ADHD Prescription Abuse on the Rise Among Teens

A recent study is shedding light on an alarming trend among middle school and high school students: the abuse of prescription stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The study conducted by the University of Michigan found that one in four middle school and high school students reported misusing these prescriptions for non-medical purposes. Many students reported taking medications that were prescribed to others, whether these were leftover pills from a sibling or peers. Classmates are sharing their prescriptions with friends, who are hoping to gain a boost academically.

Teens surveyed in the study said that one reason they used these prescriptions was to try to improve their ability to study or cram for final exams and homework assignments.

“The findings are indeed deeply concerning,” said Hasti Raveau, PhD/LP, founder and director of Mala Child and Family Institute in Ann Arbor.

“The use and abuse of ADHD medications is driven by both personal and external factors, such as academic pressure and peer influence,” said Raveau. “Teens believe they can experience benefits from ADHD medication such as increased energy and concentration, even if they do not have ADHD. They often view these medications as a shortcut to success or a way to cope with demanding academic or extracurricular schedules.”

Other teens use the meds to get a buzz or high.

“Some teens misuse purely for recreational purposes, seeking a ‘high’ or euphoric feeling. Other teens may be self-medicating to cope with underlying issues such as anxiety, trauma or depression,” Raveau said. “Unfortunately, most teens do not fully understand the serious health implications of misusing prescription drugs, and the perception that these medications are readily available and relatively safe can contribute to their misuse.”

Hasti Raveau, PhD/LP, founder and director of Mala Child and Family Institute in Ann Arbor.

Dangers and risks

There are many dangers associated with the use and misuse of drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin. Those risks include: elevated blood pressure, potential cardiovascular complications, disruption of normal sleep patterns, insomnia and restlessness, potential for dependency and addiction and increased anxiety, agitation, mood swings, paranoia, and psychosis.

“Contrary to the perceived benefits of improved focus and concentration, prolonged abuse of ADHD medications can actually cause difficulties in memory, attention, and decision-making abilities,” Raveau said. 

Raveau added, “In addition to legal consequences, drug interactions with other substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs, can amplify the adverse effects and potentially result in life-threatening complications.”

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Deadly counterfeits

When a shortage of Adderall made the prescription difficult to find, it opened a door for counterfeit medications to flood the market. While these medications may seem legitimate to online shoppers or those acquiring the drugs on the streets, they are often laced with fentanyl and methamphetamines. Just one dose of these fake pills could prove to be deadly. Many accidental overdoses are now being reported. 

Raveau adds that trying to obtain one of these medications without a valid prescription is illegal as well as dangerous.

“Online sources often lack regulation, leading to concerns about the quality and purity of these substances,” Raveau said. “Misleading information provided by online sellers can result in unintended overdoses or adverse reactions.”

Stay alert

“At Mala Child and Family Institute, we always encourage parents to make open communication a core family value,” Raveau said. “Parents play a crucial role in staying vigilant about potential ADHD medication abuse among their teenagers.”

Some ways that parents and caregivers can help:

  • Observe their teens behavior for any changes, such as increased secrecy, changing sleep patterns, or sudden mood swings
  • Look for changes in academic performance
  • Monitor their teen’s prescription medication supply
  • Educate their teens about the risks and consequences
  • Discuss healthy coping strategies for dealing with academic stress

“Regular communication and fostering a trusting relationship with their teens can help parents stay informed and intervene early if they suspect any misuse of ADHD medications,” Raveau said.