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These alternatives to ADHD medication may help college students gain an edge

Ivy League students using stimulants to study

A new survey has found that some college students are using unprescribed stimulants for academic purposes, although there are alternatives to ADHD medication that may help improve their school performance.


Nearly one in five Ivy League college students have admitted to using medications for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to perform better in school, even though they haven’t been diagnosed with the disorder.

Students in fraternities and sororities, as well as varsity athletes, were more likely the report using the medications. But about half of those who used the stimulants said they had done so fewer than four times.

Study co-author Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, said the findings reflect other research that suggested stimulant use is a problem on college campuses across the country, not just Ivy League schools.

"We need to reduce the improper use of these medications and counsel students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder about the legal and health risks of giving their medications to other students,” he said.

The researchers surveyed 616 college students at an unidentified Ivy League university in December 2012. The students, who did not have ADHD, responded to an anonymous online questionnaire about their use of stimulants such as Adderall.

Almost a quarter of juniors (24 percent) misused stimulants, followed by 16 percent of seniors and 13 percent of sophomores. Sixty-nine percent said they used stimulants to write an essay, followed by two-thirds who used them to study for an exam. More than a quarter (27 percent) used stimulants to take a test, and 32 percent used the medication to engage in research.

However, a third of students did not think using stimulants for academic purposes was a form of cheating. Forty-one percent thought it was, while a quarter of students were unsure.

Health risks of stimulants

There are several side effects to using stimulants, especially if they are taken with other drugs or medications. These include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Emotional instability
  • Increased heart rate or blood pressure (possibly heart failure)
  • Headaches
  • Addiction

Legal risks of selling/using unprescribed stimulants

In addition to the health risks of using unprescribed ADHD medication, there may be legal consequences for the person giving their medication to someone else and the person taking them. While the consequences vary, the illegal sale of prescription drugs may result in felony charge and a prison term. Possessing unprescribed medications may result in a fine or misdemeanor charge.

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Raising awareness of stimulant use

It is important for colleges to address the use and misuse of prescription stimulants for academic purposes the same way they would address illicit drug or alcohol use, Dr. Adesman said.

"Because many students are misusing prescription stimulants for academic, not recreational purposes, colleges must develop specific programs to address this issue," he said.

Alternatives to ADHD medication and simulants

Stimulant use, whether prescribed or unprescribed, isn't the only way to improve focus or concentration. There are certain foods that can be used as alternatives to ADHD medication, including:

Beets - Scientists at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, found that natural nitrates in beets can increase blood flow to the brain, helping to improve mental performance.

Walnuts - A Spanish study found that people who ate a small handful of walnuts every day improved their working memory by 19 percent. Walnuts are full of omega-3 fatty acids that help keep the brain functioning normally.

Fish - Like walnuts, certain fish - such as salmon - contain large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. A study published in the journal Neurology found that people with the lowest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood cells had smaller brains than those with high levels.

Lentils - Lentils are full of folate, a B vitamin that has been shown to help boost brain power. They also provide a steady stream of glucose to the brain.

Chia seeds - Chia seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids and have been found to keep the arteries of the brain clear of plaque, according to Dr. Oz.

Curry- The turmeric in curry power is rich in curcumin, a compound that is believed to inhibit Alzheimer's disease. It also fights inflammation and lowers artery-clogging cholesterol that can reduce blood flow to the brain, according to CNN Health.



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