Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural disorder largely characterized by hyperactivity, impulsive behaviour, and difficulty maintaining focus. And it affects an estimated 4.4% of American adults, ages 18 to 44 [1].

The rates of the prescribed stimulatory medication used to treat ADHD, such as Adderall, Ritalin, or Vyvanse, have risen at a disproportionately high rate. Studies show that rates of stimulatory ADHD prescription treatments increased by 22% from 2003 to 2007 in America, and an average of 3 to 6% every year from 2000 to 2010 [2]. Alarmingly, another study has shown that an estimated one in four of these prescriptions are for adults who don’t actually have ADHD [3].

So, just why are these drugs, which are labeled as a Class 3 Substance (deemed “highly addictive”), so popular [4]? Students, particularly in post-secondary institutions, often misuse the stimulant drugs to gain an academic edge, such as concentration and focus [4]. But there is a burgeoning group of individuals abusing these medications to intentionally spur one of the most common side effects of the medication: weight loss. In both instances–academic edge and weight loss–students make a choice that can haunt them for years, as the consequences to stimulant drug abuse can last a lifetime.

There are specific reasons why stimulatory ADHD medications are not offered as a weight loss solution. ADHD medications are prescribed by professionals only after seriously contemplating if the physical and psychological risks of taking the medication are outweighed by the possible psychological benefits. It is extremely dangerous to take these medications if not properly prescribed and given the correct dosage. Students have been known to either buy these drugs from those with prescriptions–but without the proper dosage for themselves, or research symptoms of ADHD, in order to lie to a psychiatrist and obtain the medications.

Without proper medical consultation, the potential consequences of taking stimulatory ADHD medications are unforeseeable. People who have been accurately diagnosed with ADHD and properly treated are not at risk for developing an addiction to ADHD medications. But those who abuse the medication risk dependence on the highly addictive substance [5]. Those who may be allergic, or at risk of addiction, are also more likely to suffer greater damage from consequences than those the prescription suits [5].

Other health consequences of amphetamine abuse include hypertension, irregular heartbeat, seizures, tremors, and various debilitating mood disorders [4]. When used in consistently high doses, amphetamines can also cause strokes or heart failure. Another consequence includes a keen student’s worst enemy: a decline in cognition, including paranoia, hallucinations, and confusion [4].

ADHD medications cannot be considered a diet substitute, given that weight loss due to these medications are because they encourage starvation. A lack of appetite does not mean a lack of need for sustenance. Starvation is likely to cause exhaustion, trouble concentrating, mood swings, and insufficient vitamin balances, which may impede natural growth. Losing weight too quickly can also cause the body to lose water and muscle instead of fat, hormonal imbalances, and severe daily digestive problems. Undoubtedly, these symptoms can be a huge detriment to one’s academic and professional success.

The consequences of misusing ADHD drugs, however, do not remain in the body. Using ADHD medications without a prescription, or lying to a psychiatrist or doctor in order to obtain them, is considered drug abuse in Canada under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. In Ontario, possession of amphetamines without a prescription is punishable by a maximum fine of $2,000, or up to seven years jail time. Intentionally lying to a psychiatrist or doctor is also punishable by a fine and jail time in some parts of the United States.

ADHD medications are serious stimulants given to those who benefit psychologically from them. But other misuses for weight loss or academic advantages is drug abuse and has serious health consequences. There are a variety of ways to lose weight or do better in school. But ADHD medications are not the solution.


By: Alexa Battler
Edited by: Veerpal Bambrah
Image by: Adley Lobo



[1] Kessler, Ronald C., et al. “The Prevalence and Correlates of Adult ADHD in the United States: Results From the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.” American Journal of Psychiatry. American Psychiatric Association, Apr. 2006. Web.

[2] “ADHD Medication: Data & Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 08 July 2015. Web.

[3] Melnick, Meredith. “Faking It: Why Nearly 1 in 4 Adults Who Seek Treatment Don’t Have ADHD.” Time, 28 Apr. 2011. Web.

[4] Hom, Elaine J. “Adderall: Uses, Abuses & Side Effects.” Live Science. Purch Incorporated, 6 Nov. 2011. Web.

[5] “Illicit use of prescription ADHD medications on a college campus: a multimethodological approach.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov.-Dec. 2008. Web.