There has been much public discussion recently about the growing tide of teen prescription drug abuse. With medicine cabinets as convenient in-home pharmacies, the temptations have been too strong for curious adolescents to resist, and the abuse and dangerous misuse of prescription medications by youth is a disturbing epidemic that should concern parents everywhere.
Drugs for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have now joined the ever-expanding list of chemical substances that teenagers are turning to in their search for escape from the pressures and disappointments of everyday existence. Even though these medications are normally used to calm young people who are too impulsive and cannot concentrate in classroom settings, paradoxically they are actually stimulants, and when they are consumed by those who do not have ADHD, they will tend to excite rather than relax. When taken recreationally, these drugs can dramatically elevate energy levels, cause states of euphoria, and improve self-confidence, which can make them seem like the perfect antidote to the typical adolescent angst.
But as is always the case with drugs, there is a dark side – these substances are potent and addictive, and many teens who have used ADHD medications to get high have found themselves plunging into dependency at lightning speed.
Symptoms and Side Effects of Abuse
A 2011 study of American middle school and high school students found that just over 4 percent were abusing Adderall, while slightly more than 2 percent were taking stolen or black market Ritalin without a prescription. These numbers are not exactly overwhelming, and they obviously pale in comparison to the percentages of youth who are using alcohol irresponsibly. But there is no question this reckless behavior is helping to fuel runaway increases in juvenile prescription drug abuse, even if the raw numbers do not seem to indicate a huge problem at the moment. Drugs for ADHD are already the third most commonly abused type of prescription drugs among adolescents, and if current trends continue, they may ultimately move into the top spot on the addiction chart.
Because of their potent chemical profiles and ability to cause strong physiological effects, medications like Ritalin and Adderall are somewhat controversial even when they are prescribed by a doctor for the treatment of ADHD. But when used by people who have not been diagnosed with these disorders, the strength of their effects is magnified – which is, of course, what makes them attractive to so many adolescents in the first place.
In addition to using these drugs to get high, some teens also take them so they can stay up late at night to study. But regardless of why young people are popping these pills like they were candy, these stimulants are bad news for the body, which is unable to metabolize them without undergoing significant stress and strain. Some of the more serious side effects experienced by those who abuse ADHD drugs include:
- Extremely high blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Significant mood swings
- Anxiety attacks
Once the body begins to develop a tolerance for these medications, a person will need to take more and more to get the desired effects, and this is the point where recreational use can stealthily morph into addiction.
And unfortunately for the health of the addict, taking repeated high doses of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall can cause horrifying and dangerous side effects that will make earlier symptoms seem inconsequential in comparison. Delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, memory loss and confusion, stroke, and even death can result from the prolonged abuse of ADHD drugs, which underscores just how frightening and awful an addiction to this type of medication can be.
A Prescription for Danger
Parents with adolescents in the home need to carefully monitor the supplies of prescription drugs they store in their bathrooms and bedrooms. If these pills should suddenly start disappearing faster than expected, this could mean that one of the children in the home has been stealing them for his or her personal use, or to sell them or give them to other teenagers. Persistent mood swings and a tendency toward excessive secrecy are two strong indicators of prescription drug abuse in teens, and anytime parents notice such patterns of behavior internal alarm bells should begin ringing immediately.
When drug abuse is suspected, moms and dads must take the initiative and speak to their children about their fears and concerns; accusations and recriminations are likely to be met with denials and defiance, but when adolescents are spoken to respectfully and with a compassionate spirit, there is a good possibility they will respond in a positive manner and admit the truth about what has been going on. Depending on how out of control an adolescent’s drug habit may have gotten, seeking treatment for addiction may indeed be necessary, but even if things are only in a preliminary stage it is vitally important to let teenagers who are abusing prescription drugs know just how much trouble they could eventually encounter if they continue to consume these potentially lethal substances. Prescription medications are no less toxic and dangerous than any other type of drug, and this is a message that all adolescents need to hear, preferably from the ones who love and care for them most.