With all that we cover here at TeenLife, we feel that teenagers' prescription drug abuse to attain higher-level achievements is an issue that has become very relevant to our readers.
So much of what we write about on the TeenLife blog has to do with students’ achievements—or how to bring out the best in teens. We cover college admissions, gap years, internships, summer enrichment and community service. We also think about downtime and communication and technology. We don’t write much about teenagers’ “troubles” because everyone else does.
Achievement Drugs on the Rise
The New York Times ran an article about Adderall abuse amongst the Ivy League-seeking highest achievers. Numbers are not yet available, but for the article, 40 out of 200 people contacted agreed to speak. An agent for the D.E.A. confirms that abuse of prescription medications—Adderall, Vyanse (both amphetamines), Ritalin and Focalin (both methylphenidates)—is on the rise in high schools across the country. Some teenagers and doctors estimate use of these substances may be as high as 40 percent. There are more opportunities to find the substances: “A.D.H.D. medications dispensed for young people ages 10 to 19 has risen 26 percent since 2007, to almost 21 million yearly, according to IMS Health, a health care information company — a number that experts estimate corresponds to more than two million individuals.”
The article describes how these drugs are shared or sold by teens to other students. Not only is this a dangerous practice, it’s a highly illegal one. These are addictive substances. Whether sold or given to a friend, the sharing of these Class 2 drugs is considered the same—and can be prosecuted as a felony, like cocaine and morphine.
While the short term effects of prescription stimulants may be conducive to focusing on SAT’s or meeting a paper’s deadline, these are drugs that, when used correctly, serve the patient; for others, the stimulant effect can veer from a seeming miracle to a nightmare. Outcomes during withdrawal may include severe depression, mood swings, and sleep deprivation, heart irregularities and even psychosis. Doctors warn that adolescents’ brains are not yet fully formed and to take unnecessary drugs can wreak havoc with brain chemistry. Again, if a patient requires medication, that is very different from abuse of prescription drugs.
Hard work is terrific. Achievements—the B or the A—are wonderful and so often hard earned. But “success” should never come at a cost so high, or with risks so great. Parents need to be aware of what their children may be exposed to—or may be experimenting with. And they need to send a message that is loud, clear and unequivocal: abuse of controlled substances for the sake of better grades earns only one grade: F.
If your child has never exhibited signs of ADD or ADHD before, think twice about starting them on these medications in high school. If you are concerned about what's going on in your school community, contact school officials or ask the Parents' Association to get involved. This is a community discussion that is long overdue.