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What You Need to Know About Adderall, Study Drugs and Drinking

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More College Students Turn to Adderall and Study Drugs

Whether it’s cramming for midterms or just keeping up with the weekly rigor of carrying a full course load in college, more and more college students have turned to so-called “study drugs” in the hopes of getting an edge. These medications include Adderall, Vyvanse and Ritalin as well as variants like Concerta, which are typically prescribed for ADHD and sometimes narcolepsy. 
College life is often filled with experimentation, risk-taking, and many “firsts”. We don’t have to tell you that most college students drink alcohol and a fair number use other drugs recreationally as well. One thing you may not have considered is that the chances of a college student combining Adderall and alcohol are significantly higher than the general population. That fact has parents and school administrators concerned about the possible consequences.

What’s Wrong With Mixing Adderall and Alcohol?

You may be thinking ‘why can’t I take Adderall when I’m drinking?’ If Adderall is FDA-approved and considered “safe and effective” and alcohol is legal and considered safe in moderation, what’s the problem? Well, the issue comes from the fact that when drugs are combined, they often have a compound effect which can either amplify certain effects or create unexpected results. 

Alcohol is a depressant. It slows the body’s processes down. When alcohol is combined with other depressants, like opioids or benzodiazepines, the risk of overdose and respiratory arrest increases astronomically. 

The case of Adderall and alcohol is a bit different. Adderall is a central nervous system stimulant. So you might expect it to counteract the effects of alcohol. And it does…but only some of the effects. Taking Adderall while you’re drinking alcohol will make you less likely to become drowsy, for example.

The risks of mixing alcohol and Adderall include:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Violent behaviors
  • High-risk behavior

The Case of Four Loko and Buckfast Tonic Wine

The fact is the combination of alcohol and stimulants is notoriously problematic because stimulants don’t “sober you up”. What they really do is make you less drowsy and they can even induct agitation or anger in some people when mixed with alcohol. People using stimulants like Adderall with alcohol also may drink more alcohol than they would otherwise. 

Doctors speculate this happens in part because they don’t feel drowsy and then underestimate how intoxicated they are. Needless to say, the combination is dangerous because it makes alcohol poisoning, as well as violence and other dangerous behavior, more likely to occur. 

Police reports of violent crime surrounding the high-caffeine alcoholic beverage Four Loko led to it being banned. It later returned to the market with a much lower dose of caffeine. In Scotland, the fortified wine beverage called Buckfast is notorious for fueling violence, hooliganism and petty crime. In fact, Buckfast is linked to as much as 40% of violent crime there. And that’s just a cheap fortified wine with a wallop of caffeine and sugar on board. 

Now, what do you imagine could happen when you combine an amphetamine, like Adderall with alcohol? 

OK, I Won’t Drink – I Just Want Adderall

Some college students looking for Adderall prescriptions from a doctor when they don’t have ADHD might be well-meaning enough. They may fully intend on using the medication only to improve their academic performance. 

College seems more competitive than ever and more than a few students feel like they need “study drugs” to get ahead or achieve the grades they need to keep a scholarship or to achieve a particular goal. Whatever the reason may be, what’s getting lost in the mix is the fact that these stimulant drugs are controlled substances. 

They have the potential for misuse that can ultimately lead to a substance use disorder. Surveys and research have shown a worrying trend in increased ADHD medicine use by college students. 

But, I Really Do Have ADHD…

Just because a student has a legitimate ADHD diagnosis and is prescribed stimulant medication, doesn’t make them any less at risk for Adderall misuse than anyone else. In fact, research suggests the opposite. People with ADHD seem to be more vulnerable to developing substance use disorders than the general population. 

None of this means that no one should ever take Adderall. What it does mean is that anyone who does should be fully aware of the risks, discuss them with their doctor first, and never take Adderall that isn’t prescribed to you or contrary to the directions. 

Side Effects and Signs of Adderall Misuse:

  • Excessive talkativeness
  • Racing thoughts and mania-like behavior
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Anxiety or panic
  • An absence of appetite for food or water
  • Isolationist behaviors
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia 

The Risks of College Students Taking Adderall

If a study drug like Adderall helps a college student’s academic performance, what’s the harm? Especially if the student has gone the legal route and obtained an Adderall prescription from their doctor. It’s a fair question. 

When used as prescribed, drugs like Vyvanse and Adderall are safe and effective enough to warrant FDA approval. Using stimulant medications exactly as prescribed can be safe, provided you don’t have a heart problem or pre-existing condition your doctor was unaware of when he prescribed it. 

The problems begin when people either use Adderall or similar medications against recommendations or when they obtain these medications illegally. 

The Dangers of Adderall Misuse

  • Illegally obtained pills or capsules have no quality or purity assurance and may contain crystal meth, fentanyl or other dangerous adulterants which can be potentially deadly.
  • Taking a higher dose than prescribed can lead to serious side effects, including heart arrhythmias, heart attacks or seizures. 
  • Combining Adderall or similar study drugs with other intoxicants can lead to unexpected compound effects. People who drink alcohol while on Adderall are more likely to drink to excess and get alcohol poisoning, for example. 

Encore Outpatient Services is Here to Help

At Encore, we’re proud to offer outpatient substance abuse programs for college students and anyone else in the DC metro area looking to make a change. We offer a range of outpatient services from our Partial Hospitalization Program to Intensive Outpatient and General Outpatient care. All of these are designed to fit your lifestyle with minimal disruption. 

You can attend therapy and counseling during the day and return home to sleep in your own bed each night. If you or someone you love might benefit from drug and alcohol treatment in the DC metro area, let’s have a conversation about what Encore can do for you. Contact us online or give us a call at: 703.436.8158

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