More NCAA student-athletes report using ADHD medications without a prescription compared to those with a prescription and medical diagnosis, according to the 2014 NCAA Substance Abuse Survey. Especially around this time of year, students may misuse or abuse prescription amphetamines such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta to enhance memory and academic performance.
This is of concern to a number of sports organizations as not only are amphetamines banned/prohibited, but also potentially harmful to the athlete’s health. And ultimately, if the athlete does not have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), does the non-medical use of these prescription stimulants actually lead to improved academic outcomes? We decided to investigate.
|Results from the NCAA Substance Abuse Survey.|
First, let’s get a few knowledge points out of the way.
- Occasionally called “speed” or “uppers," are synthetic, psychoactive drugs that are central nervous system (CNS) stimulants.
- Prescribed to treat narcolepsy, obesity, and attention deficit/hypertension disorder (ADHD).
- Considered performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) that delay the onset of (or mitigate) fatigue.
- Banned/prohibited stimulants by most, if not all, sports organizations.
- Commonly found in dietary supplements, namely those marketed as “pre-workouts," but also hidden in other types of supplements.
- Listed on product labels under different names or chemical formulas, causing uncertainty for consumers. (See Box 1 for examples popular ingredients of concern.)
- Associated with negative health effects when misused/abused. (See Box 2.)
But, are they effective for improved academic performance?
In 2015, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that ADHD medications provide little to no benefit to those without medical need. In fact, the medication caused a decrease in motivation, and an increase in omission errors when compared to a control group. Amphetamine-users also perceived themselves as having poorer study habits and lower motivation than their non-user counterparts.
The University of Maryland School of Public Health conducted a literature review on non-medical amphetamine use among college-aged students. Their research revealed that non-medical use of amphetamines was also associated with the following characteristics in college-aged students:
- Excessive drinking and other drug use
- Lower GPA
- Low perceived harmfulness of using prescription stimulants non-medically
- Greater attention difficulties
- Psychiatric distress or depressed mood
- More likely to skip class
- Affiliation with a Greek (fraternity/sorority) organization
The NCAA and World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) do have medical exception processes that athletes may complete should prescription amphetamines be required for a diagnosed medical need. NCAA and WADA athletes will need to fill out the ADHD Medical Exception Reporting Form or the Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE) form, respectively. The use of amphetamines will cause a positive drug test—and without a current prescription and medical exception, appropriate sanctions will follow.
Amphetamines are more dangerous than perceived and should only be used under the direction of a medical doctor. Prescription amphetamines are Schedule II drugs with considerable potential for abuse and addiction. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, distributing Schedule II stimulants illegally (e.g., sharing or selling pills) is a felony.
If you or a student-athlete have a questions regarding amphetamine use (dietary supplement or medication), please visit www.dfsrec.com or call Drug Free Sport at 877-202-0769.
Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013, Oct. 29). Amphetamines Retrieved from http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/amphetamines.asp
Center on Young Adult Heath and Development, University of Maryland School of Public Health. Retrieved from http://medicineabuseproject.org/assets/documents/NPSFactSheet.pdf
Illeva, I.P., & Farrah, M.J. (2015). Attention, motivation, and study habits in users of unprescribed ADHD medication. Journal of Attention Disorders, 1-13. doi: 10.1177/1087054715591849
Lakhan, S.E., & Kirchgessner, A. (2012). Prescription stimulants in individuals with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: misuse, cognitive impact, and adverse effects. Brain and Behavior
National Collegiate Athletic Association. (2013). [Graph illustration from NCAA substance use survey]. NCAA National Study of Substance Use Habits of College Student-Athletes. Retrieved from https://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/Substance%20Use%20Final%20Report_FINAL.pdf
Rosenbloom, C.A., & Coleman, E.J. (2012). Sports Nutrition: A practice manual for professionals. United States of America: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.