When you think of prescription drug abuse, your mind probably jumps to opioid painkillers. While it’s true that they do pose a significant problem in the U.S. right now, there’s another type of drug that’s been abused, often right under the noses of parents. For years, teens and young adults have been misusing medication that’s meant to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), believing that it can make them stay awake longer, concentrate better, and retain more information. Not only do these medications have a high potential for abuse, but studies show that they don’t have any beneficial effects for people who don’t have ADHD.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can make it difficult for people to focus, stay on task, keep organized, and sit still. It’s usually diagnosed in childhood and can sometimes persist through young adulthood. Two of the main medications used to treat ADHD are Adderall and Ritalin, both of which are prescription stimulants that are classified by the DEA as Schedule II drugs, meaning they have a high potential for abuse with the possibility of severe psychological or physical dependence. It’s been reported that anywhere between five and 35 percent of college students who don’t have ADHD use drugs like Adderall and Ritalin in an attempt to improve their academic performance. According to a 2009 report from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, full-time college students between the ages of18 and 22 were twice as likely as those who weren’t in school full time to use Adderall for a non-medical purpose.
People have been debating for years whether ADHD drugs can really help non-afflicted individuals concentrate and learn better. Now, a study from the University of Rhode Island (URI) and Brown University suggests that these medications might not help a healthy person’s cognition at all. In fact, they might actually impair a young person’s memory. The study, published in the journal Pharmacy, looked at 13 student volunteers from the two universities, eliminating anyone who had already taken ADHD medications. They were given a 30-milligram dose of Adderall (20 mg is the maximum recommended dose for adolescents and adults) and then observed during two five-hour sessions.
The Adderall did improve the students’ mood and focus – not surprising, considering it’s a stimulant – but it did not lead to any improvement in academic performance like reading comprehension, test-taking, or short-term memory. Not only that, but it actually had a negative effect on working memory, which has to do with both the storage and processing of information.
There are other studies out there with mixed results, but none of them have been controlled – meaning using the same medicine at the same dose on the same people. There haven’t been any large-scale studies done, largely because of ethical concerns related to giving stimulants to healthy kids.
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