The Use of ADHD Drugs on College Campuses to Enhance Academic Performance
By Leslie Rouder, LCSW

A large number of students with ADHD attending Universities around the country are taking medication to assist them in leveling the playing field and achieving their academic goals.  However, there is a growing concern regarding the illegal use of these ADHD medications by students who do not have an ADHD diagnosis. 

In response to these concerns, a recent study was conducted by researchers at Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the University of Michigan with the support of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  The study, which was published in the Journal of Attention Disorders,  surveyed 3,407 students to determine the most important factors cited by students for using the ADHD drugs without prescriptions  and if the students achieved the desired effect of enhancing their academic abilities through the use of ADHD medications.

Most of the drugs being taken without prescriptions were either sold or given to the students by other students on campus who were prescribed the drugs and were rarely stolen.   Of the 3,407 students surveyed, 8.9% of them stated that they had used ADHD medication without a prescription.  Most of these students were Caucasian, had lower grade point averages, were members of fraternities or sororities, used other illegal drugs and admitted to engaging in other risky behaviors.

The key motivating factor cited by the students using these drugs was academic performance, although there were some who used the medication for recreational or social reasons. The majority of students (89%) stated that they used these drugs to assist with concentration and noted that they were able to study for longer periods of time while feeling less restless while studying.  The majority of these students using these drugs to assist in achieving their academic goals felt that the drugs were effective. In addition to the 89% who stated that they were able to achieve better concentration while studying, 89% stated that they were able to study for longer periods of time, felt less restless  while studying (81%),  had better concentration in class (87%),  were less restless in class (74%), and kept better track of assignments (74%) .  In addition to the academic enhancements, 64% said that they used these drugs to “feel better”, 59% said they used them to get high, and 38% said they use them to lose weight. 

Discouraging students to stop using drugs illegally to enhance academic performance is further complicated by the lack of adverse reactions to the use of these ADHD drugs.  Most of the negative side effects indicated in the study were reduced appetite (in about 24%) and difficulty sleeping (in about 20%).  The other side effects such as headaches, stomach aches, irritability, sadness, dizziness and social difficulties were reported rarely, if ever.  Given the large percentage of perceived benefits of using these kinds of drugs for enhancing ones academic performance, and the minimal perceived negative side effects, it seems unlikely that these students would feel motivated to stop using them.  In my opinion, until our culture rethinks what it truly means to learn and achieve in our society, it seems even far less likely. 

Leslie is an ADD coach and counselor. For more information about Leslie, you may visit her web site at