Debunking Myths About Study Drugs

Some teens use study drugs like Adderall or Ritalin before a high-pressure exam, but they don't realize how dangerous these stimulants can be. 


Hidden away until the night before a tough exam is a study aid teenagers are using once they start to feel sleepy and need help focusing. Not only does it keep them awake and alert, but it can also help boost their memory. This aid comes in the form of dangerous pills that are often called “study drugs.”

Study drugs like Adderall or Ritalin are usually prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It's likely that teens have heard that taking these prescription drugs may help keep them focused and energized, boost test scores, and suppress their appetites. Adderall can even be used to get high because it doubles the amount of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the feel-good neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.

For these reasons, it’s easy to see why these drugs may be attractive to teens... But what many teenagers don’t know are the risks involved with taking these drugs without a prescription.

Kids who have ADD or ADHD tend to lack adequate dopamine levels, so the medication typically has calming effects for them. Common side effects of taking these drugs (even if you need them) are nausea, anxiety, and stomach pain. Drugs affect people differently, which is why doctors monitor patients after prescribing a medication they haven’t taken before.

Taking these highly addictive drugs without a doctor monitoring the effects can lead to tons of other health conditions, like depression, restlessness, insomnia, impulsive behavior, increased heart rate, and even hallucinations.

Combining study drugs with alcohol may cause teens to drink beyond their normal limit, which could lead to a visit to the hospital. Emergency hospital visits related to study drugs used non-medically are on the rise. One report shows that these visits more than doubled from 13,379 visits in 2005 to 31,244 visits in 2010.

Teens may think that it’s safe to take these drugs because a doctor prescribes them to their friends or other kids. Help debunk this myth by explaining the effects: When you’re talking to teens about substance abuse, be sure to always include prescription drugs.

Taking study drugs is often a result of teenagers feeling like they just don’t have enough time to study. Help your teens develop time management skills and encourage them to get a jumpstart on studying for high-pressure exams or working on assignments.

For more on teens and prescription drug use, read our stories "Good Teens Turned Drug Addicts" and “I Was Hooked on Prescription Drugs.”