Students cautioned about Ritalin abuse

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As tertiary institutions reopen across the country, the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA) has issued a strong warning to students to steer clear of performance-enhancing drugs.

It began when Relebohile* failed her first module at varsity. When she failed her second unit, friends offered Relebohile something they thought could help.


“My friends offered me this ‘amazing tablet’ called Ritalin,” said Relebohile. “It helps you to stay awake for hours and improves your concentration levels.”


“With Ritalin, you can stay away from your lectures then when exam time comes you drink it, study hard and pass,” says Relebohile, who adds she and friends allegedly got the tablets from a Rustenburg pharmacist.

But the Free State student’s reliance on the pills to study soon increased.

“I started with one or two tablets in the beginning then the dosage increase to every time I was writing my exams,” she said.

Ritalin is commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as part of a wider treatment programme that also includes psychosocial and educational support, according to SANCA National Coordinator Louina le Roux.

She adds that a mix of academic and social pressures can make abusing Ritalin look appealing to students.

“(It’s) sometimes very difficult for students who have a desire to do well, have a busy social life, fit in with peers, and experience all that student life has to offer,” she told OurHealth. “Sleep is then viewed as a very unwelcome guest.”

“Stimulants such as Ritalin may seem (like) a good way to buy a few extra hours a day to say, cram for an exam, or to stay up later to drink more, or to feel better after a night of drinking,” Le Roux added.

SANCA says Ritalin abuse may be high among not only varsity students but also pupils at upmarket private schools. According to Le Roux, SANCA has even heard of older pupils getting younger students to fake ADHD symptoms to get scripts for the medication.

Stimulants like Ritalin have side effects, including anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness and headaches, Le Roux added. People who are addicted could, like Relebohile, face challenges in quitting and withdrawal symptoms.

After her pharmacist contact cut off her Ritalin supply, Relebohile struggled to cope and eventually told her doctor about what had happened.


“I went to see a GP for my condition and was admitted to rehab, so as I am telling my story I am a recovering addict,” she said. “(Your addiction) can spiral out of control so quickly that you can’t function without it. I wish I had never had it to start off.”


Le Roux urged students to stay away from the drug and instead try to talk out problems and pressures.

“Using Ritalin for any other purpose than treating a disorder diagnosed and prescribed by a medical practitioner can without a doubt lead to addiction,” she said. “It is therefore strongly recommended that learners or students take cognisance of the above and rather approach a counsellor or any other available resource – including SANCA – for assistance when faced with certain challenges.


“When you are failing grades, the peers that incite you to join in the social activities that prevent you from reaching your dreams will not be there to support you,” she added. “Addiction prevention is better than cure.” – Health-e News.


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