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Addressing Stimulant Abuse at Kennesaw State

Young Adult Addiction and Recovery Director Teresa Johnston talks the myths and realities of drug use at KSU

“The intended purpose of drugs like Adderall, Ritalin and Dexedrine is for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” said Teresa Johnston, Director of Kennesaw State University’s Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery. “They are a stimulant class of drugs, and students are taking them for that stimulant effect.”

Johnston said some college students are misusing the behavioral treatment drugs for reasons as diverse as diet control and concentration for studying.

“Culturally, we are a nation that advertises prescription drugs, so we are conditioned towards turning to medication,” Johnston said. “We see things and read things on TV that are marketed to us, and I think the students of this generation are raised in an atmosphere where medication is pretty popular, and it’s a business as well. I believe, often, that this minimizes the impact, and you don’t always understand the impact of using drugs because culturally, it seems acceptable.”

Johnston said common short-term side effects of behavioral treatment medication misuse includes nausea, headaches and disrupted sleep patterns. She said long-term effects may include increased blood pressure, depression and the potentiality for addiction and other substance abuse dependencies.

Johnston said that access to such drugs are readily accessible to the student body. “Students are often prescribed Adderall and Ritalin at a young age, from middle school and high school on,” Johnston said. “Access from your fellow students, who may have a prescription, is available.”

Although Johnston considers behavioral treatment medication misuse to be an issue at Kennesaw State University, she does not consider it to be a widespread occurrence. “Working with the student body here, I haven’t seen a tremendous outbreak of students using such drugs,” Johnston said. “I know there is use, casual use, from conversations I’ve had with students. However, I haven’t seen many documents or cases related to prescription drug use of the type.”

“People should really be concerned for their friends, and that addiction and alcohol use is an isolating situation,” Johnston said. “There’s a stigma associated with telling somebody as betraying someone, but at the Center, we’re very non-judgmental and we really want to help people feel like it’s a safe place to come and talk about these issues.”

“We have educational programs where we teach and reach out into the community with information about stimulants,“ Johnston said. “We also have intervention services, where we are able to counsel students and work with them individually. We also have meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, on campus to help students.”

Johnston recommended that students directly approach friends about potential substance abuse concerns.

“Tell them that they are concerned about what they are seeing, ask them if they feel like they need help, and then, if the student is concerned about them or another friend that they feel is really facing some problems, I would go to somebody that they could trust to talk to, like a parent or a residential advisor,” said Johnston.

Johnston said that parents and educators should note telltale symptoms, such as erratic sleeping cycles and noticeable weight loss. “They may get hyper verbal, as stimulants make you talk a lot,” Johnston said. “Generally, hyperactivity is associated with it. Someone who has sort of a calm nature, who’s pretty laid back, if he or she is using stimulants, you will see some behavioral changes, such as being fidgety or easily agitated.”

“One of the things we try to do within the first six weeks with the incoming freshmen class is to let them know that they are going to be experiencing some cultural changes,” Johnston said. “They may not have been around drugs or alcohol before, and, for that matter, they may not have been around other cultures and other types of people before. But at a university this size, we have tremendous diversity, and that includes good things and challenging things."

"So what we say to them is, the behaviors and values your culture brings, try to stick with them," Johnston said. "Understand what your values are, so if you’re a person that values health and honesty and wellness, really try and reengage with your values before you start undertaking behavioral changes.”

“I think we continue to see students who come to college already engaged in illegal drug use and/or underage drinking, so I think we have to be prepared as a university to be open about those issues,” Johnston said. “I don’t see Kennesaw in greater jeopardy or greater need than other universities, in particular, but I think our culture, and the culture these young adults are coming into and from, they’re bringing a lot of those behaviors with them," Johnston said. "For those that come onto a college campus, and they have an expectation that it may be okay to do some of those things, it’s up to us as faculty and staff to really participate in helping students identify what the hazards are.”

“A lot of people think of college as a place to party, and they expect [drug use], but it’s not really true,” Johnston said. “People perceive that everybody’s partying, but the fact of the matter is, most people are not.”

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