Even if your own college-aged child does not abuse prescription stimulant drugs, it is almost certain that he or she knows someone who does. The results of a new survey published earlier this month by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids tell us that 1 out of every 5 college students across the United States has abused prescription stimulants such as dextroamphetamine or methylphenidate. You might not recognize the names of these drugs, but you are almost certainly familiar with the brand names they are sold under, Adderall and Ritalin, respectively. These medications, marketed as being for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are among the most widely prescribed pharmaceutical drugs among children and young adults, and now they are some of the most commonly abused drugs. In fact, the rates at which college students and others aged 18 to 25 years old are abusing ADHD drugs has gotten so high that the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids’ report describes prescription stimulant abuse as being normalized. It has become so common that nearly anyone in that age range knows someone who has abused ADHD drugs, even if he or she has not personally done so.
Why do young adults abuse prescription stimulants? In some cases it’s just a matter of wanting to get high. A student with a prescription might find that taking additional pills gives him or her a buzz, or might share the pills with friends. Some take ADHD pills with alcohol, because the stimulant effect of the drugs makes it possible to stay awake and keep drinking long after the depressive effects of alcohol would have caused the person to fall asleep or pass out. The most common reason for abusing prescription stimulants, however, is simply a matter of trying to keep up with everything. Between school, social life and work, many millennials simply have too much on their plate, According to the survey, half of all the young adults who admitted to abusing prescription stimulants did so for the purpose of improving their ability to study, take tests or otherwise perform academically. This includes being able to stay awake longer to study or finish a paper, as well as to get a boost in the ability to focus during an exam.
Consequences of ADHD Drug Abuse
The fact that ADHD drugs have become common as a way to improve academic performance is not surprising. Adderall is essentially medical speed, while Ritalin is chemically very similar on structure and effects to cocaine. Putting these drugs in the hands of young people, very often beginning when they are small children, is asking for trouble. It gets the child used to the habit of taking drugs and medications symptoms, and it also accustoms other children to the idea that drugs are a good way to improve focus at school. As children grow older and move into adulthood, they take on more obligations and find themselves facing additional pressure in life, and finding a way to cope with this becomes an increasingly serious problem. Given the opportunity to take a pill and get a boost in focus and a way to stave off fatigue, teenagers and young adults who don’t know any better are likely to do so. Unfortunately, this poses serious problems for the child’s future. First, stimulants can be habit forming, and a young person who starts abusing Ritalin or Adderall to study can get addicted to the pills. Furthermore, ADHD medications can act as gateway drugs, since the user has gotten comfortable with the idea of taking drugs and might be more likely to try other drugs as well. It’s time for us to seriously re-think the way we are giving such powerful and potentially dangerous drugs to our children.