ADHD Medications & Prescription Drug Abuse: Is Your Teen at Risk?

Talk to Your Teen about the Dangers of Prescription Drugs

ADHD Medications & Prescription Drug Abuse: Is Your Teen at Risk?

By Attention Deficit Connect StaffA Published at August 21 Views 8,962

ADHD drugs made national headlines when the New York Times published a story about otherwise healthy teens abusing Adderall and related drugs in the hopes of improving grades and test scores.

The Times’ article reports, “At high schools across the United States, pressure over grades and competition for college admissions are encouraging students to abuse prescription stimulants, according to interviews with students, parents and doctors.” The story includes first-person tales of students who say they snorted Adderall before SAT tests or to stay focused during all night study sessions.

It’s a trend parents of teens with ADHD should be aware of – to watch for signs of drug abuse in their own teen, but also to talk to them about the dangers of sharing their prescriptions with others.

Teens in the Times story said they got drugs from friends, bought them from student dealers or faked symptoms to their parents and doctors to get prescriptions.

Stimulants can be abused to produce euphoric effects and counteract sluggish feelings, making them especially popular with youth around exam times or for partying. The pills are generally abused to stay awake, increase alertness or concentration, boost energy or get high. They can also be crushed and snorted, or mixed with alcohol.

According to the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more teens abuse prescription drugs than any illicit drug except marijuana. The more than 2.1 million teens ages 12 to 17 who reported abusing prescription drugs that year represents more than those who used cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine combined. And for 12- to 13-year-olds, prescription drugs were their primary drug of choice.

Prescription painkillers were the most commonly abused prescription drugs, but stimulants – most commonly prescribed for ADHD - ranked in the top three for teen abuse.

And the recent media attention could be yet another reason to talk to your teen. One 2009 study looked at rates of prescription overdose deaths and found that spikes typically occurred two to six months after a burst of media coverage about the dangers of the drug in question.

Most teens taking prescription medications do not misuse their drugs. In a recent confidential study of nearly 2,600 middle and high school students, 78 percent of teens reported using their medications as prescribed.

Still, parents should be cautious given the growing trend of prescription abuse and the survey’s remaining 22 percent who said they had taken more than their prescribed dose or taken the drugs deliberately to get high. And even if a teen isn’t abusing their own prescription, they may be tempted to share or sell their pills with friends.

Health risks related to stimulant abuse are serious. Side effects include increased heart and respiratory rates, excessive sweating, vomiting, tremors, anxiety, hostility and aggression, and in severe abuse, suicidal-homicidal tendencies, convulsions and cardiovascular collapse.

Researchers and parent advocacy groups suggest talking with your teen about the dangers of prescription drug abuse, and why it’s important they take their ADHD medication properly. Keeping medications secure and regularly checking pill counts can also reduce abuse risk.

It’s also important to talk to you teens about why they shouldn’t sell or share their drugs with others. Many teens and college-aged students may feel pressured to sell their prescription to friends who want the pills for partying or as a study aid. Not only does the person the drugs are prescribed to not get their necessary medication, they risk being responsible for a dangerous – or even deadly – reaction in those who take it.

For tips on how to talk to you teen about prescription drug abuse, signs and symptoms of drug abuse and other resources, try The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign’s website, “Parents. The Anti-Drug.”

To learn more about this topic:

ADHD Meds Don't Raise Risk of Drug Abuse in Adulthood
One in 10 U.S. Kids Diagnosed with ADHD
What to Do if Your Child's ADHD Medication Isn't Working

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