College students take ADHD drugs for better grades

For some students, the use of study drugs is so common they don't see it as a problem.

Story highlights

  • Researcher finds 30% of students have illegally used ADHD drugs Adderall or Ritalin
  • "I'm more driven. I don't focus on anything else," user says
  • Expert says drugs like Adderall can produce jitters, headaches, stomach problems
Jared Gabay is like many other college students. When he has a big test coming up, he turns to what's called a "study drug" for a little extra boost.
"I'm more driven. I don't focus on anything else," the Auburn University senior says about taking the drugs. "If I have a paper, that's all I'm doing. No distractions, no socializing, just on with it. "
Gabay takes the prescription drug Adderall, designed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. He doesn't have ADHD or a prescription, but the drug is not hard for him to get. "It's easy -- not sketchy or perceived in a bad way," he says. "Maybe a simple text or a phone call. 'Hey mind if I get some Adderall? I've got a long night ahead of me.'" After taking the pill he hits the books in his fraternity house room, pulling an all-nighter studying.
It's a scene that is playing out at college campuses across the United States.
Alan DeSantis, a professor and researcher at the University of Kentucky, has tracked study drug use there. "It's abused more than marijuana and easier to get," he says. DeSantis' research found that 30% of students at the university have illegally used a stimulant, like the ADHD drugs Adderall or Ritalin. The numbers increase with upperclassmen. Half of all juniors and seniors have used the drugs, the study found, and 80% of upperclassmen in fraternities and sororities have taken them.
Adderall is an amphetamine and can be habit forming. The federal government lists it as a schedule II drug. Drugs in that category have, according to U.S. law "the highest abuse potential and dependence profile of all drugs that have medical utility."
Dr. Raymond Kotwicki, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Emory University's school of medicine in Atlanta, says he worries about students who might take these drugs. "They might produce euphoria, they might temporarily make it easier... but in the long run ther