Several recent studies reveal that American college students, graduate students, even college professors and research scientists, are taking prescription stimulants to boost focus and concentration while studying or working.
Called ‘study drugs’, ‘brain dope’, ‘academic steroids’, and several other catchy names by students, amphetamines and related methylphenidates such as Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta and Modafinil are in wide and common use on campuses across the country.
Students and professors are now openly discussing their frequent use of these Central Nervous System (CNS) stimulants, admitting that on most college campuses the drugs are widely available without prescription. Students say the drugs are easily obtained either from friends with prescriptions, or from dozens of shady internet pharmacies with lax prescription requirements.
Study drugs are illegal without a prescription, and only approved for specific conditions. The most commonly approved uses, depending on the drug, include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, sleep apnea and several others. All other uses, such as for studying, are ‘off label’.
Study drugs are known to create health problems and dependencies. When abused, or when consumed by someone with an existing health problem, CNS drugs can lead to injury, hospitalization, even sudden death. The need for medical drug detox programs and drug rehabilitation counseling for such drugs is not uncommon
MOST-COMMON STUDY DRUGS
WHAT AMPHETAMINES DO
Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, Modafinil and all other amphetamine-type drugs are CNS stimulants, called ‘speed’ or ‘uppers’ among drug users and abusers, and include a fairly long list of brand name and generic drugs related to the infamous methamphetamines, the dangerously addictive and destructive street drugs that have devastated the lives of tens of thousands of people across America who are suffering serious addiction and health problems.
Amphetamines are psychoactive drugs that, to one degree or another depending on the drug, increase the activity levels of the brain chemicals called norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. The effects are generally felt as stimulating, making users experience more energy, wakefulness and concentration. They also cause loss of appetite, and other side effects.
In recent decades, amphetamines were commonly available and popularly used to reduce appetite and control weight, until it was widely learned that dozens, if not hundreds of people, were dying from the drugs.
These are the type of drugs long ago made illegal for enhancing athletic performance, in both humans and animals such as race horses and greyhounds. Quite apart from providing a competitive edge, amphetamines can put a body into ‘overdrive’ leading to sudden heart failure, collapse and death.
Long term safety has not been determined, and there have been no randomized controlled trials assessing the harms or benefits of using these drugs beyond two years. The American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics both have stated that doctors should carefully assess for heart conditions before prescribing stimulants, and the FDA has added black box warning to some amphetamines — Adderall for example carries warnings about potential for abuse, drug dependence, and sudden death.
The head of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin health services was quoted recently saying they present numerous dangers, including serious cardiac risks and serious psychiatric effects.
Yet in spite of all the dangers and the warnings, tens of thousands of college students with the tacit approval of professors, parents and peers, are popping these pills in the hope of higher academic achievement. As many as 10 to 15 percent of students are getting them any way they can — either faking symptoms to doctors for their own prescriptions, buying the pills from other students who have prescriptions, or buying them from internet pharmacies that don’t require valid prescriptions.
One college study found as many as 75 percent of students had at least tried them. And the incidence of students becoming dependent and needing drug detox is said to be increasing with the drug’s popularity.
SIDE EFFECTS OF STUDY DRUGS
Many users of study drugs report side effects such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Feelings of suspicion or paranoia
- Tourette’s syndrome
- High blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Sudden heart attack
DEPENDENCE, ADDICTION AND WITHDRAWAL
Dependence and addiction are very much a potential outcome of abuse of study drugs.
When someone tries to stop taking a drug and experiences uncomfortable symptoms and side effects, and/or who needs to continue increasing dosages to get the same effect, that person is said to be dependent on the drug.
Addiction is said to have occurred when someone continues drug use to ‘get high’ or experience some other drug effect, and who will do things they would not normally do and go to almost any lengths to get more of the drug.
Study drugs are CNS stimulants, and can create dependency and like their cousin CNS stimulants crystal meth, cocaine and crack, study drugs carry the potential to take over someone’s life, and end that life tragically and unexpectedly.
More students are reporting dependence and addiction every year — they want to get off the drugs, but they can’t get off them on their own. Although the abuse in most cases begins innocently — just wanting a little boost while studying for exams — some people are particularly sensitive to their euphoric effects, which can lead to repeated use and abuse and a serious dependence.
The side effects of withdrawal from study drugs can be serious. Withdrawal symptoms associated with study drugs can include:
- Excessive sleeping
- Increased appetite
- Suicidal thoughts
MEDICALLY ASSISTED WITHDRAWAL
The common practice of ‘weaning’ people off amphetamines by slowly decreasing their dosage over a period of many weeks is often unacceptable, especially to students and younger people impatient to get on with their lives. Medical drug detox, called medically assisted withdrawal, offers many advantages.
Medical detox facilities use proper nutrition, hydration and other means to help the withdrawal from study drugs to be safer, more comfortable, and much faster than other means.
Young people setting off to college don’t expect to become dependent on amphetamines in some misguided attempt to achieve academic excellence. Graduation should be a high point in one’s career, not delayed by a drug detox program, or ended by a premature funeral.