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Why Stimulants Are the Third-Most-Abused Class of Prescription Drugs in the US

Why Stimulants Are the Third-Most-Abused Class of Prescription Drugs in the US

If you’re like most people, when you hear the term “prescription drug abuse“, you probably think of opioid pain medications such as oxycodone or codeine. If you’re thinking more outside the box, you might also include benzodiazepine medications such as Klonopin or Valium. But what you may have overlooked is the fact that prescription stimulants are also abused at high rates, particularly by college students. Let’s take a closer look at the abuse of prescription stimulant medications.

What Prescription Stimulant Medications Are Commonly Abused?

The first kind of stimulant medications that have high abuse potential are amphetamines such as Adderall. Medically, Adderall is typically prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy. Long-term treatment with Adderall actually reduces brain structure abnormalities in patients with ADHD and helps improve brain function. Recreationally, Adderall is abused because it boosts energy and produces a euphoric high similar to cocaine. It also is popular as an aphrodisiac. Adderall is also used non-medically as a performance-enhancing cognitive aid because it increases alertness, hand-eye coordination, and the ability to concentrate. For that reason, it is popular as a study aid for college students and in the video gaming culture. The other prescription stimulant medication that is commonly-abused is Ritalin. Medically, Ritalin is also used in the treatment of ADHD in narcolepsy. The United States consumes 80% of the global supply of Ritalin. When used recreationally, the “rush” is like a milder, shorter-lasting version of cocaine, another stimulant. But the most common non-medical use of Ritalin is to improve concentration and alertness when studying.

Are There Any Dangers to Prescription Stimulant Abuse?

While the ability to focus and concentrate better may sound like a positive, the non-medical use of prescription stimulants is not without adverse side effects:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Higher body temperature
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Malnutrition
  • Unhealthy weight loss
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Stroke
  • Psychosis
  • Paranoia
  • Hostility
  • Aggression
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased risk of future substance abuse
  • Blocked blood vessels
  • Worsening of depression
  • Heart and kidney damage
  • If needles are shared, an increased risk of hepatitis or HIV
  • If used in combination with alcohol, greatly increases the risk of alcohol poisoning

Miscellaneous Stats about Prescription Stimulant Abuse

The nonmedical use of prescription stimulants is much higher among college students than you might otherwise suspect.

  • College students are 2X more likely to abuse Adderall than other groups.
  • 15% of college students took a prescription stimulant last year.
  • Up to 40% of college students use Adderall and other stimulants during midterms and finals.
  • It is estimated that up to 95% of students fake ADHD symptoms in order to obtain prescriptions.
  • 90% of college students who take Adderall without a prescription also qualify as “heavy” drinkers and engage in episodes of binge-drinking.
  • 40% of teenagers think that it is “safe” to abuse prescription medications.
  • 29% of teenagers think that is impossible to become addicted to prescription drugs.
  • College students using Adderall non-medically are:
    • Three times more likely to have used cannabis in the past year – 80% versus 27%
    • Eight times more likely to have used cocaine – 29% versus 3.6%
    • Eight times more likely to have used tranquilizers non-medically – 24.5% versus 3%
    • Five times more likely to have used pain pills non-medically – 45% versus 9%

What Does All This Mean?

All of this means that the misuse of prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin does not exist in a vacuum – and also puts the abuser at a greatly increased risk of abusing other substances, and that creates a whole new set of dangers. The disease of addiction does not discriminate when it comes to the substance of choice. If the use of a prescription stimulant is a gateway to other drugs, then that alone is a reason to stop.