Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a highly controversial psychological diagnosis that has skyrocketed since the late 20th century. Some studies report that as many as 7.5% of school aged minors in the United States are on medication to combat ADHD. Unfortunately, recent studies show a steady rise in the amount of children and teenagers that abuse ADHD medications in order to achieve stimulant affects to help them study for tests.
Drugs given to treat ADHD tend to have a stimulatory affect on the central nervous system. These medications, such as the popular drugs Ritalin, Adderall, and Dexedrine, are meant to help ADHD patients focus on tasks without distraction. In children under 12, many of the drugs are also said to have a calming affect. At proper dosage, these medicines are believed to help combat the affects of ADHD, but at higher doses, they may induce bursts of energy that students may find useful when cramming for a test.
Many teens have been on ADHD medication from childhood and are often trusted to administer their own daily doses of the drugs. Not surprisingly, unsupervised prescription drug use can lead teens to abuse ADHD medications for their stimulant effects. According to some recent studies, as many as 10% of teenagers on prescription medication, including those for ADHD, abuse the drugs. One study published by the University of Wisconsin showed that nearly 20% of all college students surveyed admit that they illegally abuse ADHD medications, or have done so in the past.
ADHD medication is so widely available among teenagers and young adults, it is very easy to obtain doses of the drug without a prescription. Experts suggest that those who abuse ADHD medications do so by taking super-doses of the drugs, either by swallowing several pills or snorting a powdered form of the medication. In one 2006 report conducted by and independent American group called the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 68% of those who admitted abuse of ADHD drugs also admitted using other prescription drugs improperly or illegally.
A combination of factors may lead young adults to abuse ADHD medications. Prescriptions for ADHD medications are now so common, particularly in the United States, that young adults may believe that the drugs are not harmful, even in high doses. Unrestricted access to the drugs is considered to be a contributing factor, as well as insufficient supervision of the dosage. High school and college students may feel intense pressure to achieve good grades, and may be lured into using prescription stimulants believing them to be safer than illegal drugs such as speed or methamphetamines. Some experts claim that proper doses of ADHD drugs carry a low risk of addiction, but other medical professionals believe that compulsive use of the drug is both possible and probable, given the rising rate of abuse.
As with most drugs, the potential side effects of incorrect usage may be severe. Evidence suggests that psychotic or hallucinogenic episodes are possible, as well as common side effects such as hypertension, increased heart rate, and tremors. Long term studies are not yet available on the possible permanent effects of consistent abuse.
If you have a child taking ADHD medication, consider keeping the pills in your control and administrating them daily. If you choose to allow your child control over the pills, try to reinforce that they must never give them or sell them to friends. Restricting access to the drugs is probably the best way to prevent abuse.
If you or anyone you know is on ADHD medication and taking higher than recommended doses to help study or to get high, you should inform a trusted adult or friend. The long term risks of drug abuse are not worth the short term gains of a study session or high. It is possible to have an occasional abuse habit turn into a physical addiction to the drugs. Before that has a chance to happen, ask for help from a healthcare professional, parent, counselor or adult friend.