Nonmedical Use of Adderall on the Rise Among Young Adults

Study drugs 2-17-16

Nonmedical use of Adderall, a medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), rose 67 percent among young adults between 2006 and 2011, a new study finds. The number of emergency room visits involving misuse of the drug among 18- to 25-year-olds also rose during this period, NPR reports.

The number of ER visits related to Adderall among this age group rose from 862 visits in 2006 to 1,489 in 2011. During this period the number of prescriptions for the drug remained unchanged among young adults.

ER visits associated with the ADHD drug Ritalin rose only slightly among young adults between 2006 and 2011, the researchers found. Nonmedical use of Ritalin was much lower than misuse of Adderall.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said in many cases, young adults who misuse ADHD drugs get them from a friend or family member who has been prescribed the pills. They may use them in an attempt to get a mental boost as they study.

The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Study senior author Dr. Ramin Mojtabai told NPR the most common side effects of taking Adderall include anxiety, agitation and insomnia. He noted stimulant drugs are also associated with cardiovascular side effects such as increased blood pressure. In very rare cases the drugs can cause heart attack and stroke, he said.

“The growing problem is among young adults,” Dr. Mojtabai noted in a news release. “In college, especially, these drugs are used as 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 drugs and we don’t know much at all about their long-term health effects.”

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    January 21, 2017 at 4:16 PM

    My daughter, 19, has been illegally buying and abusing for about a year. She has been down to 98 lbs. at one point. Had a complete melt down and couldn’t complete any of her college finals, which added another year to her stay there…. She is good when home for summer, breaks, but goes right back on when she gets to college. Can’t convince her to transfer home. She says she will kill herself. Finally talked her into therapy. She continues to lie and has stolen from us several times. As a parent I don’t know what to do. Do we take away her car and phone, which are only helping her to go buy this crap? Feeling so frustrated, helpless and angry…

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    June 16, 2016 at 12:24 PM

    my daughter was on Adderall in high school and college.. now she doesnt’ need it for her job., she is 25 years old and just moved back home….but guess what.. she still gets the prescription of 30 MG and i think she is selling it, because i found lots of money in her closet with empty and half filled prescription bottles… what to do.?

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    Lloyd Johnston, PhD

    March 1, 2016 at 1:41 PM

    This article covers trends through 2011. One might wonder what has been happening since. The Monitoring the Future study ( shows that prescription stimulant use–most of which is Adderall use–continued to rise among young adults into 2014, with the proportion of 19- to 28-year olds reporting Adderall use in the prior 12 months increasing from 6.6% in 2011 to to 7.8% in 2014. After 2008, amphetamine use rose sharply among college students, but it also rose among the same age group who were not attending college as well as among high school seniors. Use to try to enhance academic performance no doubt has played a role for both college students and high school seniors. The 2015 results come out at the end of July this year.

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    February 22, 2016 at 9:39 PM

    I am a health care provider that sees kids coming in more and more asking for prescription Adderal. Almost 100 percent of these teens and young adults also admit to smoking marijuana on a regular basis as well. I believe the marijuana is creating the lack of motivation and attention in many of these kids who then look for the remedy. We need to start talking more about the marijuana epidemic in this country. It is destroying our kids!

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