Side Effects of Study Drugs

27 Aug Side Effects of Study Drugs

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In high schools and colleges across the country, there is a significant swath of students who are using drugs, but not in a recreational manner or in an effort to get high; rather they are using it to help them gain a competitive edge over their classmates. Between classes, homework, clubs, Greek life, social life, and work, college students routinely run into the issue of how to properly manage and optimize their time. There is a common joke about college life that says: students have to balance good grades, social life, and enough sleep, but they can only really pick two of the three things.

It should be no surprise that young people are generally bad at managing their time and are experts at procrastinating. The mindset typically goes, Oh, you have a book report due tomorrow on a book that you haven’t read yet? Guess what you are doing all night long! These days, coffee is not a powerful enough stimulant to fuel a night long study binge, so college students have turned to a riskier and unfortunately more effective solution, prescription stimulants known as study drugs.

While there are a variety of these pills, the top study drugs used to enhance focus and productivity while studying are Ritalin and Adderall. For years, these “smart drugs” were prescribed to kids who had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But now, studies show that approximately 20% of college students report using an unprescribed study drug at least one time to gain a temporary mental and energy boost to deal with the stress of finals or big papers.  Even for those prescribed, study drugs in college can be dangerous, especially if used frequently or mixed with other substances.

There is already a tremendous amount of pressure on young people to succeed academically and financially. They already have enough stress as it is without adding a potentially harmful chemical to the mix. Medical experts agree that regular use of Adderall and other presciption stimulants can have severe and deadly ramifications capable of forever changing an individual’s brain chemistry. If you are a parent of a student, you should be aware of the side effects of study drugs and know how to spot the signs of study drug abuse.

What are Study Drugs?

The term “study drugs” refers to prescription drugs used to increase mental stamina and focus to enhance studying. As mentioned, these medications are prescribed to treat ADD and ADHD, which both alter self-discipline, attention span, impulse control and hyperactivity for kids with ADHD. Medications that are commonly abused as performance-enhancing drugs include Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, Concerta, Focalin, Modafinil, Phenylpiracetam, and Adrafinil. By far, the most popular of these study drugs is Adderall; it is the study drug of pop culture and is what students are looking to get their hands on 99.9% of the time. “I’m looking for Addys,” is a regular phrase heard on college campuses, especially during finals week.

The Adderall Boom

In 2011, nearly 50,000,000 Adderall prescriptions were dispensed in order to treat ADHD. According to the DEA, this represents a 40% rise since 2007. During this five-year time period, nonmedical use of Adderall and related emergency room visits rose 65% with ER visits increasing 156%.

A John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Medicine study found that of the people using Adderall illegally, young adults aged 18-25 represented a staggering 60% of the people who used Adderall for nonmedical reasons. The vast majority of these students would get the medication, not from a drug dealer, but from family and friends who had a prescription. The studies co-author Ramin Mojtabai, MD, Ph.D., says, “In college, especially, these drugs are used as a study-aid medication to help students stay up all night and cram. Our sense is that a sizeable proportion of those who use them believe these medications make them smarter and more capable of studying. We need to educate this group that there could be serious adverse effects from taking these performance-enhancing drugs and we don’t know much at all about their long-term health effects.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 10% of all American children between the ages of 4-17 will be diagnosed with some form of ADD or ADHD. For many of these people, the increased focus and attention span is absolutely necessary for them to function regularly. However, there is still an alarming trend of doctors over-prescribing medicines, to the detriment of all. Trends confirm that as the numbers of prescriptions for study drugs rise, so too do the rates of nonmedical use. When these prescription drugs become more available and commonplace, it becomes easier and more accessible for teenagers and young adults to get their hands on study drugs and abuse them. In fact, a 2017 NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) study found that study drugs are the most commonly abused prescription drug by high school seniors with the top three rounding out as:

    1. Adderall 5.5%


    1. Tranquilizers 4.7%


  1. Opioids 4.2%

Study Drugs and The Brain

Stimulants, which study drugs are, tend to increase energy and concentration levels while decreasing the need for sleep or food. Drugs such as Adderall intensify the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin neurotransmitters. As time passes, these alterations to the flow and cycle of dopamine can rewire the brain and have negative impacts on the brain’s reward center. As a result, a teenager’s brain is altered, and their ability to feel joy or pleasure without the chemical support of these study drugs is severely hindered. The more frequently these study drugs are consumed, the more firmly entrenched this brain recircuiting becomes. Over time, tolerance forms, meaning that more and more of the drug is required in order to achieve the desired effects.

When study drugs eventually exit the bloodstream, withdrawal symptoms can occur within hours, demonstrating both an emotional and physical dependence on the drug. Cravings and withdrawal symptoms are very much tied to the method of abuse combined with the frequency and potency of the dose. It is common for college students to crush their pills and then snort them for a more immediate and powerful effect than simple ingestion and absorption through the digestive tract. Because of this, snorting crushed pills significantly increases the odds of study drug addiction or experiencing a life-threating OD.

Short-Term Side Effects of Study Drugs

When these stimulant drugs are used in brief periods as prescribed by doctors, they are quite effective at neutralizing the symptoms of ADHD. They do so by increasing the flow of blood to the muscles and the heart rate as well as increasing norepinephrine and dopamine levels. Because of this, symptoms are quite similar to those experienced by people on cocaine, except for the fact that a hit of cocaine might last thirty minutes whereas a drug like Adderall can last 6 to 8 hours.

Even for those prescribed study drugs, there are a variety of adverse effects in the short-term. They include:

    • Anxiety


    • Disrupted heart rhythm


    • Feelings of restlessness


    • Increased blood pressure


    • Irritability


    • Lack of appetite


    • Mood swings


    • Potentially dangerous cardiac issues.


    • Trouble sleeping


  • Unhealthy weight loss

It is also quite regular for students on study drugs to chain smoke cigarettes in order to try and take the edge off. Even college students who smoke infrequently are more prone to trying cigarettes and like them. As is so often the case, one bad habit can open the door leading to another destructive drug addiction.

Physical Side Effects of Study Drugs

Study drugs tend to increase blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. Repeated abuse, especially in high doses, can lead to a host of severe medical conditions from a seizure, to a stroke, to a heart attack. It can cause long-term harm to the cardiovascular system and the heart when used regularly and in high doses. The most commonly reported study drug heart issues are tachycardia (irregular heart rate) and hypertension (high blood pressure). While not nearly as common with study drugs, there have been reports of sudden cardiac death.

Other longer-term side-effects include:

    • Aggression


    • Anxiety


    • Constipation


    • Depression


    • Fatigue


    • Hallucinations


    • Headaches


    • Heart disease


    • Inability to concentrate


    • Irritability


    • Lack of motivation


    • Lethargy


    • Mood swings


    • Panic attacks


    • Paranoia


    • Sleep difficulties


    • Thoughts of suicide


    • Tremors


  • Weight loss

A person who is addicted to study drugs, when sober, will likely have issues with concentration, motivation, sleeping, and may feel angry, lazy, tired, or depressed. Study drugs abuse over extended periods of time has been linked to increases in suicidality and aggressive or reckless behavior. The lack of natural dopamine production regularly leads to mood swings, which may become more and more evident the longer the time period a young person abuses the drug. There have also been reports of study drugs being linked to co-occurring disorders, with long-term use unlocking latent schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or other psychological issues.

Alcohol and Study Drugs a Deadly Mix

Research tends to show that a not insignificant number of students who abuse study drugs will also abuse them recreationally with alcohol, at least occasionally. Like with cocaine, it is quite common for these study drug stimulants to be combined with alcohol to either blunt the undesired stimulant effects of the study drug, or in order to party longer and harder and drink more than they otherwise would be capable of. Since these drugs counteract the depressant effects of alcohol, students wrongly assume that there will be no negative repercussions of mixing the two.  

Tragically, a person is far more likely to overdose on alcohol or deal with alcohol poisoning when using a stimulant to enhance their party experience. The combination can also create adverse study drugs side effects such as vomiting, nausea, dehydration, incoherence, decreased decision making, cardiovascular issues, and marked aggression. While such students may believe that their motor coordination and reflexes are not as severely affected by alcohol when mixed with a study drug, they are wrong. Studies show that motor coordination, visual perception and reaction times remain severely inhibited regardless. Since study drugs mask the most regular signs of heavy drinking like drowsiness and slurred speech, it is all too easy to drink way too much. This mistaken, greater sense of self-control can also lead to terrible decision making, such as getting behind the wheel of a car while still heavily intoxicated.

In the long-term, regularly mixing the two drugs can lead to grave neurological effects like seizures. It can also lead to long-term cognitive issues and brain damage as a result of an imbalance in the central nervous system; hindering a person’s ability to concentrate, learn, remember and perform complex problem-solving. Further, the damage to the central nervous system can create a number of emotional issues such as depression, psychosis, loss of motivation, and indifference.

Ironically, even though they may initially use study drugs to enhance their studying and learning, and thus improve their grades, studies have shown that people who abuse study drugs or abuse them in conjunction with alcohol, will on average have lower grades, and experience less professional achievement later in life, than those who do not abuse these drugs. This should not be surprising, since as we mentioned earlier, all too often study drugs are taken as a last-minute fix to compensate for bad time management and procrastination. While students may be able to swing such habits in college, they will quickly find that the professional world lives and dies by deadlines and business success hinges on efficiently managing tasks.


We have seen alarming trends of study drugs being abused by teenagers and young adults. The abuse of such drugs, especially when combined with alcohol, can lead to serious and sometimes even fatal side-effects. If you are a parent, talk to your children about this topic. Teach them how to manage their time wisely and efficiently; to set goals, accomplish tasks, and break up larger chunks of work. By helping them learn time management skills, you can help prevent them ever needing to take a study drug as a result of waiting to study until the last minute.  

For more information on how to find a rehab center in Georgia, please give us a call today. No matter what drug you are addicted to, our trained and experienced staff can help you get on the road to recovery. Call Georgia Drug Detox today for more information about drug and alcohol detox and addiction.


“Study Drugs.” The University of Texas at Austin. 5 Mar. 2019.

Tackette, Brittany. “What You Need to Know About Study Drugs.” Project Know. 5 Mar. 2019.

“Dangers Facing Students Who Use Study Drugs.” Addiction Center. 9 Jan. 2018. 5 Mar. 2019.

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