ADHD

Updated 19 August 2016

Students with ADHD more likely to misuse stimulant drugs

A study suggests that college students who misuse prescription stimulant medications are more likely to exhibit clinically relevant psychiatric dysfunction.

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College students who misuse stimulant drugs are more likely to have ADHD or other psychiatric problems, a new study shows.

Stimulants for non-medical use

The study also found that immediate-release stimulants are more likely to be misused than extended-release versions of the drugs.

A previous study found that nearly two-thirds of college students had been offered stimulants for non-medical use, and 31 percent had used them over a four-year period.

The new Massachusetts General Hospital study included 300 undergraduates between the ages of 18 and 28 at Boston-area campuses. One-third misused stimulant drugs.

Read: SA has one of the highest prescription rates for ADHD medication

Misusers were more likely to have been diagnosed with ADHD or to have related symptoms as children, such as being easily distracted and having trouble paying attention. As adults, they were more likely to have trouble following instructions and to dislike tasks requiring focus.

Misusers also were more apt to meet criteria for substance-use disorder – including use of drugs and alcohol together. Two-thirds met or approached criteria for stimulant-use disorder. They got stimulants from friends or acquaintances, were more likely to say they used any drugs to "get high" and had a lower overall sense of well-being.

The study was published recently in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Using friends' prescriptions

"Our data suggest that college students who misuse prescription stimulant medications are more likely to exhibit clinically relevant psychiatric dysfunction," corresponding author Dr Timothy Wilens said in a hospital news release.

Read: Do ADHD meds increase substance abuse risk?

He said not everyone uses these drugs simply to "get high".

"Some misusers may be pressured to use a friend's prescription if they believe it will improve academic performance, which is not likely if combined with alcohol or other drugs," said Wilens, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry and co-director of the hospital's Centre for Addiction Medicine.

"We know that untreated ADHD is associated with increased risk of alcohol- and drug-use disorders, so it is not surprising that we found high rates of co-occurring ADHD and of stimulant-use and overall substance-use disorders in those misusing stimulants," he said.

Read more:

What is ADHD?

Causes of ADHD

Treating ADHD

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Delia Strondl is a Registered Career Counsellor focusing on both school readiness and career counselling. She achieved her honours in Psychology and completed a career counselling internship. Since then, she has been working with children with a variety of learning difficulties including ADHD and Cerebral Palsy.

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