Impulsive behavior, restlessness, and the inability to sustain attention describe the 3 to 7 percent of this country’s school-age population diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This chronic neuro-developmental disorder also causes academic and social challenges for college students, says URI Psychology Professor Lisa Weyandt, a leading researcher on the effects of ADHD on young adults who conducted the first clinical trial investigating the effectiveness of the prescription stimulant Vyvanse on college students with ADHD.
Unfortunately, as many as 35 percent of college-age students who don’t have ADHD take stimulants and other ADHD medications, thinking it will improve their academic performance. It’s a dangerous practice that worries the author of three books on ADHD and recipient of several research awards.
“There are known health risks associated with taking these medications. They decrease appetite and cause difficulty sleeping, and students are taking the medications without scientific evidence that it is truly enhancing their cognitive abilities and academic performance,” she said. “In some cases, prescription stimulants can actually impede their ability to do their work by causing them to over-focus and fixate on one part of the assignment.”
Professor Weyandt and her team of students were the first to identify specific psychological variables associated with people who misuse prescription stimulants. For example, she found that college students with low grade point averages, greater levels of psychological distress and internal restlessness, and members of fraternities and sororities are at greatest risk for misusing stimulants.
Funded by a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, they also conducted the first study on how ADHD affects the educational, cognitive, social, psychological and vocational functioning of college students with and without ADHD, both during and after their college years. Her next big idea is to examine an older demographic, including those in corporate America, to determine how common the practice is among the wider population.
Going forward, Professor Weyandt’s research will contribute to the work of URI’s new George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience in bringing even more funding and focus to the important area of neurological disorders, and hopefully lead to a breakthrough that will transform the lives of the millions affected by neurological diseases every day.