As students from high school to university head back to school for a new semester this September, it is important to highlight a rising trend: the abuse of “study drugs.” While you won’t see kindergarteners taking these drugs, high school and college students are increasingly at risk of abusing them.

What Are Study Drugs?

Adderall and Ritalin are the most well-known study drugs. These prescription medications are intended to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD). Individuals with ADD/ADHD struggle to concentrate on one task and are easily distracted. The main difference between ADD and ADHD is that the latter includes symptoms of hyperactivity. These stimulants, also known as cognitive enhancers, help those with ADD/ADHD to focus normally on tasks, including schoolwork.

Increase in ADHD Diagnoses

Since the 1970s, there has been ongoing debate about whether doctors are too quick to diagnose children as having ADHD. In the U.S., some states report that up to 18% of children between 4 and 17 years of age have been diagnosed with ADHD, leading to a significant number of youngsters in schools who have access to these medications​​.

Non-Prescription Use Among Students

At some point, students without ADHD tried these medications and discovered they provided increased energy, alertness, and the ability to power through study sessions more effectively. What aids students with ADHD to study at a regular level is believed to help other students achieve an above-average performance. Under academic pressure, the likelihood of students misusing these drugs rises significantly​​​

Recent Trends

A 2020 study reported that approximately 6.6% of college students in the U.S. have used prescription stimulants non-medically in the past year​​. Similarly, the 2022 Monitoring the Future survey indicated that about 3.5% of 12th graders reported misusing Adderall in the past year​

Health Risks and Legal Consequences

Abusing study drugs can lead to severe psychiatric and physical dependence, especially in those not diagnosed with ADHD/ADD. Withdrawal can cause fatigue, depression, and disturbed sleep patterns. Long-term misuse can result in cardiovascular issues, anxiety, paranoia, and in severe cases, psychosis​

Additionally, using prescription drugs without a prescription is illegal. In the U.S., Adderall and Ritalin are classified as Schedule II substances, putting them in the same category as cocaine, methamphetamine, and morphine​

Efforts to Combat Misuse

Educational institutions are increasing awareness programs about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Some colleges collaborate with healthcare providers to monitor prescriptions and reduce illegal distribution on campuses. Initiatives also promote alternative ways to manage academic stress and improve focus, such as time management workshops, counseling services, and mindfulness training​


The misuse of study drugs like Adderall and Ritalin among students remains a pressing issue, driven by academic pressures and the perceived benefits of enhanced concentration and performance. This misuse poses significant health risks and legal consequences. Addressing this problem requires comprehensive efforts, including awareness, stricter prescription monitoring, and enhanced mental health support for students.

If you suspect that someone you know is abusing “study drugs”, pass along this information. Grades are important – but what’s more important is your health (and staying out of jail). If you know someone who has an addiction problem, contact a professional for guidance on how to handle the situation properly, and get them the help they need.

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