The use of ADHD drugs by healthy college students do not improve cognition.

3년 전

[ADHD. Source: Flickr. Author: amenclinicsphotos. CCO Licensed]

Hey guys, have you ever met students that just feel that they can't pass exams or tests unless they take some drug, which they feel would boost their academic performance? I'm sure most of us have. Recently, students think that by taking ADHD drugs, they stand a chance of improving their results; and that they would automatically go from zero to hero (hahaha). Well guys, I'm going to be sharing with us a theory by a wonderful Professor of Psychology, in relation to the use of ADHD drugs to improve academic performance. I would have told you guys what the theory is all about right away, but then I'd kill the fun! (smiles). So stick with me guys and let's flow together...

Ok let's start from here, what's the full meaning of ADHD- Attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder. This is actually a brain disorder that is recognized by a continuous pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that affects the individual's functioning as well as development. Now guys, what exactly is inattention- This relates to an individual that lacks persistence, that has problem sustaining focus, an individual that wanders off task, as well as a very disorganized individual. Such a person suffers all these not because the person lacks comprehension, but because the person is suffering from a disorder. Now let's understand what hyperactivity means- This relates to an individual that is moving from one place to another almost non-stop, even in occasions in which it is not appropriate to be moving about. Hyperactivity also relates with excessive talking, taps as well as fidgeting. When this occurs in adults, it may involve extreme restlessness or disturbance of other people with almost unending activity.

OK, another term that I want us to understand is impulsivity- This relates to an individual that makes hasty actions that usually occur in that very instant without thinking about his/her actions before acting, and these hasty actions may have a high tendency of causing harm. Impulsivity also relate s to individuals that have inability to delay gratification, they are always seeking immediate rewards ; they don't want to wait, they want everything now now now . Impulsive individuals may be socially intrusive and may almost always interrupt others or make very important decisions without any consideration of the future consequences of their actions.

The most common behaviors of individuals suffering from ADHD is inattention and hyperactivity/ impulsivity. Actually, some individuals with ADHD only have issues with one of the behaviors, while some others have problems with both inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity. Now, in little children, the most common behavior of ADHD is hyperactivity. Though, it is quite normal for you to find little children without ADHD having some level of inattention, as well as show some lack of focus and impulsivity (smiles). We know how children are; jumping up and down, playing almost every time, showing restlessness- these are behavior patterns common to almost all children, but for those suffering from ADHD, you can only imagine; for them it's more severe, they are restless almost always, this affects them a great deal, disturbing the quality of how they actually function socially, at home, at school and when they even grow up, it tends to affect them in their jobs.

Generally, individuals with inattention issues may often miss important details, or just overlook them, they may make careless mistakes at home , at school, in home works, at workplace and when performing other activities. They may have issues or problems paying attention to lectures, conversations as well as lengthy reading. People with inattention problems may not seem to listen to you even you are speaking to them directly. Inattention problems may not make an individual to follow through on instructions and hence make mistakes, they may fail to complete home works, chores, responsibilities at work or they may start a task and before you know what's happening, they've lost focus, they actually get sidetracked rather easily. They have issues on keeping sequence of activities and tasks, keeping belongings in check, they usually have scattered workplace and they manage there time really poorly. Among their biggest problems is the fact that they usually fail to meet deadlines. Individuals with inattention issues are distracted quite easily by thoughts that are not related to what they are doing at the moment.

[ADHD symptoms. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Psyc3330 w11. CC-BY-SA-4.0 Licensed]

People with hyperactivity-impulsivity problems may be seen fidgeting in their seats. You may see people with this problem standing up and moving about in occasions when sitting down is expected e.g in a classroom. They may be observed running around or even climbing (lol!), when they are expected to be sitting down and resting. You know, almost everyone has hobbies, those things we love to do, especially children, we often notice them loving some activities more than others; this is same with people with hyperactivity-impulsivity issues, although, in their case, they make so much noise when playing or engaging in hobbies.

The risk factors for ADHD are uncertain i.e the cause of ADHD is unknown. Just the same as with some other illnesses, scientists have connected some factors to ADHD- e.g smoking cigarette, consuming alcohol, or using drugs during pregnancy, the gene of an individual, exposure of a pregnant woman to toxins from the environment, low birth weight, as well as injuries to the brain. ADHD has been found to occur more in males than in females. Now, when it occurs in females, it basically causes them to suffer issues with inattention. Unfortunately guys, there is no cure for this disorder. But there are treatments that can actually help to manage the symptoms of this disorder. Here are some of the treatments- there's psychotherapy, there's training, there are medications, and sometimes, the treatments are combined.


So guys, what's cognition? To simply put, cognition is related to everything that has to do with knowledge i.e to know. Hence, the word cognition was gotten from Latin, from precisely the word 'cognoscere'- meaning 'to know'. Thus, cognition relates to all the information that we've gathered through our experiences and learning. There's also what we call cognitive processes. Yeah guys, this is simply the process involved in cognition- i.e the processes or procedures involved in acquiring new knowledge and taking actions based upon accumulated knowledge. There are many functions that are important in cognitive processes e.g we have attention, there's perception, we also have reasoning, as well as memory. Now, you see guys, for new knowledge to get incorporated, these cognitive functions have to work together Now, you may want to ask, what is cognitive perception? Well , to simply put, this relates to everything that has to do with our perception of the world around us through stimuli. We receive stimuli through our senses, e.g our taste, our sight, touch, our hearing and smell.

What exactly is attention in relation to cognition, attention has to do with concentrating on a particular stimulus, for the purpose of processing that stimulus or as many stimuli thoroughly. Now, memory as part of the cognitive process has to do with the ability to store, code as well as recover experiences and learning from the past. Thought is also part of the cognitive process- this has to do with the blending of all of the information that we have one time or the other received and the connection that we have created between events. Thoughts has a lot to do with our reasoning as well as our problem solving ability. Language is also another part of cognitive process, in which case, language is actually the expression of feelings as well as as thoughts via spoken words. Now you see guys, language is a tool for communication and transmission of information about our very selves as well as the world at large. Learning is yet another part of the cognitive process. Learning is simply the incorporation of new knowledge or information into our accumulated knowledge.

[Cognition. Source: Flickr. Author: Peter Morville. CCO Licensed]

Now you see guys, the cognitive processes may either occur simply by nature or it may occur artificially. Also it may occur consciously as well as unconsciously, nonetheless, it occurs fast, and the cognitive processes are always at work, with or without us knowing. We can actually improve our cognition as well as our cognitive performance using some strategies and tools. For example, there are cognitive stimulation exercises that one can engage in and have been found to have good results on cognition e.g brain games that people can play on mobile phones and on computers; which are games that one can play for fun even as it improves one's cognitive performance.

Ok, let's discuss how the cognition of healthy college students do not improve with use of ADHD drugs.

Recent research has found that truly these ADHD drugs do not have positive effect on the cognition of healthy college students. The study found that instead of the ADHD drugs improving the cognition of healthy college students, it actually has adverse effect on the working memory of these students. Initially, the aim of the research was to look at how adderall, which is a commonly used ADHD drug improve the cognition in healthy students; which is the popular belief. Here's what the researchers had to say about the use of ADHD by healthy college students.

Not only are they not benefiting from it academically, but it could be negatively affecting their performance. Source

From the research, it was found that a large number of college students without ADHD buy or receive these drugs illegally from their family members, friends as well as peers. These students believe that these drugs would have positive effect on their academic performance. The research also showed that the brain scan of an individual with ADHD usually has less neural activity in the areas of the brain that are in charge of executive function, such as self-control, such as working memory, as well as attention. Hence, the reason why individuals with this disorder usually have problems with attention, self control as well as memory. Here's what these ADHD drugs do, they actually improve activity in those areas of the brain and help the individual with ADHD to function normally. And here comes the big problem-

If your brain is functioning normally in those regions, the medication is unlikely to have a positive effect on cognition and my actually impair cognition. In other words, you need to have a deficit to benefit from the medicine. Source

Says one of the co-investigators of the study. From the research also, it was found that the students i.e healthy college students that used these drugs experienced the effect of these drugs on their emotions. Hence, elevating their mood when they use the drugs, giving them that feeling of 'highness', increasing their heart and blood pressure- all these are basic impacts of psycho stimulants.

[ADHD drug- Adderall. Source:Wikimedia Commons. Author: Twirligig. CC-BY-SA-3.0. Licensed]

And that's where students get it misunderstood, they feel that by feeling elevated as a result of the effect of these drugs, that elevation would be reflected in improved academic performance; which as seen in the young students without ADHD is not true. The research found no relationship between how ADHD drugs made the students feel and improved cognition. This is a theory by Lisa Weyandt, a Professor of Psychology of the University of Rhodes Island. Feel free to check my references for more information.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

  2. Cognition and cognitive science

  3. Cognition- Psychology Today

  4. ADHD drugs do not improve cognition in healthy college students

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