Campus Safety for College Students with ADHD

 ADHD Weekly, August 22, 2019

Your young adult is starting her first year of college, and she’s sorting out all the academic challenges. Hopefully, her accommodations are in place, and she has some other supports that can help her succeed. We have more resources on succeeding in college  if you’re looking for additional information.

Academic safety nets, however, are only part of what she’ll need to face new challenges on campus. It’s important for her to set up physical safety nets as well. College is an exciting adventure. But with any new adventure can come some dangers, especially for students with ADHD. Symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, perseveration (sometimes called hyperfocus), and impaired short-term memory can leave them open to safety risks on campus and among new groups of people. There is the unfortunate reality that some people will try to acquire prescription medications, either through coercion, offers to buy them, or by stealing them from students who have ADHD.

Talk with your young adult about how she can stay safe on campus and reduce the risks of harm. Here are some more tips.

In the dorm or apartment

Lock up medication. Advise the college student to tell only those who absolutely need to know that she has been prescribed a medication. Friends and roommates don’t need to be privy to her treatment plan and medications; even well-meaning friends can tell the wrong person that there are medications in her room.

Remind her to develop the habit of double-checking that the door is locked. Keeping the door locked when she returns to the room or apartment is equally important to prevent unwanted individuals from entering.

Post emergency numbers. Have your young adult keep the phone number for campus police or security posted and recorded in her cell phone’s contacts. Students living off campus should keep the local police phone number and other emergency numbers posted.

Choose guests wisely. Talk with your college student about how to be selective in who is invited into this space and limit the number of people who visit. She should know how to push back against anyone pressuring her―friend, study partner, or dating partner―about entering her living space, especially if something doesn’t feel right.

On campus

Walk on the campus together. Taking a stroll around the grounds with you will help your college student learn her way around campus and find out where emergency phones are located.

Encourage her to find friends who walk to campus together and not to walk alone at night. It’s often recommended to vary the route and not be predictable in case someone unwanted is paying attention.

Students shouldn’t wear earphones when walking or jogging on campus. The distraction of music can make her less aware of her surroundings and anyone who might sneak up on her.

Call for a ride. The school’s security or police officer usually offers rides across campus at night. Some schools have special student escorts and will send two students to walk across campus with students.

Discuss the risks in accepting a ride with someone she doesn’t know well. If she does get a ride from a classmate or friend, she should let a roommate or another good friend know who is driving her and when to expect her to arrive. A safety tip to suggest: Be sure to let the person offering the ride see her make the phone call.

Among friends

Be aware of ADHD symptoms. Symptoms can affect decision-making and social relationships. Your young adult should talk with her treatment provider about ways of controlling impulsivity. Impulsivity can lead to regrettable decisions. It can also place her at risk when decisions regarding personal safety need to be made or when alcohol or drugs are involved in social situations.

Talk about ways to resist peer pressure. New college students have many opportunities to make new friends and may desire to quickly jump into friendships. However, anyone who pressures your young adult to do something that she finds uncomfortable is not a friend.

Avoid alcohol and drugs. College students under age 21 should not drink at all. Those who are of legal drinking age need to discuss with their doctors any possible interactions between ADHD medication and alcohol.

Encourage your young adult to leave immediately if people are doing drugs at a party or social gathering. There is no safe use of any drug, including marijuana. Make sure she’s aware that being arrested for illegal drug use can affect her future educational and career opportunities. The health risks, including addiction and risk of bodily harm, are not worth the experimentation. Drug abuse includes not only illegal drugs but also medications that are prescribed to other people.

Talk about the risks of diversion. Sharing or selling medication is illegal and dangerous. Doing so could cause problems for your college student. Looking for pointers? Check out CHADD’s webpage Medication Abuse and Diversion.

For more information on what you can do to be safe on campus, visit College Health and Safety and Tips for College Health and Safety.

Do you have a question about ADHD or are you looking for a resource? Contact our Health Information Specialists at 866-200-8098, Monday through Friday, from 1-5 p.m. Easter Time. Or join the discussion at ADHD Parents Together.