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Using ‘Smart Drugs’ to Study: A Recipe for Failure

College has long been associated by the with wild, alcohol-fueled parties, contrasted with the caffeine-fueled late-night study sessions that come before final exams. And while the prevalence of alcohol on college campuses has certainly led to its own share of problems (or crazy memories, depending on who you ask), a rising problem among college students that is perhaps even more serious is the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs.

While we typically associate prescription drug abuse with individuals who become hooked on painkillers following an intense medical procedure, the prescription drugs of choice among college students are typically abused for very different reasons.

For many college students, their abuse is spurred by the misconception that using certain drugs will help them prepare for studies and perform better on tests, particularly prescription medications such as Adderall or Ritalin.

These drugs are designed to help individuals who suffer from ADHD and similar disorders to remain focused and improve other symptoms of the condition. The focusing effect of the drug that spurs college students to use these substances when it is time to study for an important exam.

To many, the misuse of these substances seems relatively harmless, in large part because these medications are prescribed by medical professionals and are FDA approved. But the truth is that these drugs are far from harmless. Misusing a prescription drug can very easily result in a harmful overdose, as well as contribute to many negative side effects, including elevated blood pressure, organ damage, seizures, stroke and even death.

Studies by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have also linked the misuse of these so-called “study drugs” with other risky behaviors by college students, including binge drinking, use of cocaine and abuse of pain medication. Combining prescription drugs with alcohol or other substances greatly increases one’s risk of a deadly overdose.

The abuse of prescription drugs has been increasing at an alarming rate. A recently-released news story from the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that “non-medical use of stimulants, including Adderall and Ritalin, has more than doubled in the past few years.”

Current estimates indicate that approximately 25 percent of college students have misused prescription drugs—either through taking medications that aren’t prescribed to them, or through taking improper doses of their own medication. This becomes especially problematic as the misuse of these prescription drugs becomes widely accepted among students, while more and more begin to develop an addiction to study drugs.

In an article for USA Today, students noted that regardless of whether or not universities put bans of the drugs into effect, “students would continue to seek out the pills because some can’t focus on school work without them.” While most universities have policies in place regarding use of marijuana, alcohol and illegal drugs, very few have policies in place regarding the use of prescription drugs.

Students that have a prescription for these medications are frequently pressured into selling or giving away their medications—and some are apparently more than willing to supply their fellow classmates with these potentially harmful drugs. And still others have cited physicians who prescribe these drugs to students specifically for studying.

One of the main problems regarding prescription drug abuse among college students is the lack of education on the matter. Many do not realize that sharing prescription medication with others is illegal and potentially dangerous. The truth of the matter is, these drugs are not harmless. They don’t make their users any smarter and can have serious, long-lasting results.

The following infographic, provided by Miramar Recovery Centers, highlights the seriousness of the prescription drug abuse epidemic among college students.



Kevin Johnson is a recent college graduate currently making his living as a writer and social media guru. When not writing or otherwise working, he’s probably enjoying Utah’s mountains or making music with his comedy rap band.