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ADHD Study Drugs Don’t Improve Grades, New Study Shows

John Schaffer, LPCC

Medically reviewed by

John Schaffer, LPCC

March 7, 2019

Despite the popularity of so-called “study drugs” and the proclamation that they increase focus and self-control, they may not actually be helpful in improving school performance, according to a new study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Taken unprescribed, these drugs can cause serious health effects.

Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drugs are becoming increasingly common. However, they are not only being prescribed legally for kids and young adults who have these disorders, but are being used illegally by college students as a crutch in studying for exams.

Over a period of 11 years, the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at education outcomes and medication usage in upwards of 4,000 students in Quebec, Canada. What they found is that students who took ADHD drugs didn’t perform better than their student counterparts who did not take the drugs. In fact, they found that the students who took the ADHD medication performed worse academically than those who didn’t take the medication.

When comparing the grades of males with ADHD taking the medication and males with ADHD not taking the drugs, the grades were worse for the males who took the ADHD medications. On the flip side, females who took the ADHD medications were found to have more emotional issues than those who didn’t take the medications.

According to the study authors, Janet Currie of Princeton, Mark Stabile of the University of Toronto, and Lauren E. Jones of Cornell, increased drug usage was linked to worse math scores, worse parental relationships, increased unhappiness, higher anxiety, and even depression in girls.

“The possibility that [medication] won’t help them [in school] needs to be acknowledged and needs to be closely monitored,” Currie told the Wall Street Journal.

The NBER isn’t the only study that has found these results. Adding to the growing body of evidence that has been found, these studies show that, over a long period of time, grade-point averages and achievement scores aren’t considerably different in students with ADHD who take medications compared to those who do not. Funded by the U.S. government, another significant study, established as the Multisite Multimodal Treatment (MTA) study, found similar long-term medication findings.

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The MTA study examined nearly 600 students with ADHD. They found that by the third year, the benefits of ADHD medications for academic performance dissipated. By the eighth year, the researchers found no difference between the students taking the medications and those who didn’t.

All-in-all, these findings highlight the fact that the many risks, side effects, and potential consequences — such as increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, insomnia, depression, hallucinations, fines, jail time, and even death — outweigh the reasons for taking these drugs.

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