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Teens and ADHD Drug Abuse

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Teens and ADHD Drug AbuseThe number of teens abusing prescription drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is troubling. The motivations for abusing these drugs are often noble: Teens want to be able to stay up longer to study or to get a paper finished, for example. 

But the consequences are serious and can include addiction. Some teens and college students might also abuse these drugs to try to stay up for partying. Whatever the motivation, abuse of a prescription drug is always a bad idea.

Facts About ADHD Drug Abuse

Much of the information we have about how many teens misuse these drugs comes from the University of Michigan’s annual “Monitoring the Future” survey. The survey questions thousands of students from across the country and all walks of life. They are asked about drug, cigarette and alcohol use.

From 2009 through 2013, the number of teens abusing ADHD medications has increased. In 2009, 5.4 percent of high school seniors abused one of these drugs. By 2012 the number had increased to 7.6 percent. For the last two years the number has held steady around 7 percent, which is better but still troubling.

What Are Prescription ADHD Medications?

There are several different medications that can be prescribed for ADHD, including Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta. They are all stimulant drugs because the increase activity in the central nervous system. The effect of these drugs on kids with ADHD is usually positive. It helps them to focus and concentrate and calms the hyperactivity and impulsiveness characteristic of the disorder.

These medications help most children, and even teens, struggling with ADHD, but with more and more people being diagnosed and treated every year, these drugs are flooding the market, providing better access for those who want to abuse them.

Stimulant Abuse by Teens

We tend to think of drug abuse as an issue for troubled teens, but no teen is immune to the allure of drug abuse. And stimulants used for ADHD have a particular pull on high-achieving students.

Stimulants have the effect of wakefulness and focus. It seems that many teens wanting to succeed academically think these drugs could be the perfect study aid. The drugs could ward off sleepiness and help them focus on studying late into the night. More common in college students is the abuse of stimulants to stay awake for parties.

There are many risks associated with abusing ADHD medications, even if the reason is just to study more. Stimulants carry risks and side effects, and when a teen takes one of these drugs without the oversight of a doctor, the risks can be increased.

Stimulants cause blood pressure to go up and the heartbeat to be irregular. They raise body temperature and make it more difficult to sleep. Another side effect is loss of appetite. Many people who abuse stimulants end up malnourished because they neglect to eat. At higher doses, stimulants can even cause seizures, stroke and death. Finally, there is always the risk that a teen abusing these drugs could develop a lifelong addiction.

If you suspect that a teen is misusing a prescription ADHD medication, intervene right away. The issue of stimulants should be of particular concern for parents of high-achieving students. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your teen would never abuse drugs because they are a good student. Be aware of their study habits and look for signs that they’re staying up all night to study and not eating. Even if you don’t see the signs of drug abuse, talk to your teen about the risks of stimulant misuse so they can make more informed decisions.

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