By: Briana Boyington

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Linda Stafford knew taking Adderall that wasn’t prescribed to her was wrong.

But her usual routine of downing coffee and energy drinks to stay awake was failing and she was struggling to manage her workload and social life. A junior at Georgia Southern University, Stafford was studying to get into the school’s pre-nursing program, partying two to four times a week and playing club rugby.

“One night I was really stressed out and had no idea what I should do. I knew I needed to study for anatomy. I wanted some sort of divine help,” Stafford says.

[Avoid these bad study habits in college.]

That help came in the form of a 30-milligram pill.

“I loved it. It felt like I could access every single part of my brain that I ever wanted to access. My confidence shot up,” she says.

The desire for that mental clarity lead to addiction and sent Stafford on a downward spiral.

Stafford’s story isn’t uncommon. College is stressful. Many students turn to drugs and alcohol to compensate for loneliness and​ social and academic anxiety, experts say.

recent report from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids found that 20 percent of the college students surveyed abused stimulants, such as​ Adderall. More than 1,800 students die from alcohol-related​ injuries​ each year, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism​. In addition to the deaths, hundreds of thousands of alcohol-related assaults and injuries happen each year. And if the health risks aren’t enough, alcohol and drug abuse has been linked to poor grades.

​”At first, it was like one test,” Stafford says. She told herself she would only use it for tests – once a week or every two weeks. Then, it was for papers. “Then it was like all the time, I’m going to take it all the time,” she says.

By the summer of her junior year, Stafford’s grades were suffering and she was depressed, paranoid, taking 90 milligrams of the drug a day, drinking and taking Tylenol PM so she could pass out. Initially Stafford got Adderall from a friend, but soon she was in a network of students selling and buying it. She traded gas and beer and spent a lot of her parents’​ money to obtain a supply, even after she was able to get her own prescription.

Parents and students often share misconceptions about the seriousness of excessive use of recreational drugs, like marijuana, and the consumption of prescription painkillers or stimulants,​ experts say. People can die from abusing painkillers. But the short-term effects of stimulants and marijuana aren’t necessarily immediate or dramatic, which can make them appear safe, experts say.

“Parents and kids have some of the perceptions that this is prescription medication, it has been developed in a lab, it has been FDA approved, it’s got positive therapeutic value, how dangerous can it be?,​” says Sean Clarkin, director of programs at the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids​.

[Learn more about the debate surrounding the misuse of Adderall.]

Parents should research potential long-term negative effects of these substances. Conversations about drugs and alcohol should ideally start in elementary school and continue through grade school, substance abuse experts say. For students who need prescription medication, parents should make sure they teach their kids not to share it. It’s also important for parents to model appropriate behavior when it comes to drinking and drugs. ​

Many students start using alcohol and drugs in high school and that behavior worsens when students go away, experts say. Stafford was a sophomore​ in high school the first time that she got drunk.

“The earlier on parents start having these conversations with these kids the greater the likelihood is that their kids will be more responsible when they go away,” says Jonathan Gibralter, president of Frostburg State University in Maryland.

But telling to students not to drink isn’t helpful, says Gibralter.

Instead, he encourages parents to teach their children about responsible consumption and staying safe when they do go out to party.

“The most important messages that parents can give their sons and daughters are make sure that you take care of each other,” he says.

[Understand the ins and outs of bystander intervention.]

That includes keeping an eye out for friends, eating before drinking, respecting your tolerance limitations, only drinking familiar beverages, avoiding risky behavior like pregaming and binge drinking and never leaving drinks unattended, he says.

Students with the right knowledge about the risks, and who have a strong support system, may be less likely to binge drink or do drugs. And students with adequate time management skills may feel more equipped to balance the demands of college, which could limit the abuse of stimulants, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids’ Clarkin says.

Stafford gave up alcohol and Adderall during the fall semester of her senior year. She went to recovery meetings, changed her friends and adjusted her habits. Now 24, she works at a detoxification center in Savannah, Georgia and is earning a master’s degree in social work​ at Savannah State University. She still attends recovery meetings regularly.

Colleges can try to limit underage drinking and attempt to keep students safe, but it’s important for parents to step up, educate themselves and talk to their kids about using drugs and alcohol responsibly long before students step on campus, experts say.

“Colleges and universities really look to parents to be their allies. We need their help and support. We can’t do this alone,” says Frostburg’s Gibralter.

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