The Adderall Epidemic: A Proposed Cyclic Relationship between ADHD Medication Use, Academic Performance, and Mental Distress

Issue: 
2021
Institution: 
The State University of New York at Binghamton, Binghamton, New York 13902

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder medications are used illicitly by undergraduate students,
often to increase focus, memory, and attention in order to enhance their academic performance.
Studies on such unprescribed use of psychostimulants suggest that these medications have
countereffects and yield cognitive deficits. The purpose of this study was to examine the
relationship between ADHD medication use and academic performance as indicated by
individuals’ reported grade point average (GPA). Moreover, this study aimed to establish a
relationship between the aversive side effects associated with ADHD medication use on physical
health, mental health, and academic performance. A total of 879 individuals completed an
anonymous Google Form survey that was administered at colleges/universities in the U.S. using
social media platforms. The survey included questions regarding frequency of ADHD medication
use, symptoms experienced, perception of safety, GPA, and general demographic information. Our
results indicate that the use of ADHD medication is significantly correlated with a self-reported
low GPA as well as an increase in reported mental health side effects (including depression,
anxiety, and panic attacks) and physical side effects (including sleep disturbances, fatigue,
headaches, and weight loss). Conversely, belief in the efficacy of ADHD medications in aiding
academic performance was negatively correlated with a self-reported high GPA. It thus appears
that the use of non-prescription ADHD medications is not associated with increased academic
performance. Furthermore, mental and physical symptoms related to illicit ADHD medication use
are likely to contribute to the observed poor academic performance. It is therefore recommended
that college student populations are educated on these findings to decrease illicit use of ADHD
medications as study aids.

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