students.
“We’re still expecting the student to take some notes, but sometimes they can’t get everything so they’re merging somebody else’s notes into theirs,” Cheney said.
While the office serves 233 students with ADHD, Cheney said there’s an even larger percentage of students with ADHD who aren’t registered with SDD for a variety of reasons.
“I have seen students that will say ‘Once I was diagnosed and I got on medication, I could focus and I really didn’t need these services,’” she said.