“Steroids for the Brain” – Colleges Face the Growing Problem of Ritalin and Adderall Abuse

Steroid abuse is treatable with treatment and support

The title for this blog entry was taken from a quote given by a 22-year old college student describing the effects of Adderall and his ability to study.

The student was interviewed in a recent San Diego Union-Tribune article, where the issue of prescription stimulant abuse, namely Adderall and Ritalin, on college campuses was again addressed.

Articles like this one are not new.  Since 2002, when the first real tracking of Ritalin abuse began, study after study has shown that the prescriptions are more and more available for students across the country while the stigma attached to doing the drugs seems to have stayed the same or even decreased.


To begin we should look at what a drug like Ritalin is prescribed for and its potential side effects. Ritalin is a stimulant medication, commonly prescribed to patients suffering from attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHA), other conditions (occasionally for narcolepsy). The effects college students look for to aid in their studying include the ability to stay awake and an increase in focus and attentiveness. The idea being that they can stay up longer and study harder. Another side effect is that they suppress appetite, which many college age students with eating disorders abuse in order to lose weight.

Here are some potential side effects of Ritalin:

Common side effects of Ritalin include:
Inability to fall or stay asleep
Loss of appetite
Increased blood pressure
Increased heart rate

Less common side effects may include:
Abdominal pain
Abnormal heartbeat
Abnormal muscular movements
Chest pain

Benefits of Ritalin Abuse Outweigh The Risks

However, even with some of these very serious possible side effects, most abusers ignore the risks. The reasons for this are many, but some of the main factors include the following: First, the students know that the drugs are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies, rather than being made illegally, where the quality is a complete unknown, which gives them a false sense of safety.

Second, like steroids in sports, there is a competitive nature to college life that can lead to a student feeling that they need an extra “edge” to succeed. If their classmates are doing it, and seem to be excelling, then by not using as well, they may feel that they can’t compete. This desire often drives them to ignore the potential risks. And lastly, the fact that most students get the drugs from friends and fellow students rather than what most people think of as a “drug dealer”, gives rise to a lack of stigma associated with taking prescription stimulants. In the Tribune article, a student describes the atmosphere surrounding them in the following way, “It seems socially acceptable. There’s no stigma at all with using them. In the circles I’ve been in, it’s like getting a cup of coffee.”

At this point, the question seems not to be, “Is there a problem?” but “What should colleges do about it?” In an article funded by the U.S. Department of Education in August 2008, titled Recreational Use of Ritalin on College Campuses, several strategies were given for stemming the abuse of Ritalin. The basic idea being that colleges need to continue promoting alcohol and drug awareness, studying the amount of prescription drug abuse on campus, making sure that campuses include prescription drugs in their anti-drug policies, and the limiting of access to the drugs by working with campus health workers in monitoring requests for drugs like Ritalin and Adderall.

Treatment for Ritalin Abuse

People who abuse Ritalin are at risk for becoming psychologically dependent on the drug. Treatment for drug dependent men is available at The Landing and there are many treatment programs for women in the Sober Living by the Sea network.