It’s no secret that some college students without ADHD diagnoses turn to Adderall as a study aid. So what’s the solution? Make it harder for patients to get prescriptions for ADHD medications?
Actually, if we’re serious about reducing the number of college students taking ADHD medications without doctor supervision, doing the opposite is probably part of the answer.
That’s because a significant number of college students who are misusing stimulants are self-medicating for undiagnosed ADHD. I mean, if people are self-medicating for ADHD, it’s logical enough that they’ll turn to the most effective means of self-medicating they have available – actual medication for ADHD.
The implication is that spreading ADHD awareness and making treatment more accessible for people with undiagnosed ADHD has the potential to cut down the number of students who are administering ADHD meds on their own.
This isn’t just an idea that makes intuitive sense. There’s research to back it up.
Consider the results of a recent study involving 900 students. Twenty-two percent of those students reported having misused stimulant medications, consistent with the idea that misuse of ADHD meds is widespread on college campuses.
In their study, the researchers surveyed students for possible ADHD symptoms. They found that students who met the threshold for an ADHD diagnosis were almost three times as likely to have misused ADHD medications.
This finding led the researchers to conclude that “stimulant medication misuse is likely driven, in part, by inadequate or absent care for the executive functioning impairments associated with ADHD.” In other words, one reason students are misusing ADHD meds is because they aren’t being treated for ADHD, or if they are, the treatment they’re receiving clearly isn’t doing the trick.
The study also found that students with high levels of ADHD symptoms differed from other students in their reasons for misusing ADHD meds. In particular, they were 2.8 times more likely to misuse stimulants for academic reasons.
Some schools have responded to misuse of stimulants among students by preventing their campus health services from prescribing ADHD meds entirely. But this study shows why that policy could backfire: if a significant number of students who misuse ADHD meds are people with ADHD who aren’t receiving adequate treatment, making it harder to get treated for ADHD will only make these students more likely to turn to sources other than doctors for ADHD meds.
Really, this is a supply-and-demand problem. The harder it is to get legitimate treatment for ADHD, the higher the demand is going to be for illicit ADHD meds. And restricting supply only makes the business more lucrative for those students who are able to get their hands on stimulants.
On the other hand, making it easier for people who actually have ADHD to get treated will reduce demand for ADHD meds from sources other than doctors. And effective treatment means having access to psychotherapy and, yes, the option of using ADHD meds.