Running on Ritalin: Abuse Rises on Campus

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Summary & Participants

With pressures at their highest, many college students are turning to prescription stimulant drugs like Ritalin and Adderall to give them an edge. What's driving this dangerous trend?

Medically Reviewed On: July 21, 2012

Webcast Transcript

STUDENT: At the end of the semester I had one paper left to write, and at that point I was just ready to be done with everything and go home, but I had this paper to write.

ANNOUNCER: It's a common complaint among students: "There's too much work and too little time." And that pressure can make it tough to focus in the crunch. But for some students, coffee is not longer enough to get through an all-nighter.

STUDENT: So there was this pill sort of staring me in the face that I had put on my desk. And I took it, and four hours later I had my paper done.

ANNOUNCER: Students refer to them as jollies, Vitamin R or bennies. But only recently have college officials realized that more and more students are turning to prescription stimulants to give them an academic edge.

HENRY CHUNG, MD: Many college students report that they know of other college students who have used stimulant drugs particularly for academic reasons. And I think this is of some degree of concern, particularly since many of these students are doing it in medically unsupervised conditions.

ANNOUNCER: Drugs such as Ritalin and Adderal are typically prescribed to focus the overactive mind of a person with attention deficit disorder, which is most frequently seen in children. But in healthy college students, stimulant drugs may have dangerous side effects.

HENRY CHUNG, MD: Students may have some kind of manic reaction or a seizure that could occur from taking these medications. Heart rate can speed up. Blood pressure can increase. And if you have some vulnerability to these diseases, you can then have side effects related to those kinds of issues.

ANNOUNCER: One recent study has found that unauthorized prescription stimulant use has risen three percent in one year. And, surprisingly, these drugs are most commonly abused in highly-competitive colleges of the northeastern United States.

HENRY CHUNG, MD: Students and parents have gotten the message over the past decade that the minimum requirement for success is a college degree, and at a prestigious university.

ANNOUNCER: But experts say drug abuse as a reaction to academic pressure may reveal something else.

HENRY CHUNG, MD: It is possible that a student who feels that they may need to use this drug to improve their performance actually does have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, in which case they can be clinically diagnosed and then properly treated and have their treatment supervised by a professional.

ANNOUNCER: Unfortunately, the abuse of these drugs persists as a way for students to get through the pressures they face every day.

STUDENT: As wonderful it is that we can do research at 3:00 in the morning, at some random library and have access to this information, at the same time, teachers can also e-mail us at 11:30 at night saying, "Oh, hey, guess what. I want you to read this by noon tomorrow, and be ready for that." So, lines are never drawn for when you can say, "I am done for today."

ANNOUNCER: In the end, the best remedy for this constant stress may not come in the form of a pill, but in a little perspective. College, after all, is only a small part of your life