College students often feel pressure to excel in their classes, and some turn to prescription drugs for help studying. Do these prescription pills actually increase focus for people without ADHD, or are they potentially addictive drugs that provide no discernible benefit?
What Are Focus Drugs?
Focus drugs are prescription stimulants that were designed to help people suffering from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These stimulants are amphetamines such as Adderall and methylphenidates like Ritalin (1).
Those who deal with ADHD often struggle to focus, and these stimulants are prescribed to help them overcome this difficulty so they can focus on school or other activities. They are designed to be taken daily, and they interact with brain chemistry to steadily generate more dopamine. Dopamine interacts with the attention and reward centers in the brain, helping the person with ADHD to increase their focus.
These drugs do have side effects, including possibly creating insomnia and curbing eating habits. Blood pressure and heart rate may also rise in conjunction with use of these stimulants. They remain highly regulated, available only through a doctor’s prescription.
How Are Focus Drugs Abused?
College provides many challenges, often chief among them is the pressure to perform well in classes. Whether it’s exam week or just a regular study session, remaining focused on studying can be very difficult. There’s often so many other things going on that studying seems boring, or you have so many things to do that it’s hard to focus on each one.
When it comes to the use of focus drugs on college campuses, 1 in 6 students are abusing them either by using more than prescribed or by taking them without a prescription (2). Of those who misuse focus drugs, almost 75 percent use Adderall, likely because it has a 10-12 hour release cycle as opposed to the six-hour cycle of Ritalin.
The most common reason for taking a focus drug is to achieve better academic results, and many students report feeling more focused after taking Adderall. However, that may just be a placebo effect, and in fact, misusing focus drugs may be creating more problems.
When you take a focus drug without a prescription or take more than you’ve been prescribed, you are introducing more dopamine into your brain than is required. The resulting sudden influx of dopamine can actually interrupt communications in your brain. Repeated use can lead to addiction as your body becomes accustomed to that rush of dopamine.
What Can You Do If You’re Using Focus Drugs?
Focus drugs can be beneficial for those struggling with ADHD, but only under the careful supervision of a physician. If you are taking more than you’ve been prescribed or you are taking them without a prescription, you may become addicted to their use. The longer you misuse these focus drugs, the harder it is to stop.
For those struggling with addiction to focus drugs, there are treatments that can help. As with any addiction, it’s important to detoxify. Behavioral therapy can also help you overcome your dependence on focus drugs, and help you realize that you don’t need focus drugs in order to excel in school or in life.