Prescription Study Drugs: What Your Campus Needs to Know

Posted by Josh Young on 18 July 2017 |

"The immense pressure put on students by parents and educators has made taking speed a socially acceptable thing."prescription study drugs

This statement was made by a 20-year-old student and posted by The New York Times as part of a collection of personal stories regarding the use of "study drugs" by high school and college students.

Study (or focus) drugs are prescription medications that are misused by students for academic advantage, allowing them to artificially increase their concentration or stamina for studying. And unfortunately, the abuse of these medications is becoming far too commonplace. 

One multi-institutional survey conducted by Ohio State University (OSU) found that 18.6 percent of undergraduate and 11.8 percent of graduate students had taken prescription stimulants for non-medical reasons. And the most commonly cited motivation -- 84.9 percent of responses -- was to study or improve grades.

Comparatively, only 10.2 percent of undergraduate and 6.1 percent of graduate students had misused pain medications (predominately to relieve pain or get high).

Where Are Students Getting Study Drugs?

According to the OSU study, 82.6 percent of students using study drugs obtained the medication from a friend versus 10.1 percent who purchased the medication from a "drug dealer." Similarly, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases found that 62 percent of college students with a valid prescription for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) medication were diverting at least some of these drugs to their fellow students.

What are the Consequences Students Face?

The OSU study found that these drugs can, in fact, help with educational performance, with 63 percent of users citing a positive impact on their grades and academic achievements. But these gains come at a cost. 

The same group of students also noted that abuse of study drugs led to depression (9 percent), emotional problems (9 percent), withdrawal symptoms (8 percent), and regretful decisions (7 percent).

Some of the most commonly used study drugs (along with potential side effects of abuse) include:

  • Adderall, which can cause anxiety, aggressive behavior, paranoia
  • Ritalin, which can cause insomnia, heart damage, abnormal blood pressure
  • Concerta which can cause psychotic behavior and poor impulse control
  • Focalin which can cause hallucinations and seizures
  • Vyvanse which can cause weight loss, fainting, heart attack, stroke
  • Modafinil which can cause depression, fatigue, cognitive difficulties
  • Caffeine pills which can cause tremors, chest pains, neurological symptoms 

How Do You Know When a Student is in Trouble?

Some common signs that a student is abusing prescription medication (or other drugs) and might need outside help are:

  • Reduced interest in class or a sudden drop in academic performance
  • Withdrawal from friends or previously enjoyed activities
  • Increased incidents of high-risk behavior or self-harm
  • Unexplained shifts in behavior or personality
  • Drastic changes in weight or sleeping patterns
  • Uncharacteristic mood swings, depression, or irritability 

What Can Your Campus Do?


One of the best ways you can fight the abuse of study drugs -- or any drugs for that matter -- on your campus is to educate students on the side effects and dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.

Implement mandatory training programs that make them aware not only of the medical risks but that also highlight the far-reaching impact that abuse can have, such as the connection between intoxicants and sexual assault or the dangers of driving under the influence.

Beyond simply discouraging drug use, any educational program should also encourage healthy living habits and equip students to make more positive life choices. Consider offering seminars on effective study habits and time management strategies, thereby removing some of the primary motivations that students have for abusing study drugs. 

Offer support

Students on your campus are already struggling with substance abuse, so provide them with counseling services or support groups to help them overcome these challenges.

 Ideally, these programs can be managed via your school's health services program, but if the resources are unavailable, coordinate with outside advocacy groups and non-profits to bring programs onto your campus.


Given that the legitimate use of these medications by your students is unlikely to go away, the temptation to abuse study drugs will be an ongoing reality for your campus. But by educating and empowering your students to make healthy, well-thought-out life choices, your school can help mitigate the long-term damage that substance abuse can have on their academic careers and personal lives.

 To learn more about how we can work with your campus to build an effective alcohol and drug abuse prevention program, request a demo of our services today.


comments powered by Disqus

Request a Demo

We're sorry but the selected page is no longer available, we've redirected you to our Prescription Study Drugs: What Your Campus Needs to Know page.