It’s a sad reality that Adderall and other stimulant drugs – commonly prescribed to treat ADHD –double as “study drugs” used for boosting performance in school. Now emergency room visits from the abuse have risen significantly among young adults.

Research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that misuse of Adderall, for instance, had been highest among those ages 18 to 25, who mostly obtain the drug from loved ones or friends without a doctor’s prescription. This veers away from the popular belief that Adderall abuse most commonly occurs among older kids and adolescents.

The 18-25 age group accounts for 60 percent of non-medical Adderall use for ages 12 and above.

“In college, especially, these drugs are used as study-aid medication to help students stay up all night and cram,” warns study author and mental health professor Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, calling for greater education on the serious adverse effects and long-term consequences of using the drugs.

The brand name for dextroamphetamine-amphetamine, Adderall is usually prescribed for ADHD, narcolepsy and related disorders. While it does improve focus, says Mojtabai, it can also disrupt sleep and lead to serious cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure and stroke.

The drug may also lead to a greater risk for mental health issues, such as depression, bipolar disorder and aggressive tendencies.

The team examined 2006 to 2011 data, noting a higher rate of misuse and emergency room visits – climbing 67 percent and 156 percent respectively – related to Adderall use despite the unchanging number of prescriptions. This suggests illegal or inappropriate access to the stimulant.

“[It could be] the result of diversion, people taking medication that is legitimately prescribed to someone else,” explains first author Dr. Lian-Yu Chen of this trend.

These stimulant drugs should be watched the same way authorities have started monitoring prescription painkillers in recent years, advises Mojtabai. A physician, he says, should be able to check in a database if the patient is actually getting multiple drugs from different doctors – a red flag for abuse or diversion.

The researchers emphasize that these ADHD drugs are not harmless study aids.

“[T]here can be serious health risks and they need to be more aware,” adds Mojtabai.

The findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

A previous study discovered that college students justified their use of stimulant medications in a number of ways, including improved intellectual performance.

"We discovered that these students frame stimulant use as both physically harmless and morally acceptable," the authors write, noting that many were unaware of the side effects.

Photo: Tony Webster | Flickr

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