6 Common Study Drugs Abused on College Campuses

college student studying

What are Study Drugs?

Study drugs is a term that is used to refer to prescription stimulants that are frequently misused by students. Other terms for these substances include smart drugs or cognitive enhancers.

These medications are intended to treat disorders like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but they are heavily abused by college students to increase concentration and stamina while studying or “cramming” for exams.

Study drugs are often easily accessible for college students and they may get them from other students who have prescriptions or they may fake symptoms to get a prescription from their doctor. After marijuana, amphetamines are the most misused drugs by college students.1 One in five college students abuse prescription stimulants.2

According to the Monitoring the Future Survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the most prevalent reason students misused amphetamines was “to help me study.” About 26 percent of Texas college students reported abusing prescription drugs and about 15 percent reported using prescription stimulants like Adderall, Vyvanse, or Concerta at least once before.3 Between 9 and 11 percent of college students nationwide misused Adderall in 2017.1

Are Study Drugs Addictive?

When they are taken as directed by a doctor, prescription stimulants are safe and effective. However, if you take more than the prescribed amount, use them with other drugs or alcohol, or take more frequent doses than necessary, study drugs can be addictive.

Prescription amphetamines are Schedule II controlled substances and chronic abuse of these drugs can cause dependence and addiction. Unfortunately, once you’re addicted, if you try to stop using, you are likely to experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms like sleep problems, fatigue, and depression. These symptoms can make getting sober very difficult.

Reasons for Study Drug Abuse

There are many reasons why college students abuse study drugs. Here are just a few of the most common ones.

  • They are overwhelmed by academic or personal stress. College can be a challenging time in life for many reasons. The pressure to get good grades, fit in socially, and live independently can all add up to create a huge amount of stress. Many students end up feeling depressed and anxious and look to prescription stimulants for help.
  • They believe study drugs will help them study. Many students abuse study drugs because they think they need the drugs to concentrate, focus, stay awake, and learn. Unfortunately, research has not proven that prescription stimulants enhance learning abilities or improve cognitive functioning.4
  • They think everyone’s doing it. It’s important to feel connected and like you’re a part of something, especially as a college student. Peer pressure can be a very powerful motivator and students may hear about how Adderall is helping their friends pass their classes and want to try it too.
  • They are curious. Teens and young adults are naturally curious as they explore the world around them. Many students decide to explore new things in college by experimenting with mind-altering substances like drugs or alcohol.

Prescription stimulants can also provide feelings of euphoria when they are abused, which can be another powerful motivator to misuse them. Other side effects of prescription stimulant abuse include:

  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Increased breathing
  • Decreased blood flow
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Opened-up breathing passages5

6 Common Study Drugs Abused on College Campuses

  1. Adderall

Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine) is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. It is widely known as a drug of abuse among college students because it increases alertness and concentration. It is available in immediate and extended-release tablets and it can be fatal if it’s mixed with alcohol or other stimulant drugs.6

  1. Dexedrine 

Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine) is used to treat narcolepsy and ADHD in children. If abused, Dexedrine can cause serious health problems including seizures, heart attack, stroke, or death.7 A health condition called Raynaud’s phenomenon is also common with Dexedrine abuse and can cause extreme reactions to cold, including numb and blue fingers and toes that throb and tingle as they warm up.8

  1. Ritalin

Ritalin (methylphenidate) is used to treat ADHD in children. It has also been used to treat disorders such as depression, narcolepsy, brain injury, cancer, pain, and cognitive disorders and to treat patients with human immunodeficiency virus infection. Many students misuse Ritalin for its ability to keep them awake for days at a time. Although it may provide profound mental clarity and focus for a short time, it is quickly followed by an intense crash and extreme fatigue.9,10

  1. Concerta

Concerta (methylphenidate) is chemically the same as Ritalin, but Concerta is the extended-release version of the drug and its effects last up to 12 hours. This drug comes in pill form, but students who misuse it may take large amounts of pills or crush and snort the pills for more powerful side effects.11 College students often take Concerta while drinking alcohol, which can mask the symptoms of alcohol poisoning and potentially be fatal.11

  1. Vyvanse

Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine) is used to treat ADHD and binge eating disorder in adults. It is less likely to be abused than other prescription stimulants because it must be absorbed into the intestinal tract before it is converted to the active form of the drug, dextroamphetamine.12 However, college students still misuse Vyvanse for its ability to promote better focus or to lose weight.

  1. Focalin

Focalin (dexmethylphenidate) is primarily used to treat ADHD but may also sometimes be used to treat narcolepsy. It is available in an immediate and extended-release form and is less common that similar prescription stimulants because it is more expensive. In high doses, it can cause a rush of euphoria. Most college students misuse Focalin for its ability to increase energy, focus, and concentration. Long-term chronic abuse of this drug is associated with cardiovascular problems and other serious health problems.13

Harmful Side Effects of Prescription Stimulant Abuse

According to the University Health Services at the University of Texas, the study drugs listed above can have very harmful side effects when they are misused. Some of the side effects of prescription stimulant abuse include:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Paranoia
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Mouth dryness
  • Suppressed appetite
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Impotence or changes in sex drive14

Signs of Substance Abuse in College Students

If a student is consistently abusing study drugs, he or she may display some of the following signs:

  • Extreme changes in sleeping patterns
  • Sudden fluctuations in weight
  • Withdrawing from friends
  • Uncharacteristic mood swings, depression, or irritability
  • Secretive behavior
  • Changes in grades or academic performance
  • Changes in social circles or friends
  • Sudden lack of interest in going to class or academic performance

Healthy Alternatives to Study Drugs

If you’re a college student, sometimes it may feel like using study drugs is the only way to pass an exam, stay focused, or deal with stress, but there are many healthy alternatives to study drugs that can help you excel academically and in your personal life.

  • Counseling – Individual counseling sessions can help you work through personal problems and learn how to cope with the stresses of college life without resorting to using drugs or alcohol. Most colleges and universities offer convenient and free counseling services on campus for students who need support.
  • Exercise – Regular exercise can make you feel better mentally and physically while also improving cognitive functions like concentration. Any type of exercise can improve your daily life, including walking, running, yoga, dancing, strength training, or biking.
  • Meditation – Meditation can help you refocus and practice mindfulness to relieve feelings of stress and anxiety. There are many websites, resources, and smartphone apps for guided meditation if you don’t know where to begin.
  • Adequate sleep – Getting enough sleep is essential for overall health and wellness. If you lack sleep, you’ll feel exhausted, anxious, irritable, and be less able to concentrate in class or while you’re studying. Although college students are notorious for sleepless nights, maintaining a regular bedtime routine and going to bed at the same time each night is a great way to start practicing healthy sleep hygiene.
  • Healthy eating – Getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals will fuel your body and your brain, helping you focus and concentrate while you’re cramming for those exams. A healthy diet will also give you the energy you need to cope with stress and anxiety.

Study Drug Addiction: Help is Available

If you are a student that is abusing prescription stimulants, we have drug detox programs that are specifically designed for you. We also accept most forms of insurance to make treatment more affordable. Call Briarwood Detox Center at (888) 857-0557 to get started today.



  1. http://www.monitoringthefuture.org//pubs/monographs/mtf-vol2_2018.pdf
  2. https://www.usatoday.com/story/college/2014/11/19/survey-shows-1-in-5-college-students-abuse-prescription-stimulants/37398613/
  3. http://texascollegesurvey.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/2015_Main_Report.pdf
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3489818/
  5. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-stimulants
  6. https://harvarddapa.org/adderall
  7. https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/a?dbs+hsdb:@[email protected]+3055
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4917788/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC181133/
  10. https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/ritalin/how-ritalin-abuse-starts.html
  11. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/methylphenidate.pdf
  12. https://www.everydayhealth.com/drugs/vyvanse
  13. https://www.drugs.com/focalin.html
  14. https://www.healthyhorns.utexas.edu/studydrugs.html


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